The books’ paths

The cooperative provenance database Looted Cultural Assets enables you to search for recorded objects, marks of provenance, and the original / previous owners.

Looted Cultural Assets

The books’ paths

The ZLB is comprised of the Berliner Stadtbibliothek (Berlin City Library, BStB), founded in 1901, the Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek (America Memorial Library, AGB), established in West Berlin in 1954, and the Administrative Library of the Municipality of Greater Berlin, founded in 1948, which became the Senatsbibliothek Berlin (Berlin Senate Library, SeBi) in 1951. All three libraries have Nazi loot among their collection.
The loot arrived at the ZLB through various and still partly unknown ways. Because of the available source material and large amount of old stock at the BStB our research has so far concentrated on this library and its collections, as described in greater detail below.

The Berliner Stadtbibliothek

The Berliner Stadtbibliothek was long considered not important enough to have acquired much Nazi loot. Valuable private libraries and associated materials belonging to the persecuted and coming from the occupied territories were sent to other libraries. The BStB took charge of the rest of the loot: Books that no other establishment wanted, but which were still of use to a public library. Novels, travel guides, children’s books and non-fiction books were classified as ‘normal’ book resources. The origins and fate of their owners were of no interest. Correspondence (.pdf) from 1943, which was  found in the library’s historic archives in 2007, reveals the full extent of the BStB’s complicity in the Holocaust-related crimes committed against Berlin’s Jews.

The books owned by those deported

In 1943, the BStB contacted the Berlin city treasurer and initiated the acquisition of “over 40,000 books from the private libraries of evacuated Jews” from the city's Public Pawn Office - books from the last residences of deported and murdered people.

Just under 2,000 of the approximately 40,000 books were recorded in a special accessions register entitled J (Digital media at the Berlin Regional Digital Library) until 20 April 1945. These books are identifiable by their accession numbers; each serial number is preceded by a “J”. All books labelled in this way are Nazi loot, yet only about 10% contain evidence that could help trace them back to their original owners. So far more than 1,500 of the items listed in accessions register “J” have been located in our stock.

After 1945: 20,000 “gifts”?

After the war ended, no attempts were made to return the stolen books to their owners, the owners’ heirs, or Berlin’s Jewish community. In August 1945, the BStB began logging all the original materials and thus also the rest of the deported people’s books. These were not entered in a separate accessions register as had been done previously, but were rather recorded as “gifts” along with other acquisitions. Between the summer of 1945 and the end of 1950, over 20,000 accession numbers were allocated for “gifts”, with 16,000 assigned to the three main suppliers – the Kulturamt (“Cultural Office”), the Bücherlager (“book depot”) and the Bergungsstelle (“salvageing organisation”). The books owned by people who had been deported were generally recorded under Kulturamt and Bücherlager. But there are exceptions, as legal accessions appear to have been mixed in, along with old unused stock dating back to before 1933.
In the post-war era, a vast amount of Nazi loot found its way to the Berliner Stadtbibliothek in deliveries from the "Bergungsstelle für wissenschaftliche Bibliotheken" (“Salvaging organisation for scientific libraries”). The "Bergungsstelle" existed from July 1945 to February 1946 as a municipal Berlin department, and its task was to collect books so that Berlin’s destroyed libraries could start to be used again as soon as possible. It took custody of the libraries of the disbanded Reich and state authorities and party organisations, the so-called “ownerless” stock, and the seized libraries of former Nazi members, including books from the repositories of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office, RSHA) and other organisations involved in looting cultural assets. By the time the “Bergungsstelle” was shut down in February 1946, more than one million books had been salvaged, sorted and redistributed. Among the main recipients were the Ratsbibliothek Berlin, which took delivery of over 350,000 items (including the entire library of the Reich Ministry of the Interior), the BStB (approx. 60,000 volumes), Berlin’s Volksbüchereien (public libraries), and the Staatsbibliothek (Berlin State Library) (approx. 20,000 volumes). The Ratsbibliothek has been part of the BStB since 1955, and the Volksbüchereien have handed their old stock over to the BStB, meaning the salvaged books from there are now largely located at the ZLB.

