Six Month Research Project 2022- 2023
After the war, hundreds of thousands of Nazi looted books arrived in Israel thanks to representatives of the National Library, at the time part of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The librarians, sometimes accompanied by employees of the Ministry of Religion, crossed Europe in search of the remains of Jewish libraries and collections.
The first shipments of books arrived from the Offenbach Archival Depot. But beginning in the late 1940s and till the early 1970s, books were also discovered and sent to Israel from Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Holland and elsewhere.
Many of these salvaged books joined the National Library's collections. Others were distributed to schools, universities, synagogues and other libraries around the country.
At the National Library these books were used by university students, researchers and the general public. The staff knew about them and could identify them by special labels that had been pasted inside most of them but information about their provenance was never added to the library catalog. This meant that there was no useful way to find one of these books other than coming across it by chance.
The project that was created was dedicated to searching for these previously looted books, now on the National Library's bookshelves, and to add a note about their past to the online catalog.
The note explains that the books had been looted by the Nazis during the Holocaust and reached the National Library as part of the 'Diaspora Treasures project'. So far about 35,000 of these notes have been added.
The team say: "We hope to be able to continue with this project sometime in the future and to actually open all of the copies and volumes of those 35,000 records in order to identify the exact ones and discover more about their provenance".
The research was done by using the library's old accession books. These large ledgers note every new book that the National Library acquired till the 1990s.
The books that arrived from Europe that had been looted by the Nazis were marked in the ledgers with the Hebrew letters Aleph and Gimel which is an abbreviation for the words "Diaspora Treasures" (in Hebrew) as theses books became to be known. This refers to books that the library didn't have before then. Second copies of books that the National Library already had, were not marked in the ledgers which made it impossible to find them, although the project team occasionally came across them by chance.
Unfortunately the information about the "Diaspora Treasures" wasn't added to the library's catalog and couldn't be found in a catalog search. The project team therefore had to go through all the books searching column by column page by page for the markings.
There were many mistakes and unclear information but in the end they ended up with about 35,000 book records. A record refers to the bibliographic information not the actual volumes or number of copies of that book's record. This means that there are probably many more than 35,000 books.
The only way to find out would be to physically look at them. This way the team would be able to find the exact book and also add the provenance information, such as book stamps, signatures, Ex Libris etc. to the catalog. This would be a completely new project. It is hoped that a further grant will be awarded for this project.
At the moment, to find the identified books in the National Library catalog, search for the words "Diaspora Treasure". Then you can narrow down the results by language, year etc.
For example if you search Bible and "Diaspora Treasures" and then chose books printed in English between 1600-1939 you will get:
Click on each book's details tab to see the note that the team added.
For further information about the project, contact the Project Leader:
Reference & Digital Resource Librarian
National Library of Israel
National Library of Israel communications April/May 2023