NISSIM DE CAMONDO MUSEUM …WEALTH IN PARIS & DEATH IN AUSCHWITZ …

    Wandering through the rooms of the Nissim de Camonda Museum – Musée Nissim de Camondo – I was thinking if there is such a thing as a haunted house, then this house should be haunted. I did not however see any ghosts in this house, but its history did hang over its rooms […]

 

Nissim de Camondo Jan 2015 (6)

Nissim de Camondo Museum (Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

 

Wandering through the rooms of the Nissim de Camonda Museum – Musée Nissim de Camondo – I was thinking if there is such a thing as a haunted house, then this house should be haunted.

I did not however see any ghosts in this house, but its history did hang over its rooms like a ghost. Despite the luxury around me, I was not thinking wealth, beauty, magnificence. No! I was thinking Auschwitz. To be exact: death in Auschwitz.

The reason?

The family of the man who had created the house no longer exists: the two world wars had claimed his two children. First in 1917 his still unmarried son, a pilot in the French Air Force, had lost his life. Next in 1944, the second of the world wars raging, his daughter and her two children had lost their lives in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

Nissim de Camondo Museum (Copyright Marilyn Z tomlins)

Nissim de Camondo Museum (Copyright Marilyn Z tomlins)

The Camondos were Jews. They were Sephardic Jews, their history going back to 15th Century Spain. In January 1492, the Spanish Inquisition Tribunal del Santo Oficio de Inquisición – having been established by Spain’s two Catholic monarchs Ferdinand 11 of Aragon and Isabella 1 of Castile, in 1478, all Jews were expelled from the country under the ‘Alhambra Decree’. It is not known how many Jews had left Spain – an estimated figure speaks of 800,000 but historian today say that about 40,000 had fled – and among them were the Camondos. Some of the Jews fled west to Portugal which would soon expel them too, others having fled across the Mediterranean to North Africa or east to Italy and the Ottoman Empire, today Turkey.
(Some Jews had converted to the RC religion but not that it had saved the lives of such conversos, as it was thought that their conversions had not been sincere and they were burnt at the stake as blasphemers. So too, by the way, on the orders of Ferdinand and Isabella, were Protestants.)

The Camondos, after having fled Spain in 1492, were among those Jews who had gone to Italy. They settled in Venice, but next, the persecution of Jews the cause, they had moved on to Constantinople (today Istanbul) where they, wealthy people, had become bankers to the grand viziers of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1867, King Victor Emmanuel 11 of Italy ennobled the family in gratitude for their financial support in Italy’s struggle for independence from the Austrian Empire, and in 1870 two of the Camondos, the two brothers – Count Nissim de Camondo and Count Abraham-Behor de Camondo, both married and fathers of sons – once again felt the need to move on because of the persecution of Jews, and moved to Paris. (Abraham-Behor’s son named Isaac was born in 1851 in Constantinople, and Nissim’s son born in 1860 in Constantinople was named Moïse.)

In Paris the two brothers founded the Camondo & Cie Bank and bought two town-houses bordering Monceau Park in the 8th arrondissement (district). Both brothers died in 1889, Isaac and Moïse becoming their fathers’ heirs, Moïse inheriting the two town-houses which he would begin to convert to one palatial mansion. An art collector he filled this mansion at No 63 Rue de Monceau with paintings, sculptures and 18th century furniture.

Nissim de Camondo Museum (Copyright Marilyn Z Ttomlins)

Nissim de Camondo Museum (Copyright Marilyn Z Ttomlins)

Isaac de Camondo remained a bachelor but fathered two sons by an opera singer named Lucie Bertrand. As he did not acknowledge the boys as his they bore their mother’s surname. (I know their names but I am not going to tell you – the elder died in 1980, his brother already having passed away in 1978, but their children and children will still be alive and I do not want to bring them into this sorry state of affairs.)

Moïse de Camondo married Irène, the daughter of another of Paris’s ‘diaspora’ Jews, Louis Cahen d’Anvers, and the couple had two children, a son Nissim and a daughter Beatrice. (I wrote about Louis Cahen d’Anvers and his stately home – the Chateau Champs de Marne – here).

Moïse and Irène’s marriage lasted just 11 years, Moïse then raising their two children on his own in his large mansion.

Nissim de Camondo Museum (Copyright Marilyn Z .Tomlins)

Nissim de Camondo Museum (Copyright Marilyn Z .Tomlins)

In 1914, on the outbreak of World War 1, Moïse’s son, Nissim de Camondo, 22, joined the French Air Force and as he was a keen photographer he was conscripted into its photography sector. In September 1917, a lieutenant, he was out on a photographic mission when his plane which he was piloting himself, was shot down.