The numbers of the salvage operations representing and locating the specific recovery sites are generally recorded in the books in pencil. Numbers 15 and 209, for instance, represent two RSHA repositories. The Bergungsstelle’s files are today kept at the Landesarchiv Berlin (Berlin State Archives), and have been published at

Other suspect accessions

Since 2010, the ZLB’s investigations have focused on the BStB’s stock, and thus on the 1943 acquisition and the post-war “gifts”, as the files and sample analyses have shown that most of the Nazi loot is likely to be found within here. But every book that was printed before 1945 and was recorded at the present-day ZLB after 1933 is generally considered a suspect accession insofar as its provenance is unknown – regardless of whether they were bought by the BStB between 1933 and 1945, or the original loot was only acquired later by the BStB or other predecessors of the ZLB.

Identifying looted books

The aim of the research is to not only identify the Nazi loot and investigate the historic events, but also to return the books to their original owners or the owners’ heirs. But provenance research at libraries involves particular challenges that are specific to books.

The special role of books

Books are not generally identifiable as unique copies. They are industrially manufactured and thus cannot be distinguished from others in the same edition. Only markings added in later visibly make them unique objects, and can through them, the books’ origins may be traced. Stamps, signatures and dedications are the only hints that can lead to the original owners – if they don’t exist, it is almost impossible to identify the book’s provenance. As the monetary value is usually quite low, generally there are no records.
The books’ provenances were of no relevance to libraries. It was only documented for particularly old books or special collections. Relabelling, trades and swaps, new bindings and deacquisition further complicate the provenance research.

The search process

While the accessions registers  provide an initial point of reference, they do not contain any allocations or classifications by the Gestapo or other clear suppliers.
Every book is then located and examined for traces of previous owners. If there are none, the search ends here. Analysing this provenance information enables related items, previous owners, and ultimately perhaps also the original owners to be identified.

The search for previous owners

If the books contain names, addresses or other information, these details are recorded in the Looted Cultural Assets database. This way, books associated through their provenance can be identified first. In many cases, there are multiple persecuted people with the same name. If a book’s original owner can be identified, e.g. because there is a dedication with a date of birth and full name, this name is compared with the results of other research projects and various databases (such as the Gedenkbuch des Bundesarchivs (memorial book of the German Federal Archives) and YadVashem).

Examples of successful research and resolved cases can be found under Restitutions.

The Purchase of a "confiscated library" by the Berlin City library in 1951

Ausschnitt einer Seite aus dem Zugangsbuch Kauf der Berliner Stadtbibliothek aus dem Jahr 1951; mit handschriftlichen Eintragungen in Tabellenform mit Titel und Verfassername zu einzelnen Büchern.

The entry in the acquisition journal of the Berlin City Library under accession number 51/3528: "A confiscated library 1028 volumes".

On 13 August 1951, the acquisition  journal of the Berlin City Library records an item "confiscated library", acquired by the Magistrate of Berlin, Finance Department or the "Verwertungsstelle Magistrat". This is a purchase of 1,028 books worth 1,285 DM. No documents on this transaction have been preserved either in the archives of the present Central and Regional Library Berlin or in the Berlin State Archives. The invoice may have been destroyed within the usual cassation periods. A preserved circular of the Magistrate of Greater Berlin, Department of Finance, Cash and Accounting Division of 17 September 1953 on the destruction of documents between 1945 and 1948 suggests this.1

Remarkably, Nazi looted property is found alongside non-suspicious books in this stock. The most recent titles date from 1949 and were published by publishing houses in the Soviet occupation zone or the newly founded GDR. For example, books formerly owned by Jacob and Käthe KahnClaus and Robert HilbHedwig Hesse and Martin Ziegler, could be identified as definite Nazi looted property. In addition, some books were found that were seized from "deserters from the republic" after 1945, so-called GDR/SBZ looted property.

According to the current state of research, the collection is not a closed library, as the entry in the acquisition  journal suggests, but a collective item of the administrative office for special assets ("Verwaltungsstelle Sondervermögen"). This belonged to the Finance Department of the Berlin Magistrate and was responsible for former Reich and state assets, Nazi property and other confiscated property (e.g. of Nazi incriminated persons). The administrative office was founded on 1 October 1949. It took over the tasks of two predecessor institutions: the German Trust Administration, which was dissolved at the end of 1950, and the Salvage Office ("Bergungsamt") of the Finance Department at the Magistrate's Office, which ended its work on 31 December 1949. The Salvage Office stored, sold or rented out confiscated and abandoned goods, including furnishings and books.

