An international project has been launched to reunite thousands of books looted by Nazis with their owners or their descendants.
The Commission for Looted Art in London and the Nuremberg Municipal Library in Germany have been working together to find the owners of 10,000 volumes that were part of the collection of Julius Streicher, the Nazis’ chief propagandist and creator of the notorious antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer.
The collection was placed in the hands of the Nuremberg Jewish community at the end of the war, which then gave it to the library on permanent loan.
The library published 115 names of the original owners on the website of the Commission’s sister organisation, the Central Registry of Information on Looted Cultural Property, a week ago. Already, the Commission’s Anne Webber reports that half-a-dozen families have been in contact saying they recognised relatives.
Ms Webber said: “This is a very important piece of work because most people think restitution is only about paintings. It is not. Many things were looted, including books.
“We have already returned a number of books. We found that in some cases they are the only remaining link between those who died and those who survived. We tracked down one woman in Israel, who is now 80. Her parents and sister had been murdered when she was very young and she had nothing of theirs. She could not believe it when we presented her with three books, one of which was written by her maternal grandfather.
“About 2,000 of the books had either the names of the original owners, inscriptions or ex libris (from the library of) stamps, while 3,500 had other inscriptions. It is marvellous that the Nuremberg Library has agreed to work with us to find as many people as possible.”
The Commission is offering free help and guidance to people who think they might have a claim to a book.
The man in charge of cataloguing the books and their owners in Nuremberg is Leibl Rosenberg, a former director of the Central Committee of German Jews and an ex-journalist.
“I took this job for a year and that was 10 years ago,” said Mr Rosenberg. “Once I opened the books and started to read the names, I think I was hooked.
“It is ironic when you think that Nuremberg was the spearhead of antisemitism, and now we are uniting these books with their owners.”
The full list of 115 names and some of those who have had books restored can be found on the www.lootedart.com website.
In June last year, the Nuremberg City Archive appealed for owners of other works of art in its collection to come forward and claim them.