|Mrs. Leon Reinach born Beatrice de Camondo her children Fanny and Bertrand Reinach the last descendants of the benefactor and Mr. Leon Reinach were deported in 1943-1944 and died in Auschwitz.|
So, it didn't come as much of a surprise when our guide concluded the tour of the Nissim de Camondo museum yesterday by telling us that some French people still wouldn't want to give their child a Hebrew name. What was most sobering about this statement is that we were standing in the bedroom of Nissim, who was killed while fighting for France in World War I and whose sister, Béatrice, died in Auschwitz on January 4, 1945.
To truly appreciate this gem of a museum and its exceptional collection of 18th century French decorative arts and furnishings, it's crucial to know a bit about the history of the Sepharadic Jewish family, known as the Rothschilds of the East, who left their sumptuously furnished mansion to the French government.
After fleeing Spain in 1492, the Camondos established themselves in Venice before moving to Constantinople (Istanbul) and became bankers to the grand vizirs of the Ottoman Empire. As their fortune increased, the family made significant contributions to education and public service in Constantinople, for which they are still recognized.
In 1868, the Camondos transferred their holdings to Paris, where Count Moïse de Camondo acquired one of the world's finest collections of 18th century French furniture and artwork. When his only son and remaining male heir to the family fortune, Nissim, was killed in an air battle in 1917, Moïse bequeathed his mansion and collection to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs after his death in 1935. His only stipulations were that the house was to be maintained as a museum named for his beloved son and that all of the objects should be left where he originally placed them.
|The photo of Nissim on Moïse's desk is a poignant reminder of the ultimate sacrifice that this Jewish family made for France.|
Tragically, even though Moïse's only daughter, Béatrice, had converted to Catholicism prior to the German occupation of France and believed that her wealth and position in society would protect her from the Nazi roundups, her family was arrested and sent to Drancy concentration camp. They were deported by the Germans and died at Auschwitz.
If you're interested in learning more about this period in French history, The Hare with the Amber Eyes tells the story of a wealthy Jewish family who were the Camondo's neighbors. Even though this book has been on my list for quite a while, I'm pleased that I waited to read it until after my visit. Another one that was recommended is Pictures at an Exhibition.
When you visit the Musée d'Orsay, be sure to look for the paintings by Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Degas and Renoir that Isaac de Camondo, Moïse's cousin, bequeathed to the Louvre. He also donated hundreds of pieces of Asian art that are now at the Musée Guimet.
A future post will feature some of the exquisite items on display at the Nissim de Camondo Musuem.
Musée Nissim de Camondo
63, rue de Monceau