Ausschnitt einer Seite aus dem Zugangsbuch Kauf der Berliner Stadtbibliothek aus dem Jahr 1951; mit handschriftlichen Eintragungen in Tabellenform mit Titel und Verfassername zu einzelnen Büchern.

The information provided on the vendor: "Magistrat v. Gr. Bln. Abt. Finanzen (Magistrate of Greater Berlin, Finance Department), 1028 volumes, 1285.-"

As early as the beginning of 1950, the Administrative Office for Special Assets was assigned a new task: organising and carrying out closures of businesses and shops in East Berlin "to protect the currency". Businesses whose owners lived in the western part of the city were checked for irregularities, liquidated if necessary and their goods confiscated. A large number of them had to give up their businesses as a result.2 So far, there are no indications that books from closed antiquarian bookshops, lending libraries, art shops or bookshops were transferred to the administration office for special assets, because trustees and the Berlin Book Trade GmbH were responsible for this. However, this cannot be ruled out. In addition, the Administrative Office for Special Assets disposed of the property of " deserters from the Republic".

In view of the genesis of the administrative office, it can be assumed that the approximately 1,000 books were handed over to the administrative office for special assets in the course of the dissolution of the German Trust Administration and the Salvage Office. The further development can be traced from the correspondence about two further purchases in September and November 1951.3 According to this, the administrative office supplied the library with books, sheet music and brochures. The names listed in the letter of 25 September indicate possible previous owners of the books. The library staff sorted out banned books with National Socialist or militaristic content and checked which copies would be suitable for lending. The library management then informed the Amt für Buch- und Büchereiwesen (Office for Books and Libraries) at the magistrate's office of the number of books taken over and asked for a corresponding invoice.4 In the purchase of November 1951, 171.50 DM were paid for 120 books and 43 brochures. This corresponds to approximately DM 1 per copy, as in the case of the 1,028 books for which the library had paid DM 1,285.

The two documented cases show that the purchase in August 1951 was not an isolated incident, but a regular practice at the time. There is no record of how many other times the library received books from the Sondervermögen administrative office. When the office was dissolved in 1954, it was said in retrospect: "As experience in the administrative office for special funds has taught us, books soon pile up and cause a lot of work and costs. "5

The books purchased by the Berlin City Library may be a residual stock that was not sold until the dissolution of the Salvage Office and the Trust („Treuhand“), including confiscated books from Nazi incriminated persons and books that had become "ownerless" due to escape from the Soviet occupation zone or the GDR. The entry in the 1951 acquisition journal is very close to the dissolution years of the predecessor institutions in 1949/50. Thus, the last book from the holdings appeared in 1949, at the end of which year the Salvage Office was dissolved.

Ausschnitt einer Seite aus dem Zugangsbuch Kauf der Berliner Stadtbibliothek aus dem Jahr 1951; mit handschriftlichen Eintragungen in Tabellenform mit Stückzahlen und Lieferantennamen

When the individual titles were catalogued later on, the "Verwertg. Stelle" (=Verwertungsstelle, liquidation agecy ) is listed as the vendor, and there is also a back reference to accession number 51/3528.

There are no further documents on the way of these books into the library. Documents about them were presumably already destroyed by the Treuhand and the Salvage Office before the Special Property Management Office took up its activities. For example, there is evidence of an incomplete file transfer to the administration office for the Trust Housing Unit ("Treuhandbereich Wohnungen").6 It is also conceivable that the documentation was inadequate, as books were considered to be of little importance at the time.

In order to find further information about the origin of the stock, the paths of the books must be reconstructed on the basis of their provenance characteristics, as far as they exist and as far as possible.

The books related to this acquisition, which could be identified so far in the holdings of the Central and Regional Library, are listed here in the cooperative provenance database Looted Cultural Assets.

Text & Research: Jeanette Toussaint

1 Landesarchiv Berlin, C Rep. 124 No. 312, not paginated. Excluded from this were construction invoices, receipts for war damage and occupation costs as well as economic books for construction projects.

