What is Nazi-looted cultural property?

Nazi-confiscated cultural property or Nazi-looted cultural property refers to all cultural assets that were confiscated from their rightful owners by the Nazi executive organs for "racial", religious, political or ideological reasons during the National Socialist era from 1933 to 1945. Nazi-looted cultural property also includes objects that were sold under duress and sometimes far below their value in order to secure a livelihood or finance emigration.

The book as a cultural product also falls into this category. Libraries served as collection points for confiscated literature or acquired valuable book collections that came from the possessions of people who were usually persecuted as "Jewish". House and private libraries were just as much a focus as party or institute libraries. The Nazi executive organs entrusted with the utilization of cultural assets had unrestricted access to them. Nazi-looted cultural property found its way into public and academic libraries in a variety of ways. The Berlin City Library (BStB) was one of them.

The historical stocks of the Berlin Central and Regional Library

With the Berlin Collections, we collect and record Berlin's cultural heritage. Our holdings include current and historical media from almost all areas of literature and subject matter related to Berlin.

The central task of the Provenance Research Department is the investigation and identification of looted books and the paths they took after being confiscated as a result of persecution. Our primary goal is to return clearly identified Nazi-looted cultural property to the rightful heirs, communities of heirs or legal successors.

The identified books are often the last testimonies of their previous owners and thus form a bridge between the past and the present. Our work helps to provide descendants with information about the fate of their ancestors and thus close gaps in the family history. Behind every stolen book lies a fate. This means that we are working in an emotionally very sensitive field of research that contributes to coming to terms with Nazi injustice.

1.1 million books

We currently assume that there are 1.1 million books in the ZLB's stock that are the focus of our research and could be Nazi-looted cultural property. Each of these objects must be identified, examined for traces and documented. Handwritten entries, stamps, bookplates and signatures show us the way and, ideally, allow us to draw conclusions about previous ownership. In addition to books, other objects in the collection such as manuscripts, posters and sound recordings must also be taken into account.

We treat the results of our research transparently. All identified provenance features are published in the cooperative provenance database Looted Cultural Assets. Open Access provides users worldwide with low-threshold access to our research data and results. It also provides the opportunity to contribute further information to our research.

Sources for provenance research in our Digital Regional Library

Foto eines historischen Zugangsbuch in Handschrift aus dem Jahr 1944

Provenance research

A collection of digitized sources relevant to provenance research: Acquisition journals of the Berlin City Library ("Berliner Stadtbibliothek", BStB), Address Books of the German Book Trade.

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Abbildung von einem Historischen Telefonbuch mit einem Telefonhörer und einer Wählscheibe mit der Aufschrift Berlin <Ost | West>

Address and phone directories

Berlin address and telephone directories can be searched here:

