Gesellschaft der Freude, Berlin

Since 2018, four books and one bookplate from the library of the Society of Friends (Gesellschaft der Freunde) were handed over to the Foundation New Synagogue Berlin - Centrum Judaicum.

The Society of Friends was founded on January 29, 1792 in Berlin. It was a Jewish benefit society. Its members supported each other in cases of poverty, unemployment, illness and death. In 1935 the society was banned and its assets confiscated, in 1936 they were seized by the Prussian state.

In addition to the Berlin Society of Friends there were also clubs of the same name in Wroclaw, Frankfurt am Main, Leipzig and Wiesbaden. The provenance marks found in the books initially did not allow any conclusion as to which club the volumes belonged to. One volume bears a stamp of the Society of Friends in Wroclaw. However, this volume was re-signed with an almost identical label, but a new shelfmark and with this fits both in regards to the signing and the access route with two other volumes that bear no stamp of the Wroclaw club. This suggests a previous de-accession. The size of the library (at least 5,300 volumes, the highest signature we found) as well as the spatial proximity allow us to conclude that the previous owner was probably the Berlin Society of Friends.

Three of the books were found in unprocessed stock of the Berlin City Library, one of which had meanwhile been incorporated into the holdings of the Ratsbibliothek. These books were - documented through numbering - supplied by the Bergungsstelle, specifically from Obj. No. 15 (a Depot of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) to build a "library of the enemy").

Another book was accessioned in 1950 as a gift in the Berlin Senate Library. Although the accession journals of the Berlin Senate Library do not provide any information about the vendor, it can be assumed, based on a corresponding stamp, that it was delivered by the Municipal Library of Berlin to the newly founded Berlin Senate Library. The Berlin city council was supplied by the Bergungsstelle in 1945/46, as well as the Berlin City Library and the Ratsbibliothek. It is therefore likely that the book comes also from the RSHA Depot, even if a corresponding numbering is missing.

The bookplate was found in the Exlibris Collection of the Berlin City Library. When and how it got there is unclear.

There is no legal successor to the Society of Friends. Based on the Washington Principles, specifically No. IX ("If the pre-war owners [...] can not be identified, steps should be taken to achieve a just and fair solution."), The ZLB has decided to hand over the volumes to the Foundation New Synagogue Berlin - Centrum Judaicum as the Berlin center for the care and preservation of Jewish culture.

The ZLB thanks Dr. Sebastian Panwitz for his support with the research.

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