2 For more details: Heike Schroll: East-West Actions in Berlin in the 1950s. Schriftenreihe des Landesarchivs Berlin, Band 20. Berlin 2018.

3 Landesarchiv Berlin, C Rep. 725 No. 783, not paginated. Letter from the Berlin Public Library (BStB) to the Administrative Office for Special Assets-Realisation Office for Confiscated Goods at the Berlin Magistrate on 25.9.1951 and letter from the BStB to the Office for Books and Libraries on 21.11.1951.

4 The Office for Books and Libraries was responsible, among other things, for the Berlin library.

5 Landesarchiv Berlin, C Rep. 748 No. 232, not paginated. Letter of the Pawnshop of Berlin to the Magistrate of Berlin on 24.11.1954 concerning Magistrate Decision No. 735 (transfer of the work of the Administrative Office for Special Assets to the Pawnshop).

6 Landesarchiv Berlin, C Rep. 124 No. 311, not paginated. According to a letter from the Magistrate, Dept. of Finance, to the Mayor of Berlin, dated 3 May 1952, on the examination of the Office for Special Assets, Administrative Office for Jewish and Foreign Real Estate ("Amt für Sondervermögen, Verwaltungsstelle für jüdischen und ausländischen Grundbesitz") by the Commission for State Control ("Kommission für staatliche Kontrolle"), the dissolution of the Trust Office ("Treuhandstelle") and the handover of the files on 1 January 1951 had been catastrophic.

The "Barn Stock" of the Berlin City Library

Eine weiß gestrichene Scheune mit einem großen Tor.

The barn is now an event venue. Traces of its history as an alternative location for the Berlin City Library are now in vain (photo: Jeanette Toussaint)

The so-called "Scheunenbestand" (barn stock) are books of the Berlin City Library that were moved to a barn in Berlin-Müggelheim before the conversion of the New Marstall on Schlossplatz (Marx-Engels-Platz) into the administrative building of the Palace of the Republic in 1974. From there, the holdings returned to what is now the Central and Regional Library of Berlin between 1990 and 1995.

The books were stored in several cellars in the Neuer Marstall in 1965 during the construction of the new library. The holdings included unregistered books, parts of special collections, former Berlin school libraries and looted books of deported Jews from the Städtische Pfandleihanstalt, which was dissolved in 1943.1

Space for the tunnel to the Palace of the Republic

Construction of the Palace of the Republic began in 1973. The Neuer Marstall (New Stables) opposite was intended as an external administrative building with the director's office, recreation rooms for the guard regiment of the GDR State Security Service "Feliks Dzierzynski", police and army, and other organisational rooms. Both buildings were later connected by a tunnel in which telephone lines were laid in a tap-proof manner. It served primarily as a connecting passage for the guard regiment and the palace staff.2

The "Aufbauleitung Sondervorhaben der Hauptstadt Berlin" was responsible for the conversion of the Marstall. On 5 April 1974, it proposed to the presidium of the GDR's Bauakademie that a replacement building be erected in Wallstraße for the storage of library books. However, this was not realised; presumably it was too expensive with estimated construction costs of 3 million marks.3 At the same time, soldiers of the National People's Army (NVA), who were deployed on the construction site of the palace, began to clear out the first cellars. They first transported the books to cellars of the Neues Stadthaus in Parochialstraße and from there to a solidly built barn in Müggelheim in autumn of 1974.4 The number of books can no longer be reconstructed today. It can be assumed that there were at least 1,000 shelf metres.5

It is not known how contact was made with the owners of the barn. Possibly the construction management, with the help of the SED, had been looking for a place to store the books and had learned that the formerly privately run agricultural business had been deregistered in 1972 and the barn was no longer in use. The library now rented the larger of the two rooms inside, with an area of 110 m². The owners received a monthly rent. In return, they were obliged to ensure the safety of the books and to clear the snow in front of the barn in winter so that library staff had accident-free access.6

The barn was given a concrete floor, the walls were whitewashed, the doors to the garden were bricked up and the roof was sealed. Slits between the roof and walls were used for ventilation; wind also came through the old entrance gate. The books were stored in blocks, meaning they were piled up into large squares, with more books piled in the middle.7 In October 1974, the move was completed. In the following years, the library brought only a few books back into its stock.

