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The Nazi looting of books in Austria and their partial restitution

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The Nazi looting of books in Austria and their partial restitution

Evelyn Adunka

In the extensive secondary literature on looted art and cultural goods the looting of books was in most cases still hardly mentioned. Only in Germany were published some studies in the context of library science and history and by the Arbeitskreis kritischer Bibliothekarinnen., organised by Maria Kuhn-Ludewig. New studies are now in preparation, even in Austria and partly because of my book, which was published in spring 2002 and discussed by Austrian librarians in two public events.

In my first chapter I deal with the history and origin of the NS-library and depot in St.Andr near Villach and Tanzenberg in Carinthia: It was the central library (Zentralbibliothek or ZB) of the so called "Hohe Schule" of the NSDAP, which was transferred from Berlin to Carinthia in 1942 because of the beginning air raids. The Hohe Schule was a planned institution for National Socialist research and education, directed by the NS-philosopher Alfred Bauemler, founded as an alternative to the universities, which the Nazis rejected and wanted gradually to abolish. The only officially opened special institute (or dependence) of the Hohe Schule was the Institut zur Erforschung der Judenfrage (institute for research on the Jewish question) in Frankfurt am Main.

The central library of the Hohe Schule was directed by Walter Grothe, who worked for the Rothschildsche Bibliothek in Frankfurt am Main and the Landesbibliothek Kassel. He was a member of the NSDAP since 1931, a member of the SA and "Parteiredner", a public speaker for the party. In 1940 Grothe became a member of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR, Nazi Germany's offcial state agency for looting, ERR) Sonderstab Zentralbibliothek, in Paris, together with Wilhelm Grau, director of the Institut zur Erforschung der Judenfrage . They visited a.o. the library of the Ecole Rabbinique, of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, and of Edouard de Rothschild. He had found the hiding place of his library and for that he got a military decoration. In Brussels he was personally involved in the looting of the library of Leon Kubowitzki, later general secretary of the World Jewish Congress. There were two other librarians in Tanzenberg, Gottfried Ney, a member of the ERR in the Ukraine, and Adolf Trende, who worked in 1944 also for a short period for the Institute zur Erforschung der Judenfrage in Frankfurt am Main.

In October 1942 the books were transferred to the Grandhotel Annenheim in St.Andr on the Ossiachesee near Villach, from where they were transported in 1944 to Tanzenberg, when the Grandhotel was turned into a military hospital. The library was designed as a future public, but de facto secret institution, one of the biggest NS-libraries, and was already mentioned in the German Yearbook of libraries. Its holdings were on the one hand the libraries of four widows of German scholars - Hugo Grothe, Albert Wesselski, Friedrich Max Kircheisen and Ulrich Stutz -, which were bought legally and duplicates from other institutions and from the so called personal library of Alfred Rosenberg. This part of the library comprised 30-40 000 volumes.

The books of the second part of the library in Tanzenberg, looted by the ERR or other NS agencies, came from France (157 000 volumes), the Soviet Union (64 000 volumes), the Netherlands (90 000 volumes), Belgique (1124 crates), Great Britain (the Channel Islands), Yugoslavia (8 crates), Italy (more than 15 crates), Poland (3 crates), Greece (1 crate), Czechoslovakia (no numbers) - all together 500-700 000 volumes, according to British estimates.

From 1945 until 1948 the British occupation army under Major John F. Hayward organised the restitution of the library, with the help of the NS-librarians. 450 000 volumes were given to the restitution officers of the various countries, who came especially for that to Tanzenberg. The restitution of the library was the special concern and interest of Major Hayward and we can only speculate what would have happened with someone else in his place. After his return to London Hayward worked for Sothebys and the Victoria and Albert museum and published many important books. He was particularly interested in bookbinding, silver- and goldsmith work and porcelain and passed away in 1983.

Hayward organised in November 1945 in Klagenfurt, the capital of Carinthia, an exhibition of the most precious incunabula and manuscripts. He lectured about the exhibition, spoke about it in the Austrian radio, published articles in the local press and was very disappointed that other British officers were not in the least interested in it. Grothe also published a book on the incunabula in a Carinthian publishing house in 1952, where he spoke of the TIS, the "Tanzenberg Interim Sammlung" without explaining the origin of the library. He also tried in vain to convince the British to found an international study library with the rest of the library, which was not restituted. After the clearing of the building the former monastery was returned to the Austrian church, which uses it still today as a boys' seminary for future priests. The guide book of the church and the historical overview in a plaque in the entrance do not mention the events in the NS-era. (After the publication of my book the Church promised to erect a plaque commemorating these events).

