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The Library of the Dead

The ammunition boxes with the last books of the deportees.    © Cornelia Maenz

The Library of the Dead

Historians in Germany have launched a research project sifting through thousands of books belonging to Holocaust victims, left in storage in Berlin for over 75 years.

From Andreas Förster of the Frankfurter Rundschau:

 “There are wooden ammunition boxes in a room, each one a metre long and about 50 centimetres wide. Their grey paint has been scraped off, the wood is cracked, the metal corners are rusty. But there are no cartridges or grenades in it, but books. Thousands. Small and large, many with grey, unadorned book covers, others with artistically designed covers. Old books in old boxes. A treasure?

“Indeed. But none that can be measured in euros and dollars, because none of these books is a bibliophile treasure. There are light novels, classics from popular editions, school books, as well as a lot of specialist literature and a few magazines. Well-thumbed, worn, battered and with yellowed pages. And yet these books are a unique collection. It is very likely that they come from the apartments of deported and murdered Berlin Jews looted by the Nazis. A library of the dead.

“‘We are only at the very beginning of processing this unique collection,’ says the Berlin historian Irena Strelow. ‘But what we discovered during a first rough inspection gives us hope that we can identify at least some previous owners and pass their books on to possible descendants.’ Indeed, a number of the volumes that have been stored in the wooden boxes for decades have artistically designed bookplates with handwritten dates such as names and dates.

“Some books contain pressed flowers, letters or photographs, for example of school classes and weddings. ‘For the descendants of Holocaust victims, such personal items have an inestimable and identity-forming value because they are often the only surviving evidence of the existence of their murdered relatives,’ says Strelow.

Full article in German at:

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