Bis unter die Decke gestapelte Bücher und zwei Menschen, die diese mit Handbesen reinigen.

Tidying up the barn stock, between 1991 and 1993 (photo: ZLB)

The clearing of the barn (1990 to 1995)

After the reunification of the two German states, the owners of the barn negotiated with the senate about a higher usage fee in line with the German rents for commercial space. This could have been the trigger for the beginning of the clearing at the end of 1990. The process dragged on until November 1995 for several reasons: The books were first cleaned on site, pre-sorted and then further processed in a branch of the library. Only a few staff members were employed for this and these only twice a week. Moreover, due to the temperatures, they could only work in the barn from spring to autumn.8

Many books had been destroyed by mice, humidity, mould and lime from the walls. After the first clean-up, the rest was again checked for damage in a branch of the library, sorted by category, assigned to the subject departments, brought to the main library and incorporated into the collection there. Doublet copies went to antiquarian bookshops and to the "Central Office for Old Academic Collections" (Zentralstelle für Wissenschaftliche Altbestände, ZWA) of the Prussian State Library, which, however, was dissolved in 1995. The rest was brought to a Berlin landfill site. Exlibris were detached from the books and collected separately. Duplicate copies also went to antiquarian bookshops in Berlin.

The complete cleaning of the books was not always successful. Professional mould removal, as has since become established in the library, was not practised at the time for technical and personnel reasons. So books remained untreated for years. Some of them still show the traces of years of poor storage today: irreparable deformations, destroyed bindings and discolouration due to mould.

The clearing of the barn made it possible to reunite some books with the special collections they used to be a part of, such as the collection of the Berlin school headmaster August Engelien, the library of Bernhard Büchsenschütz, the headmaster of the Friedrichswerder Grammar School, and that of the philologist Ulrich Wilamowitz-Moellendorf. Relevant quantities of printed works from the period before 1850 were also collected. From these, the special collection "Old Prints" could be created and supplemented with the works already in the library.

Although Nazi loot was not yet in the awareness when the barn stock was incorporated into the library, all Hebraica that did not belong to a collection were nevertheless placed separately and given to the New Synagogue Berlin - Centrum Judaicum Foundation.

The barn stock today

The books from the Müggelheim barn can now be found in almost all of the library's holdings. They have been gradually processed and prepared for the public again. However, it is still unclear how many books were removed at that time and how many still exist today. There was no storage list or subsequent marking of the copies when they were reintroduced into the library system. Today, the barn in Müggelheim serves as a venue for events - traces of its use as a storage location for the Berlin Public Library for over 16 years can no longer be found.

Text & Research Jeanette Toussaint

1 On the origin and relocation of the books in the course of the new building at the beginning of the 1960s: Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin (ZLB), Rohrlach files, HA F 8/1; ZLB, Berliner Stadtbibliothek 783, correspondence on the acquisition of the books in 1943 from the Städtische Pfandleihe. The file was in the NS Looted Property Project at the time of inspection on 7.4.2021, but is to be handed over to the Landesarchiv Berlin; Friedhilde Krause/Paul Raabe (eds.): Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Volume 14, Berlin, Part 1. Hildesheim/Zurich/New York 1995, pp. 222-241.

2 Interview by Jeanette Toussaint with the architect responsible for this on 14.10.2020.

3 Bundesarchiv, DH 2/20658 vol. 1: Presidium meeting of the Bauakademie der DDR on 5.4.1974.

4 Daily notes of the library employee Peter R., April, May and October 1974. Transcript in the possession of the ZLB.

5 ZLB, Rohrlach files, HA F4/3: Work report of the Council Library dated 12.7.1974. However, it is not clear from this whether a total of more than 1,000 shelf metres was involved or only the quantity of the Council Library.

6 Rental contract dated 13.2.1975. Copy in the possession of the ZLB.

7 Interview by Jeanette Toussaint with the owners of the barn on 4.9.2021.

8 Interviews by Jeanette Toussaint with the library staff involved in the clearance and incorporation of the books, September/October 2020.