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The Holocaust and the Book

Destruction and Preservation

edited by Jonathan Rose

Publication Year: 2001

Between 1933 and 1945, Nazi Germany systematically destroyed an estimated 100 million books throughout occupied Europe, an act that was inextricably bound up with the murder of 6 million Jews. By burning and looting libraries and censoring “un-German” publications, the Nazis aimed to eradicate all traces of Jewish culture along with the Jewish people themselves. The Holocaust and the Book examines this bleak chapter in the history of printing, reading, censorship, and libraries. Topics include the development of Nazi censorship policies, the celebrated library of the Vilna ghetto, the confiscation of books from the Sephardic communities in Rome and Salonika, the experience of reading in the ghettos and concentration camps, the rescue of Polish incunabula, the uses of fine printing by the Dutch underground, and the suppression of Jewish books and authors in the Soviet Union. Several authors discuss the continuing relevance of Nazi book burnings to the present day, with essays on German responses to Friedrich Nietzsche and the destruction of Bosnian libraries in the 1990s. The collection also includes eyewitness accounts by Holocaust survivors and a translation of Herman Kruk's report on the Vilna ghetto library. An annotated bibliography offers readers a concise guide to research in this growing field.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-6

THE story of the Six Million is also the story of the One Hundred Million. That is the toll of books destroyed by the Nazis throughout Europe in just twelve years, according to the calculations of one library historian. Of course, this is only the roughest of estimates, which we will probably revise as research progresses. But we can begin with this terrible certainty: the mass slaughter of...

Part I - Destruction and Preservation

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Chapter I - The Nazi Attack on “Un-German” Literature, 1933–1945

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pp. 9-46

SCHOLARS continue to debate the actual and symbolic meaning of the public burnings of books on 10 May 1933, the “Action against the Un-German Spirit.” Scarcely anyone disputes that the book burnings deserve mention with the Reichstag fire and the boycott of Jewish businesses as among the most striking features of the first months of the Hitler regime. But it was students rather than...

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Chapter II - Bloodless Torture: The Books of the Roman Ghetto under the Nazi Occupation

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pp. 47-58

WHEN I began research into the fate of the books of the Roman ghetto under the Nazi occupation, I had in mind the line from John Milton’s Areopagitica of 1644: “As good almost kill a man as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself.” Or perhaps—as another epigraph for the essay—Heinrich Heine’s thought in 1823 that “wherever they burn books they will also, in the...

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Chapter III - The Confiscation of Jewish Books in Salonika in the Holocaust

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pp. 59-65

THE confiscation of books from Salonika by the Nazis during the Second World War was more than a loss in itself. It was the first of numerous German anti-Semitic measures that eventually led to the destruction ofthis great Sephardic rabbinic community, thus cutting off the main lifeline of Sephardic culture in general. Hitler had appointed Alfred Rosenberg in 1934 to supervise Nazi intellectual...

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Chapter IV - Embers Plucked from the Fire: The Rescue of Jewish Cultural Treasures in Vilna

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pp. 66-78

THE effort to collect and preserve Jewish historical documents and cultural treasures in Eastern Europe was launched with an impassioned public appeal by Simon Dubnov in 1891; it was institutionalized and broadened into a social movement with the founding of YIVO in 1925, and it reached its heroic culmination with the rescue activities by Abraham Sutzkever, Shmerke Kaczerginski,...

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Chapter V - “The Jewish Question” and Censorship in the USSR Arlen Viktorovich Blium

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pp. 79-103

This essay is a translation of sections from Arlen Blium’s book, The Jewish Question under Soviet Censorship, 1917–1991 [Evreiskii vopros pod Sovetskoi tsenzuroi, 1917–1991] (St. Petersburg: Peterburgskii evreiskii universitet, 1996 ). These excerpts describe the persecution of Soviet Jews, Jewish culture, and Jewish books during the Stalin era. The plan for the book was born, as Blium notes in his Introduction (p. 23), during the...

Part II - Culture and Resistance

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Chapter VI - The Secret Voice: Clandestine Fine Printing in the Netherlands, 1940–1945

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pp. 107-127

THE long tradition of neutrality maintained by the Netherlands since the time of Napoleon ceased on 10 May 1940 when Hitler’s invading forces bombed harbors and coastal areas, then dropped incendiary bombs on the city of Rotterdam itself several days later. On 15 May the Netherlands capitulated after QueenWilhelmina and members of the royal family had escaped across the...

