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A Mortuary of Books: The Rescue of Jewish Culture After the Holocaust

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The astonishing story of the efforts of scholars and activists to rescue Jewish cultural treasures after the Holocaust In March 1946 the American Military Government for Germany established the Offenbach Archival Depot near Frankfurt to store, identify, and restore the huge quantities of Nazi-looted books, archival material, and ritual objects that Army members had found hidden in The astonishing story of the efforts of scholars and activists to rescue Jewish cultural treasures after the Holocaust In March 1946 the American Military Government for Germany established the Offenbach Archival Depot near Frankfurt to store, identify, and restore the huge quantities of Nazi-looted books, archival material, and ritual objects that Army members had found hidden in German caches. These items bore testimony to the cultural genocide that accompanied the Nazis' systematic acts of mass murder. The depot built a short-lived lieu de memoire--a "mortuary of books," as the later renowned historian Lucy Dawidowicz called it--with over three million books of Jewish origin coming from nineteen different European countries awaiting restitution. A Mortuary of Books tells the miraculous story of the many Jewish organizations and individuals who, after the war, sought to recover this looted cultural property and return the millions of treasured objects to their rightful owners. Some of the most outstanding Jewish intellectuals of the twentieth century, including Dawidowicz, Hannah Arendt, Salo W. Baron, and Gershom Scholem, were involved in this herculean effort. This led to the creation of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Inc., an international body that acted as the Jewish trustee for heirless property in the American Zone and transferred hundreds of thousands of objects from the Depot to the new centers of Jewish life after the Holocaust. The commitment of these individuals to the restitution of cultural property revealed the importance of cultural objects as symbols of the enduring legacy of those who could not be saved. It also fostered Jewish culture and scholarly life in the postwar world.


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The astonishing story of the efforts of scholars and activists to rescue Jewish cultural treasures after the Holocaust In March 1946 the American Military Government for Germany established the Offenbach Archival Depot near Frankfurt to store, identify, and restore the huge quantities of Nazi-looted books, archival material, and ritual objects that Army members had found hidden in The astonishing story of the efforts of scholars and activists to rescue Jewish cultural treasures after the Holocaust In March 1946 the American Military Government for Germany established the Offenbach Archival Depot near Frankfurt to store, identify, and restore the huge quantities of Nazi-looted books, archival material, and ritual objects that Army members had found hidden in German caches. These items bore testimony to the cultural genocide that accompanied the Nazis' systematic acts of mass murder. The depot built a short-lived lieu de memoire--a "mortuary of books," as the later renowned historian Lucy Dawidowicz called it--with over three million books of Jewish origin coming from nineteen different European countries awaiting restitution. A Mortuary of Books tells the miraculous story of the many Jewish organizations and individuals who, after the war, sought to recover this looted cultural property and return the millions of treasured objects to their rightful owners. Some of the most outstanding Jewish intellectuals of the twentieth century, including Dawidowicz, Hannah Arendt, Salo W. Baron, and Gershom Scholem, were involved in this herculean effort. This led to the creation of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Inc., an international body that acted as the Jewish trustee for heirless property in the American Zone and transferred hundreds of thousands of objects from the Depot to the new centers of Jewish life after the Holocaust. The commitment of these individuals to the restitution of cultural property revealed the importance of cultural objects as symbols of the enduring legacy of those who could not be saved. It also fostered Jewish culture and scholarly life in the postwar world.

42 review for A Mortuary of Books: The Rescue of Jewish Culture After the Holocaust

  1. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    I was really intrigued by the topic of this book - how activists worked to save and preserve Jewish books and relics after the Holocaust. But this might not have been the right book for me. Although there is so much emotion and pain surrounding the topic, the writing felt really academic and dry to me. There was a lot of stating dates and people, but it was extremely hard to keep the names straight. I would have loved one or two people to focus on - maybe if the info was given through one person I was really intrigued by the topic of this book - how activists worked to save and preserve Jewish books and relics after the Holocaust. But this might not have been the right book for me. Although there is so much emotion and pain surrounding the topic, the writing felt really academic and dry to me. There was a lot of stating dates and people, but it was extremely hard to keep the names straight. I would have loved one or two people to focus on - maybe if the info was given through one person's lens, it might have been more fluid. My favorite parts of the book were when the author included firsthand anecdotes or quotes from letters by the people who were working to heal and recover from the Nazi reign. I would have been happy with much more of this and less of the sort of list of facts that this felt like. I can appreciate that this was translated from German as well; perhaps there might have been a little more cohesion if it was originally written in English. This would be an amazing read for people who are studying or researching the topic and want to understand more, but for someone like me, I couldn't get past the writing style.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    In this meticulously researched and detailed exploration of the efforts made after the war to salvage what remained of Jewish cultural treasures looted by the Germans, Elisabeth Gallas gives us a powerful, sometimes horrifying and often moving tale of loss and destruction. It seemed likely at one time that Jewish culture could be totally annihilated but much was thankfully saved, and the work of identifying and when possible restoring artefacts, especially books, to their rightful owners was car In this meticulously researched and detailed exploration of the efforts made after the war to salvage what remained of Jewish cultural treasures looted by the Germans, Elisabeth Gallas gives us a powerful, sometimes horrifying and often moving tale of loss and destruction. It seemed likely at one time that Jewish culture could be totally annihilated but much was thankfully saved, and the work of identifying and when possible restoring artefacts, especially books, to their rightful owners was carried out by dedicated and tireless experts. It was a difficult and sometimes contentious task but thanks to their efforts much was indeed saved and returned. I found it a fascinating and ultimately uplifting story if an often heart-breaking one and the book is an important and valuable work of Jewish scholarship and history.

