Credit: Thomas Rose

Book Detective Chronicles

Action Day of Berlin State Library and Lise-Meitner-Gymnasium

More than 100 books were examined following an informative preparatory session and a productive action day. 24 students of the Lise-Meitner-Gymnasium in Falkensee got acquainted with the memory project "Library of Lost Books" over two consecutive days. They learned about the library of the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies, the theft of the Institute’s library in 1942, discussed what it means to have something taken away, and set out on their own book searches. The pupils were introduced to searching titles in the online catalog of a large scientific library. Armed with a new set of skills, they selected books from a list of volumes from the Hochschule that are still missing today and ordered them to the reading room.

Equipped with our signature detective notebooks and pink pencils, they examined the titles working independently. Among many recurring, rather innocent traces – such as stamps and accession numbers of the Royal Library of Berlin (the State’s Library predecessor) – they also discovered previously unknown, disconcerting traces. The young book detectives also identified further items to be reviewed. The signature "Wilcken", for example, was attributed to the ancient historian and papyrologist Ulrich Wilcken (1862–1944), whose research interests were indeed in line with the content of the book examined. Overlaid or hidden under blackening, they found stamps of the library of the Lutherheim founded in Königsberg in 1917, which was forcibly dissolved by the Gestapo in 1938.
In a book titled "History of the Jews and Their Literature," the title page bore a hitherto completely unknown, undocumented stamp with this inscription: "Dedicated by the Association of Jewish Youth Organizations" (see here for a close-up).

This stamp does not refer to the library of the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies, but rather to a federation of Jewish youth organizations founded in 1909, which had district and state associations throughout Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s, published its own newsletter, and held annual meetings. Its history seems forgotten, deliberately subjected to oblivion.

This “by-catch”, among many other things, makes the memory project "Library of Lost Books" equally interesting and fruitful for the book detectives,the libraries that host the searches, as well as society at large. Forgotten things are rediscovered, organizations and people wantonly destroyed and dispersed by the Nazis are found again. Young people (re-)discover the value of libraries and books, take responsibility, write their own history with an awareness of what happened between 1933 and 1945.

Credit: Doris Limbach
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