Vox Tablet

How One Zealous Looter Changed Jewish History in the Name of Its Preservation

Historian Lisa Leff tracks the perplexing journey of a 20th century collector, scholar, survivor, and thief

July 22, 2015

In 1961, a librarian in a municipal archive in Strasbourg caught a visitor tearing pages out of a manuscript and stuffing them into his briefcase. The visitor, it turned out, was a widely respected historian who had done ground-breaking scholarship on the history of Jews in France.

It soon became apparent that this was not the first time Zosa Szajkowski had procured documents by questionable means. He’d been doing so for years, before, during and especially after the Holocaust, and the thousands of pages he’d collected had in turn been sold to important archives throughout the United States and Israel. Why did he do it? Were the thefts acts of bravery, pathology, or greed?

These are among the questions asked by Lisa Leff, a history professor at American University, in her new book The Archive Thief: The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust. She speaks with Vox Tablet’s Sara Ivry about Szajkowski’s heroism in wartime, his post-war descent into property theft, and the profound and lasting impact his deeds had on the study of French Jewish history.

Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

More Vox Tablet
See all