Looted Libraries:

Documenting Nazi Plunder in Occupied Belgium and Limited Postwar Retrieval


In 2020 research on libraries looted in Belgium was completed by the authors Michel Vermote and Patrician Kennedy Grimsted.

Michel Vermote, Amsab-Institute of Social History, Ghent, Belgium; and
Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, Ukrainian Research Institute and Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University; Honorary Fellow, International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam

In Part 1 of of their research they presented a survey of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in Belgium with examples of the 150 ERR library seizures during the German occupation (1940–1944).

Part 1: Library Seizures in Belgium by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR)
With an Appendix: Victimized Owners, Quantities of Loot, and Book Shipments to the Reich, 1940–1944
(October 2020, updated July 2021)

At the same time they published six digitized lists prepared during the occupation by the ERR Working Group for Belgium and Northern France (AG/HAG BelgNfr) – the most important, and now best-documented German agency of cultural plunder in Belgium. Five are from an ERR Belgian file in Kyiv (TsDAVO); a sixth (from the Bundesarchiv in Berlin-Lichterfelde) is a 1944 retrospective list of Jewish and Masonic seizure victims by the head of HAG BelgNfr.

Six ERR Belgian Library Seizure/Shipment Lists (1940–1944)

Also published in October 2020 were accompanying charts (in three tables) – specially prepared for this project – name and combine data in Table 1 on 150 sequentially numbered confiscations, which the ERR referred to as ‘work projects’ (Arbeitsvorhaben, AV). The subsequent tables sort data from these ‘work projects’ in two different ways: Table 2 presents 113 private individual victims alphabetically by family-name; and Table 3 organizes 32 institutional victims by subject category.

Charts of ERR Belgian Library Seizure Victims 

This entire original website presentation draws heavily on the long-secret office records of the ERR Belgian Working Group that surfaced in Kyiv, Ukraine, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The extensive ERR Collection there is now digitized online, thanks to the Claims Conference ERR Project in cooperation with Ukrainian archival colleagues. The entire collection is now displayed on the website of the Central State Archive of Supreme Bodies of Power and Government of Ukraine (TsDAVO): http://err.tsdavo.gov.ua/, with implementation by the Ukrainian firm, Archival Information Systems, directed by Kyrylo Vyslobokov. The compilers are exceedingly grateful to Ukrainian colleagues for their contribution to this endeavor.

A fourth document published in October 2020 is a survey of the ERR Collection in Kyiv, and details about types of Belgian-related ERR documents available, which is followed by a new English-language 'Summary Register' describing Belgian-related ERR documents in 19 separate TsDAVO ERR files.

Belgian-Related ERR Documents in TsDAVO (Kyiv): A Summary Register 

Still in preparation is Part 2 of the research on 'Limited Belgian Book Retrieval in Western Europe and Eastern Points of No Return'

This surveys the limited postwar retrieval of seized books from U.S. and British library-restitution centres in Germany and Austria, with new details from U.S. and British sources in lieu of absent Belgian records. While Poland returned ten crates in 1947–1948, and Czech documents suggest the 1947 return of nine crates of Belgian books, confirming Belgian receipts have not been found.

Second, following 1991 revelations about the extensive ‘twice-seized’ Belgian archives in Moscow, captured by Soviet authorities at the end of the war, note is made of 40 Belgian archival fonds returned to Belgium from the Russian Federation in 2002. However, many Nazi-looted books and other printed materials identified with those archives in Moscow were not released. Three symbolic Dutch-language books looted by the ERR from Belgium were returned from Moscow’s Foreign Literature Library (VGBIL) via Amsterdam, in 1992; but reportedly, thousands more remain in Russia. A few French-language books from Belgium have also been identified in another Moscow library. Identified examples of Nazi-looted Belgian books and archival manuscripts in Minsk suggest many more remain in Belarus, with little hope for restitution. While considerable library loot from Belgium has also been found in Poland, a few looted Belgian volumes have surfaced in the Czech Republic.

An expanded version of the above Charts (in preparation) will be released with Part 2, with references about now-available postwar claims, and a few Belgian lists of books looted from ERR and additional Belgian victims.

WJRO 7 December 2020
Cultural Plunder by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg December 2021


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