In 1948 69,000 volumes were given in trusteeship to Richard Fuchs, the librarian of Klagenfurt's Study library. They were then transferred to Vienna, were they were sorted and in 1956 divided up between the University Library (UB) in Vienna and the Jewish National and University Library (JNUL) in Jerusalem. (The UB Vienna was chosen, because it lost 10 percent ot its holdings in the war years). The agreement was signed between the Austrian ministry of cultural affairs, the Jewish community of Vienna and the JNUL and contains no numbers. No list were made and the books, which were incorporated into the UB Vienna, were stamped with "Sammlung Tanzenberg". The final report, which was written by Grothe, mentioned that the original card catalogues of the Zentralbibliothek were also transferred to the UB Vienna, were today they cannot be traced any more.

There were also other depots in Carinthia, where looted Jewish books and household effects were stored. They were stolen from removing containers of Jewish emigrants in the port of Trieste. The former central synagogue of Trieste was turned into a warehouse for looted books. The director of the National Library in Vienna, whom I will mention later, Paul Heigl, visited the synagogue in 1944. The Gauleiter of Carinthia Friedrich Rainer already planned to establish his own institute for research on the Jewish question with Paul Heigl as director. Most of the books in Carinthian castles were sold in the state-owned pawnbroking institute in Klagenfurt (the Dorotheum) or given by the British to local refugee camps. In autumn 2002 the official Austrian Historical Commission will publish a report on the Dorotheum in the NS-era.

The two big Vienna Jewish libraries, the library of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde (IKG) and of the Israelitisch-theologische Lehranstalt (ITLA), were transferred separately to the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) in Berlin, where a major part of them was burned in an air raid in 1943. In 1938 the Nazis also founded a so called "sterreich Auswertungs Kommando" ( AK) in Berlin in order to investigate the archives they looted, about which some, but appearently not all reports could be found by now. It was commanded by Franz Adolf Six, who after 1945 became an industrial consultant in Essen. The families of two Austrian Jewish scholars - Samuel Krauss and Viktor Aptowitzer from the ITLA - whose libraries were transferred to Berlin and could never be found again sued after 1945 the German state and received after decades some compensation.
Parts of the library in the RSHA of books written in Hebrew and Yiddish were transferred by the Nazis to the concentration camp Theresientadt/Terezin, where they were sorted by Jewish prisoners. In 1945 the books were sent to the Jewish museum in Prague, from where parts were later transferred to the JNUL in Jerusalem.

In 1938 the Nazis founded in Vienna a so called Bücherverwertungsstelle, which collected books looted from publishing companies and bookstores. It was housed in the building of a freemeason's lodge and in May 1939 contained 644 000 volumes, of which 410 000 were destroyed. Librarians from the National Library (NB) and the UB in Vienna could choose there for their collections. This free supermarket of stolen books was directed by the librarian Albert Paust, who was before and after the war the director of the department for acquisitions of the Deutsche B cherei in Leipzig.

In the NS-era the NB was directed by Paul Heigl, a member of the NSDAP since 1933, of the SS and the SD. He tried to secure as many looted and confiscated books and archives as possible for his institution. In May 1945 he destroyed many documents and committed suicide. The NB was also used as deposit for several private libraries, which were left as separate units and restituted without problems after 1945. These were the libraries of Moriz von Kuffner, Oskar Ladner, Viktor von Ephrussi, Stefan Auspitz, Rudolf Gutmann and Alphonse Rothschild.

Single volumes, which were confiscated and incorporated into the NB, were marked in the NS-era by a courageous librarian with "P 38" (P for Polizei/police and 38 for the year of the "Anschluss". There exist two versions who that librarian was, Otto Brechler or Ernst Trenkler). They were singled out in the year 2000 and their eventual restitution is planned by the Austrian ministry. There were found about 6000 volumes. In the course of my research I was refused permission to see this list, but after the publication of my book the NB announced further research with new personel on the subject.

After 1945 the Austrians founded a so called Bchersortierungsstelle, where about 233 520 volumes (70 909 from the Dorotheum - the state owned pawnbroking institute -, 22 001 from the NB, 5267 from the Gestapo library and 135 343 from Tanzenberg) were sorted under the supervision of the former NS-librarian of the UB Vienna, Alois Jesinger.
The German-Jewish historian and journalist E. G. Lowenthal, who worked after 1945 also
for the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction (JCR), visited Austria and wrote detailed reports. Jesinger told him that he had nothing to do with the future fate of the books and that the ministry waited for claims, at which point Lowenthal asked him how somebody could make a claim, if nothing is known about it in public.

In 1954 a depot of 330 000 confiscated books was discovered in the building of a former bank in Vienna. This depot contained also books from Tanzenberg and there was found a part of the library of the famous YIVO in Vilna. With the help of an Austrian-Jewish lawyer called Friedrich Weihsenstein they were returned to the YIVO in New York. The librarian of the IKG wrote lists of the books, but none of the documents mention their numbers and the YIVO in New York was not very cooperative regarding the research.

