Documentation on Nazi seizures of libraries is now becoming available. Having taken a leading role in advocating for the restitution of Nazi-era looted art, the Claims Conference and the WJRO are now expanding their focus to identifying the millions of books looted from libraries during the Holocaust.
In 2010, the Claims Conference and WJRO created a website that relied on original Nazi records of art looting in France and Belgium to document what is now more than 30,000 artworks. The records were kept by the main Nazi looting arm, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR). The website now also documents the seizures of libraries by the ERR, with information on the individuals and institutions from which they were taken, and the postwar fate of the libraries. The website section currently has information about libraries looted from France and Belgium. Information on the Netherlands is forthcoming shortly, with other countries to follow.
“Our job is to make sure that we have the information about what was taken and from whom. Books can hold clear clues as to their rightful owners: a bookplate, a stamp imprint from a particular institution, or even a hand-written dedication on the flyleaf can all help to discover from where a book came,” said Greg Schneider, Claims Conference Executive Vice President.
The website includes facsimiles of 10 scattered original lists of library seizures in France carried out by the ERR; an article by ERR expert Patricia Kennedy Grimsted on the background and context of library seizures in France; and a combined chart listing the names of individual and institutional victims and data about the priority ERR seizures in France.
Last autumn, the Claims Conference/WJRO helped organize the travel to Minsk of a group of experts to meet with librarians in Belarus, where many of the books from France eventually ended up. The new website section also contains information and proof of the French holdings of the National Library of Belarus.
One of the libraries on the Nazi seizure lists belonged to a Jewish Frenchman named Victor Basch, who, along with his wife, was murdered by the French Vichy government in 1944. One of the books from that library, with a personal dedication to Victor by the author, was found in the Bibliothèque Nationale, the French National Library. And last month, at a special conference on looted books that took place in Paris, this volume was restituted to Victor Basch’s granddaughter, Francoise Basch, a Holocaust survivor, as a gesture of goodwill.
While the book may not hold monetary value, its personal value is priceless. While the Claims Conference-WJRO program does not represent individual claimants, its work will enable these types of property restitutions to burgeon and continue. Returning Judaica, artwork and books taken during the Shoah to rightful owners or heirs is of utmost importance. The Looted Art & Cultural Property Initiative will continue to sponsor projects to make Nazi records accessible so that the light of justice can shine on these stolen items.