Macron accused of giving Pope book looted from Poland during WWII
A storm has broken out over the internet about whether Emmanuel Macron accidentally gifted Pope Francis a Polish book looted by Nazis in World War Two.
President Emmanuel Macron met with Pope Francis at the Vatican yesterday.
During a private audience, Macron gifted the head of the Church the first French edition of Immanuel Kant's late 18th-century book Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch.
However, when a Vatican correspondent for French newspaper Le Croix Loup Besmond de Senneville posted a photo of the inside front cover, eagled-eyed Internet users noticed a clearly identifiable stamp of the Czytelnia Akademicka, which was a reading union organised by students from the University of Lwów, which was then part of Poland.
During the war, the library was heavily looted by the Germans and the Soviets, which led to immediate speculation online that Macron had actually gifted the Pope stolen war booty, with some even accusing the French head of state with the crime of 'fencing'.
Sławimir Dębski, head of the Polish Institute for International Affairs, weighed in saying the case 'requires verification’.
French internet users were quick to point out that the valuable book had in fact been purchased at auction in Paris for EUR 2500 and the auctioneer's notes suggest that the book had been present in France since 1900.
Not satisfied with this, proponents of the theft theory pointed out that library book from the Lwów collection that had been officially removed from its collection would have additional markings, leading some to maintain their belief in a theft but from an earlier date.
Macron spent a total of three hours in the Eternal City, his third visit since becoming French president in 2017. The meeting with Pope Francis at which he gifted the book lasted 55 minutes.
In line with protocol, the pair exchanged gifts. The pope offered the president documents of his pontificate and a medal depicting St. Peter's Basilica.
When the speculation about the Polish origins of the book had spread across social media, Robert Pszczel, diplomat, expert from the Kazimierz Pulaski Foundation, and member of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, wrote on Twitter: “This photo has caused quite a stir in Poland - the stamp clearly indicates that the book given to Pope Francis by the French president was once owned by the (then) Polish university library in Lviv....Embarrassing to say the least..."
The head of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, Sławomir Dębski later added: "The case requires verification. The book could have been exchanged before WW2 (as a duplicate), for another book from the collection of some other library. However, the Germans were massively plundering Polish libraries/archives, so this is still the most likely source of origin."
However, Arnoud Bedat, a veteran French investigative journalist, reported on Twitter that the book was purchased for EUR 2500 at the Hatchuel bookstore in Paris, which specialises in rare books.
According to the description on the bookseller’s website, the book had been in France for about 120 years before ending up yesterday in the Vatican.
"This is evidenced by the stamp of the Parisian bookseller Lucien Bodin, who ran his business on the Quai des Grands-Augustins, around 1900," the French journalist wrote on Twitter yesterday evening.
The Reading Union was a Polish student society active in Lviv from 1867-1939. Between the wars, its members were mainly students of the Jan Kazimierz University of Lwów, which is now the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv.