Between 2014 and 2018, more than 6,000 books in the Judaica collections at the University Library in Potsdam underwent an assessment process to determine whether they are loot or trophies from the National Socialist period. Numerous volumes were identified so far. The mostly Hebrew or Yiddish provenance markers are documented in the Looted Cultural Assets database.
The interdisciplinary degree program in Jewish Studies was established at the University of Potsdam in 1994. This included the assembly of a subject-specific book inventory, because the University Library at Potsdam hardly had any literature on Judaism, Israel or religious studies. Book holdings were acquired by means of purchases from the antiquarian book trade and gifts.
The library acquired valuable holdings in the private libraries of the Jerusalem librarian Dr. Israel Mehlmann, of the literary director of the Jewish State Theater in Bucharest, Israil Bercovici, and the Amsterdam rabbi Prof. Yehuda Aschkenasy. The majority of the collections were assembled after 1945 and contain numerous books with provenance markers.
Hebrew book titles constitute by far the largest proportion of the holdings under evaluation. Many provenance markers and credits are composed in Hebrew or Yiddish. This is why the University Library has assigned a research associate to carry out the provenance research project.
Suspicious books are identified and their provenance – which could take the form of stamps, ex libris, labels, autographs or other handwritten entries – is photographed. These features are then entered, along with the bibliographical data, into the Looted Cultural Assets. Because over 70 percent of the suspicious books are in Hebrew or Yiddish, this data entry is very time-consuming; only the bibliographical data can be transliterated.
Research on entities, meaning people or organizations, also takes a great deal of time, which is why it is only done in specific cases. When this research is completed, the results are entered into the database. Thanks to a cooperative agreement with the Berlin Central and Regional Library (Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin), the Free University of Berlin, and the Centrum Judaicum, we are able to access previously saved information, which makes this work much more feasible.
In 1998/1999, the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art and Germany’s federal, state and municipal Declaration on the Tracing and Return of Nazi-Confiscated Cultural Assets, especially from Jewish holdings, provided the foundation for provenance research. These declarations called upon public libraries, museums and archives to identify any of their holdings that might be Nazi loot, to identify any possible heirs, and to return the affected volumes.
The Judaica collections at the University Library of Potsdam have been undergoing a process since 2014 to assess whether any holdings are Nazi loot.
Dr. Andreas Kennecke
Former Project Members:
This project was funded by the German Lost Art Foundation.