Returning Jewish Cultural Property: The Handling of Books Looted by the Nazis in the American Zone of Occupation, 1945 to 1952

At the end of World War II, American troops discovered depots filled with millions of books that had been seized by the Nazis throughout Europe. The confiscation was part of the systematic effort by the Nazis to eradicate the Jews from Europe. Beginning in 1945, American occupation forces consolidated the books at the Offenbach Archival Depot for processing and eventual restitution to the country of origin and the books' owners. Several individuals and organizations were instrumental in this process. The Offenbach Archival Depot, headed by Seymour Pomrenze, had the daunting task of sorting the books. Recommendations came from the Library of Congress, whose Mission, operating in Europe, was involved in purchasing and obtaining books for its collections, the occupation government, and the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Commission. By 1952 the looted books had largely been returned to their owners. About 150,000 heirless items (books whose owners could not be identified) were distributed by the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction to libraries in the United States and abroad.