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  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian: Bibliothekarische Provenienzforschung in Deutschland, an der Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin und der kolossale Detlef Bockenkamm. In: Retour - Freier Blog für Provenienzforschende, 2023. / full text available online
  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian: Es ist uns bekannt. Statusbericht zum „Zugang J“ der Berliner Stadtbibliothek. In: Beredte Objekte – Provenienzforschung zu NS-Raubgut. (Trumah. Zeitschrift der Hochschule für Jüdische Studien Heidelberg : Vol. 26). Heidelberg, 2023. p. 41-46
  • Hirschmiller, Peter: Provenienzforschung: Makel oder Chance? In: AKMB-news, Vol. 28 Nr. 2, 2022.
  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian: Brücken bauen: Die Exlibris von Ernst G. Preuß. In: O-Bib. Das Offene Bibliotheksjournal, Vol. 8 Nr. 4, 2021. / full text available online
  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian: Ten years in the making – the restitution of Benno & Martha Mühsam’s books. In: Retour - Freier Blog für Provenienzforschende, 2021. / full text available online
  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian, Prölß, Peter and Weber, Elisabeth: Von Brücken und Büchern. In: Retour - Freier Blog für Provenienzforschende, 2021. / full text available online
  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian: Louis Sachs & Herr Mai – provenance research as a means to empower remembrance. In: Retour - Freier Blog für Provenienzforschende, 2020. / full text available online
  • Bartoli, Antonia and Finsterwalder, Sebastian: The Challenge for Looted Libraries, a comparative approach to provenance research and restitution. Talk at the colloquium "Vingt ans de réparation des spoliations antisémites pendant l’Occupation : entre indemnisation et restitution" in Paris on 11/15/2019.  / full text available online, Video available online
  • Kummer, Stephan and Narewski, Ringo: Ein Provenienznetzwerk deutscher Bibliotheken. In: MuseumsJournal, Vol. 1, 2019, p. 25
  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian: If you want to go far, go together. Experiences from cooperation in provenance research and restitution. In: Terezín Declaration – Ten Years Later. 7th International Conference. The documentation, identification and restitution of the cultural assets of WWII victims. Proceedings of an international academic conference held in Prague on 18 – 19 June, 2019. Prague: Documentation Centre for Property Transfers of Cultural Assets of WWII Victims, p.b.o., 2019. p. 142-146 / full text available online
  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian: Paris - Berlin - Paris. Sur la piste de livres spoliés en france par les nazis: comment les retrouver et les restituer. In: Poulain, Martine [Ed.]: Où sont les bibliothèques françaises spoliées par les nazis? Villeurbanne: Presses de l'Enssib, 2019. p. 109-119 / full text available online
  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian and Narewski, Ringo: Looted Cultural Assets : Werkzeug kooperativer Provenienzforschung. In: Lenhart, Markus Helmut und Scholz, Birgit (Hrsg.): Was bleibt? Bibliothekarische NS-Provenienzforschung und der Umgang mit ihren Ergebnissen. Graz: Clio, 2018. p. 95-105
  • Prölß, Peter: Bücherspuren : Die Bücher der Verfolgten in der Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin. In: Weltzing-Bräutigam, Bianca (Ed.): Spurensuche : Der Berliner Kunsthandel 1933 - 1945 im Spiegel der Forschung. Berlin: be.bra, 2018. p. 79-93
  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian and Latza, Sina: Viel zu tun, wenig Zeit : Looted Cultural Assets - kooperative Provenienzforschung. In: Bibliotheksdienst 50 (2016), Issue 8, p. 712-724.
  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian and Prölß, Peter: Raubgut für den Wiederaufbau: die Berliner Bergungsstelle für wissenschaftliche Bibliotheken. In: Schölnberger, Pia und Loitfellner, Sabine (Ed.): Bergung von Kulturgut im Nationalsozialismus : Mythen - Hintergründe – Auswirkungen. (Schriftenreihe der Kommission für Provenienzforschung ; 6). Wien: Böhlau, 2016, p. 331-357 / full text available online
  • Winkler, Maria and Prölß, Peter: Geraubt und genutzt. Bücher von verfolgten und ermordeten Juden in Berliner Bibliotheken. Berlin, 2014
  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian and Prölß, Peter: Tracing the rightful owners. Nazi-looted books in the Central and Regional Library of Berlin. In: Borák, Mečislav (Ed.): "The West" Versus "The East" or The United Europe? The different conceptions of provenance research, documentation and identification of looted cultural assets and the possibilities of international cooperation in Europe and worldwide. Prague, 2014. p. 92-102 / full text available online
  • Prölß, Peter: Buchwege. Projektergebnisse der Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin. In: Dehnel, Regine (Hrsg.): NS-Raubgut in Museen, Bibliotheken und Archiven. Viertes Hannoversches Symposium. Frankfurt am Main, 2012. p. 455 - 472 / Abstract (805 kB)
  • Gerlach, Annette und Prölß, Peter: Forschungs-Verbunddatenbank „Provenienzforschung“. In: Bibliotheksdienst 46 (2012), Issue 1, p. 15-21.
  • Gerlach, Annette: Provenienzrecherchen im Bestand der Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin. In: Bibliothek: Forschung und Praxis, Vol. 36 (2010), Issue 1, p. 57 - 59
  • Gerlach, Annette: Die Recherche nach NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogenem Kulturgut im Bestand der Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin. Ein Werkstattbericht. In: Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg (Hrsg.): Die Verantwortung dauert an. Beiträge Deutscher Einrichtungen zum Umgang mit NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogenem Kulturgut. Magdeburg, 2010. p. 75-90
  • Bockenkamm, Detlef: Geraubt. Die Bücher der Berliner Juden. Berlin, 2008
  • Dürr, Michael and Gerlach, Annette (Ed.): Raubgut in Berliner Bibliotheken. Berlin, 2007