Jewish Studies Book Club: Lisa Moses Leff’s The Archive Thief (Oxford UP, 2015)

DEC 04, 2018 | 6:00 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue




December 04, 2018: 6:00 PM




The Center for Jewish Studies


The Centers for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Center, CUNY and Fordham are happy to announce the Jewish Studies Book Club, a joint initiative of the two institutions, in collaboration with the New York Public Library. Each semester we will read a book of note in Jewish Studies, and discuss it with the author. 

Our first book will be Lisa Moses Leff’s The Archive Thief (Oxford University Press, 2015), the winner of the 2016 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish literature, and a finalist for a 2015 National Jewish Book Award.

Discussion with the author, Lisa Leff, will be on

December 4, 6pm
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
Rooms 9204/9205
New York, NY 10016

Copies of the book can be purchased online at 
with a 30% discount (code AAFLYG6)

The Archive Thief tells the story of Zosa Szajkowski, an influential Jewish historian who, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, stole tens of thousands of documents related to French Jewish history from public archives and collections in France and moved them illicitly to New York. Why did this respectable historian become a thief? And why did librarians in the United States and Israel accept these materials from him, turning a blind eye to the signs of ownership they bore? 

With her award-winning book, Lisa Moses Leff reconstructs Szajkowski’s gripping story in all its ambiguity. After a harrowing escape from France to New York in 1941, Szajkowski managed to make a life for himself as a scholar and became one of the world’s foremost experts on the history of the Jews in modern France. His work opened up new ways of thinking about Jewish emancipation, economic and social modernization, and the rise of modern anti-Semitism. 

But beneath Szajkowski’s accomplishments lay his shameful secret: his articles were based upon stolen documents, eventually, sold piecemeal to American and Israeli research libraries where they still remain. Leff takes us into the backstage of the archives, revealing the powerful ideological, economic, and psychological forces that made Holocaust-era Jewish scholars care more deeply than ever before about preserving the remnants of their past. As Leff shows, it is only when we understand the issues at the heart of his story, in all their ambiguity and complexity, that we can begin to address the larger questions of the rightful ownership of Jewish archives, as well as other contested archives, that are still at stake today.
The Times Literary Supplement praised the book as “engrossing and painstakingly documented,” noting that “it raises important questions about the very nature of archives themselves, particularly what she calls ‘archives of catastrophe.”
Lisa Moses Leff is Professor of History at American University in Washington DC, where she also serves as Acting Dean of Academic Affairs and Senior Vice Provost. Her research focuses on Jews in France in the 19th and 20th centuries. She is the author of Sacred Bonds of Solidarity (Stanford University Press, 2006), and The Archive Thief (Oxford University Press, 2015), and the co-editor ofJewish Migration and the Archive (Routledge, 2015) and Colonialism and the Jews (Indiana University Press, 2016).