House of Fragile Things

House of Fragile Things

April 17, 2023
7 PM


The Lessans Family Literary Series Presents
James McCauley, The House of Fragile Things: Jewish Art Collectors and the Fall of France
Monday, April 17 | 7:00 PM | FREE

The Lessans Family Literary Series is delighted to welcome Washington Post Global correspondent, James McCauley, author of The House of Fragile Things as part of our weeklong Days of Remembrance commemoration. The House of Fragile Things: Jewish Art Collectors and the Fall of France, was the winner of the 2021 National Jewish Book Award, History category, sponsored by the Jewish Book Council, James will be in conversation with community member Deborah Kalb.


In the dramatic years between 1870 and the end of World War II, a number of prominent French Jews–pillars of an embattled community–invested their fortunes in France’s cultural artifacts, sacrificed their sons to the country’s army, and were ultimately rewarded by seeing their collections plundered and their families deported to Nazi concentration camps.

In this rich, evocative account, James McAuley explores the central role that art and material culture played in the assimilation and identity of French Jews in thefin de siècle. Weaving together narratives of various figures, some familiar from the works of Marcel Proust and the diaries of Jules and Edmond Goncourt–the Camondos, the Rothschilds, the Ephrussis, and the Cahens d’Anvers–McAuley shows how Jewish art collectors contended with a powerful strain of anti-Semitism.  They were often accused of “invading” France’s cultural patrimony. The collections these families left behind–many ultimately donated to the French state–were their response, tragic attempts to celebrate a nation that later betrayed them.


James McAuley is a Global Opinions contributing columnist for The Washington Post, where he previously served as Paris correspondent. He holds a Ph.D. in French history from the University of Oxford and is the author of The House of Fragile Things: Jewish Art Collectors and the Fall of France.

For more information, please contact Marcie Blackman at or 301-348-3808.