Library of Lost Books: Prague Jewish Museum joins search for books looted by the Nazis

Library of Lost Books

The Jewish Museum in Prague has joined an international project called the Library of Lost Books. It invites readers from all over the world to help track down the thousands of books that once belonged to the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies in Berlin, one of the world’s most important Jewish libraries before the Second World War.

The Higher Institute of Jewish Studies or Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentum operated in Berlin since 1872 and housed some 60,000 books on Jewish history, culture and religion, before it was shut down by the Nazis in 1942. Some of the confiscated books were destroyed during the war, but others survived, ending up in various libraries and collections all over the world.

Higher Institute for Jewish Studies in Berlin | Photo: Archive of Leo Baeck Institute

A project called Library of Lost Books, initiated by the Leo Baeck Institute Jerusalem and its London branch, calls on the public to help track down the missing volumes. Its aim is to create their online catalogue, or a virtual Library of Lost Books.

Last week, the project was joined by the Prague Jewish Museum. Michal Bušek is the head of the museum’s library:

“Books that were not destroyed and survived the war began to appear in various places: in Terezín, in North Bohemia, in castle warehouses. Some were discovered in Berlin. Of course, these books did not go back to Berlin, because the school was never restored. Books from Terezín and North Bohemia that were related to Judaism, Judaism, religion, went to the Jewish Museum in Prague.”

From there, most of the books went to other places, either as part of restitution or as part of the restoration of Jewish life in Europe. Some of them, however, mainly scholarly publications, remained in the museum, says Mr. Bušek:

“We started researching our books already back in 2001. In the course of this survey we also identified books from the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentum. In total we identified more than 4,300 books. This is proof that the library existed and that many of the books have survived.”

The project itself focuses primarily on books that have not yet been discovered. It invites members of the public, mainly school pupils and students, to get involved in the search and become “book detectives” on their own, says Mr. Bušek:

“When they are researching in libraries, when they are borrowing books or searching second-hand bookshops, they can help find more books from this library, based on stamps and other signatures. The Library of Lost Books website provides instructions on how people can get involved in the search and where to send any information they find.”

The Library of Lost Books features a database, an interactive map, and an online exhibition detailing the history and legacy of the Berlin library, and will be also accompanied by a traveling exhibition. After Berlin, Prague is the second city to join the project, with London and San Diego soon to follow.

Authors: Ruth Fraňková , Terezie Jirásková
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