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Chapter VII - Reading and Writing during the Holocaust as Described in Yisker Books

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pp. 128-142

THROUGHOUT World War II, in the ghettos, in the camps, on the Aryan side, in the woods, and in hiding, Jews were keeping diaries, chronicling events, composing poems, running illegal presses, publishing newspapers, writing letters, keeping records, among other activities. Remarkably, these were occurring even in the midst of Nazi-occupied Europe. Later, using these source materials...

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Chapter VIII - Polish Books in Exile: Cultural Booty across Two Continents, through Two Wars

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pp. 143-161

MANUSCRIPTS and books have always been fundamental transmitters of human culture, taking their place beside older visual and oral media in bearing the thoughts, discoveries, and aspirations of one generation to those that succeed it. Indeed, the permanence and portability of the word on clay, parchment, and paper have made it the most powerful cultural medium of all. As Horace...

Part III - The Reader in the Holocaust: Documents

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Chapter IX - The Library in the Vilna Ghetto

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pp. 165-170

IT was very hard for anybody in the Vilna ghetto to get into the “brigades,” which had work assignments outside the ghetto. One had a chance, in such a brigade, to bring home a “package,” although it was always a risky undertaking. So everyone was trying to “get in.” I succeeded in getting into a brigade of railroad workers. The railroad tracks ran through orchards and farms that could use...

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Chapter X - Library and Reading R oom in the Vilna Ghetto, Strashun Street 6

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pp. 171-200

AFTER the Ghetto Library’s first year of existence, we present this compilation as a historical document about a momentous and difficult time.1 Our compilation is not only an annual report; it has an additional objective: to cast the ghetto reader into bibliopsychological relief. A special type of reader has emerged from the fabric of our surrounding environment— from recent events and experiences. That is what is of greatest interest...

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Chapter XI - When the Printed Word Celebrates the Human Spirit

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pp. 201-205

A COUPLE of years ago I took part in a seminar at the site of the Theresienstadt Garrison in Czechoslovakia, which was (from 1941 until our liberation in May 1945) the site of a fierce Nazi concentration camp. One of the breakout sessions during this meeting in 1993, conducted in the former SS Guard clubhouse, was devoted to the manypr ominent artists, writers, composers, performing...

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Chapter XII - Crying for Freedom: The Written Word as I Experienced It during W orld War II

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pp. 206-209

MY story is an eyewitness report of the most memorable written materials I read during World War II in my hometown of Amsterdam. I was ten years old when Poland was invaded, and sixteen when my country was finally freed by the Alliesafter five grueling years. When it comesto comparing national anthems, I think that the Dutch have one that is more strongly entrenched in their history as a nation than any other....

Part IV - Present and Past

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Chapter XIII - Zarathustra as Educator? The Nietzsche Archive in German History

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pp. 213-265

SILBERBLICK. Bright moment, lucky chance. A sunny day in Weimar, November 1991. Hedwig, thirty-eight, waits solemnly for me in the town square still known as Karl Marx Platz (formerly Adolf Hitler Platz). A spirited, voluble woman, Hedwig has been eager to show me the cultural splendors of her hometown—the Goethehaus, the Schillerhaus, the...

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Chapter XIV - Convivencia under Fire: Genocide and Book Burning in Bosnia

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pp. 266-291

THE most famous book in Bosnia is a lovely illuminated manuscript known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. Although it found a home in Bosnia in the early 1600s, it was made in another place and time. It is a testimony to the artistic and cultural creativity of those who made it, valued it, and protected it over the ages. It is also a survivor. On at least four occasions in its long history, the Sarajevo...

Part V - Bibliography

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Chapter XV - Jewish Print Culture and the Holocaust: A Bibliographic Survey

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pp. 295-310

THIS essay offers an introduction to research on the impact of the Holocaust on the cultural life of European Jewry. First, it is important to understand what existed prior to the Holocaust, so we include select references to studies of prewar Jewish libraries, booksellers, and publishers. Further sections follow these cultural institutions through the years of the Holocaust, including their suppression...

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Notes on Contributors

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pp. 311-314

DINA ABRAMOWICZ began her career as a librarian in 1939 at the Jewish Children’s Library in Vilna. After the German occupation of Lithuania in 1941, she worked at the Vilna Ghetto Library. Later, she escaped to a camp of Jewish resistance fighters. After the war, she studied librarianship at Columbia University. She joined the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, where she was Head Librarian until 1987, and subsequently...

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613761588
E-ISBN-10: 1613761589
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558492530
Print-ISBN-10: 1558492534

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2001

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Book burning -- Germany.
  • Germany -- Cultural policy.
  • Jewish literature -- Censorship -- Germany.
  • Censorship -- Germany -- History -- 20th century.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945).
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