Poland/France/Vatican – A photo of the copy of Immanuel Kant’s Project for a Perpetual Peace offered by the French president to Pope Francis, whom he met at the Vatican on Monday, is causing a stir in Poland. On the photo of this 1796 edition published by the correspondent of the French newspaper La Croix, the stamp of the university library of Lvov (Lwów in Polish, Львів – Lviv – in Ukrainian), a city that was Polish until 1945, is clearly visible. This is leading many commentators – journalists, historians, politicians – to suspect that it is one of the many objects stolen by the Germans or Russians during the Second World War. According to French journalist Arnaud Bédat, this book was bought from a bookstore in Paris for a price of € 2,500. The university library indicated on the stamp on the book’s cover page existed from 1867 to 1939.
“The university library in Lvov was founded in 1867. This work was therefore stolen by the Germans, the Russians or one of the French Waffen-SS units. In any case, congratulations to President Macron for his dealing in stolen goods”,
Polish journalist Stanisław Janecki reacted on Twitter.
Czytelnia Akademicka we Lwowie powstała w 1867 r., zatem ukradli to dzieło albo Niemcy, albo Ruscy albo któraś z francuskich jednostek Waffen-SS. Tak czy owak gratulacje dla prezydenta Macrona za paserstwo, https://t.co/bfVqvtESBz
— Stanisław Janecki (@St_Janecki) October 24, 2022
“Public institutions and organizations do not sell their collections and neither do they trade in them. If there is a stamp, it seems to me that the buyer should return the item, not make it an object of trade”, Janecki wrote in response to an Internet user who pointed out that the bookseller’s note accompanying the book, printed in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), states that it arrived in France around 1900.
“This photo has created quite a stir in Poland – the stamp clearly indicates that the book presented by the French President to Pope Francis used to be the property of the (then) Polish university library in Lviv… Embarrassing to say the least…”,
tweeted Robert Pszczel of the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), an institution established in 1947 and operating under the aegis of the Polish Foreign Ministry.
“The case requires verification. The book may have been exchanged before World War II (as a duplicate) for another book in another library’s collection. However, the Germans massively looted Polish libraries/archives, and this remains the most likely origin”,
said Sławomir Dębski, the director of PISM.
For Łukasz Adamski, deputy director of the Juliusz Mieroszewski Center for Dialogue, an institution operating under the authority of the Ministry of Culture and Heritage which addresses not only Poles, but also Ukrainians, Belarusians, Russians, Moldovans and Georgians, the book “may have been looted by the German occupation authorities during World War II – especially as it is a valuable edition of Kant’s work”. Adamski does not rule out, however, that the gift handed by the French president to Pope Francis could have been sold, exchanged or stolen at an earlier time.
Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Łukasz Jasin announced on Tuesday that the authorities in Warsaw were analysing this case, but that it was too early to make any statements.
Among the many Polish media outlets that have reported on this affair, the conservative website wPolityce.pl wonders why the French president did not choose a gift of French origin rather than a French translation of a work by Kant published in Prussia, which was taken away from a Polish university library in unknown circumstances. This is all the more surprising, notes wPolityce.pl, given that the same Emmanuel Macron usually seems very sensitive to stolen artworks that he willingly returns to former French colonies.