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Macron’s gift for Pope sparks controversy in Poland

The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, presented Pope Francis with the book “Perpetual Peace” by Immanuel Kant, with a stamp of the Academic Reading Room in Lviv. According to some commentators, the book may have been stolen during World War II, but the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage points out the current knowledge is not sufficient enough to confirm it.

On Monday, Pope Francis received Emmanuel Macron in a private audience. It was the third visit of the current president of France to the Vatican, this time it lasted about 3 hours. Macron’s visit was related to an interreligious meeting for peace, organised in Rome by the Community of St. Giles.

During the Pope’s meeting with the President of France, there was a customary exchange of gifts. Francis presented the French politician with a collection of his works and a bronze medallion with a colonnade in St. Peter in Rome. Macron presented the pope with the first French edition of Immanuel Kant’s book “Perpetual Peace” from 1796.

The correspondent of “La Croix” in Rome posted on Twitter a photo of the cover page of Kant’s dissertation, pointing out that the photo was from the Vatican’s press service. As shown in the photograph, there is a stamp on the page of the book that Macron gave to the Pope: “Academic Reading Room in Lviv”.

L’entretien entre Emmanuel Macron a pris fin, il a duré 55 minutes. Le président a offert au pape une édition de 1796 du Projet de paix perpétuelle” d’Emmanuel Kant (photo Vatican)

— LB2S (@LB2S) October 24, 2022

The matter was highlighted by, inter alia, the Polish Archives of New Files. “The old print given today to Pope Francis by the President of France is an interesting example of how the marking of archives and libraries can bear historical testimony to the future … Do you see anything interesting?” – we read in the institution’s Twitter entry.

French journalist Arnaud Bédat tweeted that a copy of the rare first edition of Kant’s dissertation on peace, donated to Pope Francis, had been purchased for EUR 2,500 at the Hatchuel bookstore in Paris. According to the description from the bookstore, the copy with the stamp of the “Academic Reading Room in Lviv” was supposed to have been in France before World War II. Bédat noted that the book found its way to a Parisian bookseller around 1900.

Deputy director of the Mieroszewski Centre, a Polish public institution working for dialogue with the nations of Eastern Europe, Dr Łukasz Adamski wrote on social media that the book given to the Pope by Macron “belonged to the library of the Academic Reading Room, Lviv student association.”

“It could have been robbed by the German occupation authorities during World War II – the more so as it is a valuable edition of Kant’s work,” he said, adding that the book might have been previously sold, stolen or exchanged.

Case investigated by Polish diplomacy

The Polish Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a press release in which it informed that the origin of the gift is now being put into strict analysis.

“…the very fact of giving the Pope by the President of France a book with a seal indicating its origin from the collection of a pre-war Polish organisation should be preceded by detailed provenance research, excluding that the object may constitute a war loss,” the Ministry said.

Meanwhile, the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage referred to other objects stolen from Poland that are currently in France.

“It should be emphasised that in France, there are still war losses from Poland within its borders after 1945. The Louvre collection contains a painting from the pre-war Wroclaw collection – Jan van Goyen’s “Dutch river bank”, on which the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage submitted a restitution application in 2021. So far, it remains unanswered. The same applies to two applications – wall candlesticks from the Royal Łazienki Palace, which hang on the walls of the Ritz Hotel in Paris.”

At the same time, the Ministry points out the current knowledge is not sufficient enough to confirm that the book was stolen during WWII.

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