Michel Leleu Levi, who now lives in Paris, managed to hide from Hitler’s troops together with his mum and siblings, but says his father Pierre Levi was not so lucky and perished in the concentration camp where he had been deported in 1943.
During a visit of an exhibition in Paris at the Memorial of the Shoah in February 2005, Leleu Levi spotted his father’s suitcase.
He said he recognised the piece of luggage from the last time he saw his father shortly before he was deported to Auschwitz.
He now wants his dad’s suitcase that is currently exhibited in the Polish museum back as a last reminder of his father.
But the museum has refused to hand the suitcase over despite the name of Leleu Levi’s dad being printed on it, saying it is an important part of a historical collection.
“We want to find an amicable solution with Mr Leleu Levi but he has not established contact with us," said Piotr Cywinski, secretary of the International Auschwitz Council, which manages the former death camp.
I understand his feelings and I share his sadness but we must preserve the memory of the disappeared," Cywinski said.
Leleu-Levi has now taken the matter to court in Paris, France.
First legal action over personal objects housed in museum
The Auschwitz museum says it has only a few suitcases identified as having belonged to camp inmates, and only three that were owned by people sent to the camp from France.
"Whatever the court verdict is, this legal case is in itself a defeat and it will only produce losers," Cywinski said.
A French court is to rule on the legal dispute in the autumn.
French legal authorities decided earlier this year that the Memorial of the Shoah exhibition in Paris should act as custodian of the suitcase pending a court verdict.
According to Polish daily newspaper Zycie Warszawy, it is the first time a descendent of a Holocaust victim has taken legal action over personal objects housed in the museum.
Set up in 1947, the Holocaust Museum includes several hundred camp buildings and ruins as well as the remains of the gas chambers and crematorium.
The site, which also includes a Holocaust memorial, was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979.
At least 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz and its Birkenau annex during WWII.
Reprinted with permission of the European Jewish Press