Jewish community given back books stolen by Nazis

AP 13 April 2011
By Jenny Soffel

BERLIN -- Recently rediscovered books plundered by the Nazis more than six decades ago were returned to Berlin's Jewish community on Wednesday in a ceremony at the city's landmark synagogue.

The Berlin Central and Regional Library formally handed over 10 books and three journal volumes discovered among more than 200,000 volumes being examined by researchers as part of a project to establish their origin, with a focus on restitution.

One of the books is from noted author Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and dates back to 1890. There is also a travel guide to Palestine from 1934 and a book on Jewish history "from the destruction of the First Temple to the present," that was published in 1913. All are in German.

Though experts say none of the books have significant monetary value, they offer a sobering glimpse of the country's history.

"It's the ordinariness of these books that remind us of the horrible reality of the persecution of the Jews during the Nazi era", Germany's top official for cultural affairs, Bernd Neumann, said at the ceremony at Berlin's New Synagogue.

Lala Suesskind, the head of Berlin's Jewish community, said "this hand-over reminds us all that injustice never loses significance over time."

Jewish households, community centers and schools were routinely looted by the Nazis and thousands of books were burned. Some, however, were spared and archive records show that more than 40,000 looted books were sold to the Berlin Central and Regional Library in 1943.

But, finding them is like searching for a needle in a haystack, the researchers say.

"We are happy every time we can give books back to the rightful owner," historian Peter Proelssz from the library said. "But there are still 200,000 books with unknown origin to go through. In the past year, we've gone through 25,000," Proelssz said.

When identifying the owners, the researchers look for certain clues: sometimes a stamp on the first page, sometimes just a number.

For example, inside one of the books recently discovered, "The Jewish Youth Calendar," a faint stamp can still be made out that reads: "Belongs to the religious school of the Jewish Community."

The German federal government distributes euro1 million ($1.4 million) annual to restitution projects across the country.
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