  3. 5 out of 5

    January Gray

    This book is a must read, especially for those interested in this time in history. It is very specific and detailed but never becomes a dull or heavy read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Heather Bennett

    A Mortuary of Books is a interesting subject, the stirring is a bit slow to get through. I did find it interesting.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Theediscerning

    To a certain reader, this is a goldmine of information and historical discussion, centring on how the many thousands (nay, many hundreds of thousands) of books and synagogue properties purloined by the Nazis were treated and returned by the victorious Allies. Even a general layman like me can see the narrative drive in sections of this book, and learn how the general rule – that of giving the recovered bounties back to the states from where it came – had to be changed, in sympathy of the fact ma To a certain reader, this is a goldmine of information and historical discussion, centring on how the many thousands (nay, many hundreds of thousands) of books and synagogue properties purloined by the Nazis were treated and returned by the victorious Allies. Even a general layman like me can see the narrative drive in sections of this book, and learn how the general rule – that of giving the recovered bounties back to the states from where it came – had to be changed, in sympathy of the fact many places no longer had the Jewish culture left alive for the stuff to be fitted back into, and partly because some of that was Germany and Austria, and they should never have received any of it for their state institutions. It took a look of thought and debate at the time about how to return some sense of normality to Jewish culture in Europe that meant people and private collections could claim their properties. Unfortunately, I'm not that certain reader, and I found this book – which is commendably translated and updated from the German original – to be too academic for what passing interest in the topics it might have engendered. I guess the proof was that about 60% of the book is the text, with a huge chunk for notes, bibliography and index, etc. That didn't make the bulk of it as quick to read as I would have hoped, and I found a little too much dryness and too much concentration on being the definitive volume on the theme, for a general browser such as I. It clearly is an important tale – consider how much this material was first looted from the dead, then became a ghostly warehouse of culture in a German factory, then was sent around the world to prop up Israel and Jewish diasporas; the tale of the development of Israel clearly has a few lines devoted to this story. Which is one reason why this is unfortunately less accessible than it might have been.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    After World War II, the European Jewish community was left in shambles. In addition to their attempt to exterminate the Jewish people, the Nazis sought to destroy Judaism’s heritage: the buildings, books and ritual objects that helped sustain the religion. Fortunately for the future of Jewish culture, the Nazis soon realized that many Jewish books, manuscripts and artifacts had monetary value. Jewish private and public collections of Judaica were gathered officially, and unofficially, by the Naz After World War II, the European Jewish community was left in shambles. In addition to their attempt to exterminate the Jewish people, the Nazis sought to destroy Judaism’s heritage: the buildings, books and ritual objects that helped sustain the religion. Fortunately for the future of Jewish culture, the Nazis soon realized that many Jewish books, manuscripts and artifacts had monetary value. Jewish private and public collections of Judaica were gathered officially, and unofficially, by the Nazi Party and individual German citizens. After the war, more than four million Jewish items were recovered. As Elisabeth Gallas documents in “A Mortuary of Books: The Rescue of Jewish Culture After the Holocaust” (New York University Press), the Allies wished to restore these works to their original owners or their heirs. However, the question arose about who should receive the collections from public Jewish libraries that no longer existed. What if a family had no heirs – if generations and branches of a family were completely destroyed? Gallas examines the Jewish organizations and individuals who worked from 1948-52 to decide what should be done with these spoils of war. See the rest of my review at http://www.thereportergroup.org/Artic...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rather.be.reading1

    Oh my gosh!! I did not know what to expect when I requested this book, but it was astonishing! Everyone needs to read this especially history buffs, world war II lovers and of course book lovers. I never thought about what happened to the books after the war and the looting so this was a great insight. Def recommend!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Heller

    Reviewed for Library Journal. I burst into tears twice reading this book, which won’t go in that review.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

  11. 4 out of 5

    J.A.

    Starred review from Kirkus.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Carol A

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Meisch

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eileen

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  18. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

  19. 4 out of 5

    Samuel

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bill Sleeman

  21. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Noe

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kris - My Novelesque Life

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Harrison

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ahliah

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kris

  31. 4 out of 5

    John

  32. 4 out of 5

    Mathias

  33. 5 out of 5

    Greg Cohen

  34. 4 out of 5

    Lynn Keltner

  35. 4 out of 5

    Pakkitalavar

  36. 5 out of 5

    Hayley

  37. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

  38. 4 out of 5

    Snicks

  39. 5 out of 5

    Maggie Crelling

  40. 5 out of 5

    rudolph vitkauskas

  41. 5 out of 5

    haley rose

  42. 4 out of 5

    Karine Kersh

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