‘This Little Bag Carries a Great Memory’: Tefillin Case From 1888, Looted by Nazis, Is Returned to Jewish Family

The Algemeiner 2 July 2021

The 1888 phylacteries bag on display at a French Ministry of Culture ceremony. 

A 133-year-old phylacteries bag was among a pair of precious items returned on Thursday to Jewish families in France, decades after they were stolen by Nazis during World War Two.

The traditional tefillin case had been given to Elie Léon Lévi-Valensin for his Bar Mitzvah in Algiers, and later looted from his son’s Paris apartment by the Nazis in 1942. It was recovered at a French Ministry of Culture ceremony on Thursday by the owner’s great-granddaughter, Miléna Kartowski-Aïach, who in 2013 had spotted it at a museum exhibition about the Jews of Algeria.

“This little bag carries a great memory,” declared Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot at the ceremony, according to the French newspaper Le Figaro.

“Everyday objects were the target of the eradicators. To steal them, to destroy them, was to attack that which made the intimacy” of the families who owned them, she said, noting that 24 looted works and objected were similarly returned last year.

Also transferred at the ceremony was “Nus dans un paysage,” a 1912 work by German expressionist painter Max Pechstein — who was classified a “degenerate artist” by the Nazi regime and stripped of his teaching position.

The painting had been stolen during the war from the Jewish banker Hugo Simon, a prominent collector of Modern art and a social democrat who was targeted by the German regime. Its ownership was discovered by his great-grandson Rafael Cardoso Denis, and will be loaned by the family back to the Centre Pompidou museum in Paris, bound for a special room dedicated to Simon, according to Le Figaro.

Addressing Bachelot on Twitter, France’s Chief Rabbi Haim Korsa commented, “Thank you Madam Minister for working so well to repair these terrible spoliations. Even so long after, these historic moments are a source of peace for families so hard hit.”
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