Abraham Singer, the librarian of the IKG after 1945, who was then already in his seventies, tried very hard to collect every bit of information he could get on the fate of the Jewish books of Vienna. Singer came from Czernowicz, was a former bookdealer in Vienna and was in 1908 as a student, the secretary of the famous Yiddishe Sprachkonferenz in Czernowicz. (A fact which was not generally known in Vienna, but was for exemplar remembered by Melech Rawitsch in a report on a visit to Singer in Vienna in the fifties).

Singer's frank reports on his meetings with Austrian officials and their strange attitude concerning the Nazi-era are important sources for the background of this story.
Shlomo Shunami, the head of Ozrot ha Golah (treasures of the Diaspora) department of the JNUL, systematically visited Austria and other European countries after 1945 in order to secure as many confiscated books, the Jewish owners of which were murdered or could not be traced any more, for the JNUL. This policy was in full accordance with the Vienna IKG, which transferred in the fifties a major part of its library 70-80 percent - to the JNUL and also its archive from the period before 1938, which was saved almost completely, to the new Central Archive of the history of the Jewish people in Jerusalem. At least the transfer of the archive was termed as permanent loan. Today the IKG regretts this decision, which was then psychologically understandable, in a situation, where the long-term future of the Vienna Jewish community was not yet secured.

A part of the library of either the IKG or the ITLA or books of a publishing company (it is not really clear, whose books these were) were saved in the NS-era by a then young student of Oriental Studies named Kurt Schubert. He was an air raid warden and said that the books were a fire danger. He found the books in the cellar of the building in the traditional Jewish district of Vienna, which housed the two big Jewish libraries, and organised their transfer to the Institute of Oriental Studies, whose own holdings were evacuated. This was in agreement with the head of the institute and dean of the faculty of humanities, Professor Viktor Christian, who was also a member of the SS and of the foundation Ahnenerbe of Heinrich Himmler. Christian was also very interested to collect as many looted Jewish books as possible - he transferred for example books and Judaica from the Jewish communities from the Burgenland - and planned in Vienna to establish a "Professur (professorship) fr die Erforschung der geistigen Grundlagen des Judentums", as he wrote to the NS-science ministry in 1940. Because of Christian's initiative the library of the Munich publisher Ludwig Feuchtwanger, the brother of the famous writer Lion Feuchtwanger, was also transferred to Vienna. Schubert himself spoke of 20 000 confiscated books, which he saved. After 1945 he returned these books to the IKG, who transferred them to the JNUL. Out of gratitude the Israeli consulate organised a ceremony for the transfer of the books and Schubert was invited to visit the newly born state of Israel in 1949. After 1945 Schubert founded the institute of Jewish Studies (Judaistik) of the University of Vienna and in the seventies the Jewish museum in Eisenstadt near Vienna. He always had and has excellent relations with the Austrian Jewish

Among the holdings which thus came to the JNUL was also the library of Ludwig Feuchtwanger. His widow tried in vain to get these books or even some information about them from the JNUL. Shunami wrote that he helped to bring 70 000 volumes from Austria and altogether 400 000 volumes, 200 000 alone from Germany, to Israel. In later years Shunami tried again to get books from the ownership of the Vienna IKG, which then declined his request. He was very disappointed and wrote that he suspected many books were lost or disappeared in Vienna in the sixties and seventies - of which there is no proof.
Parts of the library of the IKG and of other Jewish institutions were returned after 1945 from Czechoslovakia (with the help of the Austrian trade union federation), the Jewish community of Dsseldorf, the Viennese Jewish cemetry - where Jewish books were hidden during the war - and the Offenbach Archival Depot(OAD). Austria sent two officials to the OAD, who found also non-Jewish Austrian holdings, which were returned - altogether 51 305 volumes.

Ephraim Kupfer published in 1949 an article in the Warsaw paper Yedioth, where he wrote that several manuscripts from Vienna were found in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. This information was confirmed by Shlomo Shunami. The current director of the institute did not deny it. The institute has also books from the Berlin Jewish community and the Polish state declared them to be a part of the Polish national Jewish heritage.

I want to conclude with the following remark: the extent of our knowledge or not-knowledge is still very limited. In 1995 Dov Schidorsky, the former head of the Israeli school of library science wrote: "The exact number of confiscated books is unknown. It is estimated at about 4 million volumes. About half of them have disappeared. The largest part was probably destroyed. But a certain part is still believed to be in undiscovered hiding places."

For many parts of the story the research is only beginning and every book and study is a part of the mosaic. In some ways the research is today easier. In contrast to the first decades after 1945, the institutions and officials have become aware of their tainted history and support or even commission the research, as did the Vienna City Library and lately, as mentioned, the National library, but not the University Library. The witnesses are not alive any more and the wider public, especially in Carinthia, where Tanzenberg is located, is still not interested.

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