Lisa Moses Leff on The Archive Thief: The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History
Lisa Moses Leff joins host Jonathan Judaken to discuss her new book, The Archive Thief: The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, wracked by grief and determined to facilitate the writing of an objective history of catastrophe, the historian Zosa Szajkowski gathered evidence of the persecution from Jewish leaders in Paris and from the wreckage of bombed-out buildings in Berlin. Many Jews in France and the United States saw his collecting of those papers as a heroic effort; however, in time, this "rescuer" became a thief. Most of the documents he acquired in the 1950s—mostly pertaining to Jewish history in France since the seventeenth century—he stole from the archives.
After World War II ended, Szajkowski married and worked at YIVO (also known as the Jewish Scientific Institute), where his prickly personality and unorthodox methods now needed to be curbed, leading to a temporary split from the organization, during which he established himself as a leading scholar of French Jewry. But as he did, the once heroic collector of documents now became an archive thief. By 1949, there were suspicions of his misdeeds in the archives.
Lisa Leff is a historian of Europe since 1789 whose research focuses on Jews in France. Her first book, Sacred Bonds of Solidarity, examines the rise of Jewish international aid in 19th century France. For more information on Dr. Leff, you can visit her American University webpage.