The Hôtel Lutetia’s Art Deco facade. Photo by Olivier Amsellem
¨In occupied Paris, the Lutetia, draped in swastikas, was among the most notorious redoubts for Nazi officers, and last August it was purchased by a group led by the Jewish real estate mogul Alfred Akirov, an Israeli of Iraqi extraction. The $185 million sale was immediately hailed as a way of redeeming the hotel’s Nazi past.
Conceived by the directors of the neighboring Bon Marché department store, the Lutetia opened in 1910 as a rest stop for out-of-town shoppers. Its undulating stone facade was one of the first examples of the lavish eclecticism later known as Art Deco. From its inception, the hotel has been a frumpily elegant repository of Left Bank anecdotes and intrigues, the kinds you could spend a lifetime reading about while swishing espresso soot around the bottom of your cafe cup.
Dining room in Hotel Lutetia. Photo by Olivier Amsellem
Camp victims under the hotel´s chandeliers, 1945. Getty Images
When Oskar Reile, the Prussian spy catcher, first arrived at the hotel, in June of 1940, a German colonel greeted him with a glass of Champagne. (It probably was a mediocre one, since the staff had managed to secret away the best bottles behind a wall in the hotel’s cellar.) Reile was attached to the Abwehr, the German intelligence outfit with a headquarters in the Lutetia, which paid bonuses to informants for every Resistance member whom they betrayed. Interrogations would take place inside the hotel, in a room with a window that looked out onto the notorious Cherche-Midi prison, where torture victims reportedly were placed in tubs of water that were gradually brought to a boil.
Immediately after the war, the Lutetia was transformed into a “welcome center” for returning victims of the concentration camps. It was a horrible nexus of dashed hopes, with bulletin boards filled with faces of the missing and ghostlike camp victims wandering around in striped pajamas. The “Suite Française” author Irène Némirovsky’s two daughters went there in search of their parents. The older girl, Denise, ran desperately after a woman she mistook for her mother. She did not know that Némirovsky had died at Auschwitz three years earlier.
Alfred Akirov knows about all this history, but he does not seem particularly moved by it nor is he proud or boastful that a former Nazi hotel is now under Jewish ownership.¨
excerpts from the article by Stephen Heyman for the New York Times