Moïse, heartbroken over his son’s death, withdrew from society, devoting his time to the large art and furniture collection he had amassed – and, a connoisseurs of good food and wine hosting small dinners for like-minded gourmets.

The table as laid for one  of Count Moise's dinners (Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

The table as laid for one of Count Moise’s dinners (Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

 

The stove in the kitchen of the Nissim de Camondo mansion (Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

The stove in the kitchen of the Nissim de Camondo mansion (Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Moïse’s son and heir, deceased, and Béatrice his daughter having married and moved into an apartment in Paris’s wealthy district of Neuilly, he donated his mansion and its contents to the Paris Decorate Art Society to be turned into a museum on his death. He died in 1935, Hitler’s shadow darkening Europe.

Béatrice had married into another wealthy Jewish family, the Reinachs, and she and her husband Léon had two children, Fanny born in 1922 and Bertrand born in 1923, but the marriage broke up, Fanny remaining living with Béatrice and Bertrand with his father.

Nissim de Camondo Museum (Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Nissim de Camondo Museum (Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

In 1935 Moïse died leaving his fortune to Béatrice, she having moved back into the Monceau Park mansion to care for him.

The following year, she, honouring her father’s wish, oversaw the mansion becoming a museum.

In 1939 the Second World War broke out, and from June 1940 when France capitulated to the Germans, the victors occupied Northern France which included Paris  and the arrests of Jews began. Mid-1943 Béatrice and Fanny were arrested at her Neuilly house and soon afterwards so were Léon and Bertrand. The four were first held prisoner in the Drancy Internment camp north of Paris and on November 20 that year Léon and his two children were transported to Auschwitz in Transport No. 62, father and son gassed on arrival, Fanny, having been imprisoned, dying of typhus later.

Béatrice’s fate is somewhat clouded. Having been in Transport 69 of March 7 1944 to Auschwitz, she had survived until January 4, 1945 when she could no longer hold on and passed away. Two weeks later the Soviet Army would liberate Auschwitz. In 1942 she had converted to Roman Catholicism having been baptised, and believing that she, as a Catholic and extremely wealthy on top of it, would not be targeted by the Germans as a Jewess, she had refused to leave Paris despite that her ex-husband had begged her to bring their daughter south for the two of them to escape to Spain and from there to where the Nazis would not be able to get to them. He was planning to escape via Spain too with their son. The story is that she would not leave and, the enthusiastic horsewoman that she was, each morning she went out riding in the Boulogne Wood – Bois de Boulogne – just as she had done in peacetime. She had even in June 1942 participated in an equestrian event with Wehrmacht
officers. It is also being said that she had frequented places where German officers hung out. Furthermore, it is said that she had gone hunting with Hermann Göring.

So, that is the history of the Camondo family’s trek through the Diaspora which had begun in Spain and ended in Auschwitz.

Today, in the Nissim de Camondo Museum you will see Count Moïse de Camondo’s collection of 18th century French furniture and artworks.

Nissim de Camondo Museum (copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Nissim de Camondo Museum (copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

You will see the house exactly as the count had left it on his death, each painting hanging where it had hung, each vase where he had placed it and so on. I can tell you that in the mansion’s kitchen you may well listen for the footsteps of the staff coming to work; hear their hushed voices as their master was not to be disturbed.

Nissim de Camondo Museum (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomins)

Nissim de Camondo Museum (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomins)

It will cost you €9 to visit the house.

Best is to take Métro Line 2 to the house and to descend at Monceau station and then to walk through Monceau Park and to exit the park on Avenue Ruysdaël and when you reach the end of this short avenue to turn left up Rue de Monceau.

Nissim de Camondo Museum from the park. (Copyright Marilyn Z Tomlins)

Nissim de Camondo Museum from the park. (Copyright Marilyn Z Tomlins)

The museum is open every day but Monday and Tuesday from 10 am to 5.30 pm.

Wheel chairs can only have access to the ground floor where the kitchens are, so if you are in wheelchair bound, I would not recommend that you put this house on your ‘must visit’ list.

I wrote a book about the fate of Paris’s Jews in World War Two. The title is: Die in Paris and you can either buy the paperback or download the ebook from any of the amazon sites.

Nissim de Camondo Museum (Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Nissim de Camondo Museum (Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Nissim de Camondo Museum (copyright Marilyn Z Tomlins)

Nissim de Camondo Museum (copyright Marilyn Z Tomlins)

 

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

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