The Nazis were thieves. Having rounded up the Jews of Paris and marked them for murder, the Germans and their French lickspittles enacted Möbel Aktion, emptying homes once vacated by Jews and selling the spoils.
Stripping Jews of their belongings was part and parcel of the effort to destroy them; pillage was an essential tool of extermination.
Some objects were taken to the Paris department store Lévitan (named after its Jewish owner Wolff Lévitan) on the Rue Faubourg Saint Martin. The shop had been confiscated. The Lévitan company was liquidated in July 1941. The stock was sold on the cheap to Germans.
In 1942 the store lay empty and unused. Then in 1943 the Nazis had an idea. The would reopen for business. Lévitan would sell goods stolen from Jews. The goods would be polished, cleaned, repaired, ordered and showcased in departments for Nazis to browse and buy.
And the Nazis would get the Jews to do all the work. The place became a slave camp for 795 Jews who worked and lived in this shop of horrors – 164 were deported to the death camps.
Sarah Gensburger brings the story and the pictures to life in her book Witnessing the Robbing of the Jews. The photographs were collected by an art historian working for the Allies to restore stolen Jewish art to its owners. The album of 85 images is kept in the German Federal Archives in Koblenz.
“These images show the extent to which the looting of Jewish possessions in all its various forms was, more than anything else, a process of destruction and anonymization.”
She has also covered the period in her book Nazi Labour Camps in Paris: Austerlitz, Levitan, Bassano, July 1943-August 1944.
On 18 July 1943, one-hundred and twenty Jews were transported from the concentration camp at Drancy to the Levitan furniture store building in the middle of Paris. These were the first detainees of three satellite camps (Levitan, Austerlitz, Bassano) in Paris. Between July 1943 and August 1944, nearly eight hundred prisoners spent a few weeks to a year in one of these buildings, previously been used to store furniture, and were subjected to forced labor.
The store today is converted into offices, serving as the headquarters of the BETC advertising agency.
The building’s facade carries a sign:
During the German occupation of Paris, and with the help of the French government of Vichy, this building, at that time furniture shop Levitan, was an annex of the deportation camp of Drancy. Here from july 1943 to August 1944, hundred of jewish people (whose many were afterwards deported to the camps of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen) were obliged to sort the furniture and the objects stolen by nazis in the flats of the jewish families. Never forget.