“Stolen Words: The Nazi Plunder of Jewish Books” by Rabbi Mark Glickman— Tens of Millions of Books

stolen words

Glickman, Rabbi Mark. “Stolen Words: The Nazi Plunder of Jewish Books”, University of Nebraska Press, 2016.

Tens of Millions of Books

Amos Lassen

If you had to guess who had/has the largest collection of Jewish books in the world would you have guessed that it was the Nazi party who had tens of millions of books that they looted from European Jewish families and institutions. Nazi soldiers and civilians were responsible for the empting of Jewish communal libraries, confiscated volumes from government collections. They also stole from Jewish individuals, schools, and synagogues. In the beginning of the Nazi rise to power they burned books in bonfires but what many do not know is that they saved many books and hid them in castles, abandoned mine shafts, and warehouses throughout Europe. Theirs was the largest and most extensive book-looting campaign in history.

When the war ended, the Allies found that there were many questions to be asked regarding the books. Was there a way to identify who they belonged to and where should they go? Where did one find authority to make these decisions and finally the books were turned over to Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Incorporated, an organization of leading Jewish scholars chaired by the eminent historian, Salo Brown. Philosopher Hannah Arendt who later wrote “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” was given the job of establishing restitution protocols.

What makes this such a fascinating read is that it is the story of a world that was torn apart and what did remain was a connection with those who survived the horror of that time. Here is the history of members of the Jewish community struggling to gain some understanding of the world after the Holocaust, something that today many of us are still unable to do. The Western world gradually was able to understand just to what extent the world had been devastated, The story of the stolen books was also the story of “Nazi leaders, ideologues, and Judaica experts; of Allied soldiers, scholars, and scoundrels; and of Jewish communities, librarians, and readers around the world”. Like so many others, I find myself still longing to hold a book in my hands at a time when the world seems to be moving in the direction of electronic libraries and research.

Author Rabbi Glickman has explained the period during which the Nazis rose to power and what happened as a result in Jewish communities. He shows it to us as it stands among the other events that were going on at that time. It is fascinating and spellbinding to learn how books were returned to their rightful owners and their reactions when they received them.

I was fascinated by the account of how the books were returned to their rightful owners and how those people reacted when they were. I was even more fascinated to learn of Hannah Arendt’s role in this since I have spent many years studying her and somehow missed this. Glickman’s book played with my emotions and moved me several times. Above all else, we see how important the written word is and how much we are influenced by it. We also see the abuse of the written word and feel the impact of cultural genocide.

As Rabbi Glickman “artfully reminds us, books are ultimately the couriers of human civilization. In their redemption we keep faith with our past and sustain hope in our future.” A word of warning—clear your day before you sit down to read it because you will do nothing else but reading it until you close the covers on the last page.

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