The books’ paths

The books’ paths

The Central and Regional Library was established by the law of September 25, 1995 with effect from October 1, 1995 as a foundation with legal capacity under public law and is divided into two locations: the Berliner Stadtbibliothek (Berlin City Library, BStB) and the Amerika Gedenkbibliothek (America Memorial Library, AGB). The library stock is made up of the BStB, founded in 1901, the AGB, established in West Berlin in 1954, and the Administrative Library of the Magistrate of Greater Berlin, founded in 1948, from 1951 the Berlin Senate Library (SeBi). Nazi-looted cultural property was found in each of these holdings.

The paths taken by the books into our stock can be partially reconstructed using accession books as central historical source material. However, there are also holdings whose access is still unclear. In these cases, provenance features, if available, help us to reconstruct the routes into the collection. Our research has so far concentrated on the extensive old stocks of the BStB, which are described in more detail below.

The Berliner Stadtbibliothek

Since 2002, the ZLB has regarded the examination of the BStB's old holdings for Nazi-looted cultural property as an institutional task. Prominent libraries with valuable library collections that were confiscated during the National Socialist era in the "Reich territory" and the occupied territories primarily ended up in the collections of libraries with an academic context. As a public library, the BStB took over the Nazi-looted cultural items that were of no interest to academic institutions. After the end of the Second World War, the stock was supplemented with the help of the so-called salvage office. The diverse subject areas that were considered "normal" and therefore "usable" for the BStB include Novels, travel guides, children's literature and non-fiction books of various kinds. The BStB thus enriched itself with works that could be found in every household.

The origin and fate of the previous owners were not questioned by the people involved. A Correspondence between the BStB and the city of Berlin from the spring of 1943 is a haunting testimony to the times. This source, which was only identified in the historical library archive in 2007, illustrates the extent and obvious involvement of the BStB in the murder of the Berlin Jews.

The books owned by those deported

The correspondence in 1943 reveals an obvious interest in acquiring "over 40,000 volumes from the private libraries of evacuated Jews". This stock of books came from the looting of the last apartments of deported and murdered people. The BStB turned to Berlin's city treasurer. The books were stored in the municipal pawnshop at Elsässer Str. 74.

Of the approximately 40,000 books, almost 2,000 copies were entered in a separate accession book „J“  by April 20, 1945. These books can be recognized by the accession numbers in the copies: The serial number is preceded by a "J" in each case. All books marked in this way are clearly Nazi-looted cultural property. However, only around 10 % of these contain traces that allow conclusions to be drawn about previous ownership. So far, we have succeeded in identifying 1,472 of these copies listed in the accession book "J" in our stocks.

Recent research has also revealed that the BStB sold 20,000 books to various Berlin institutions, people from the magistrate's office, the Berlin Public Library itself and booksellers. It is not clear from the files what happened to the remaining 20,000 volumes. It is proven that parts of this collection were incorporated into the library's stocks after 1945 via the "Gift" accession book or remained in the book depository to this day. This proves that the BStB acted not only as a buyer, but also as a seller of cultural assets that had clearly been confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution.

Excerpt from an accession book page from 1944 with bibliographical details and date of accession.

Aafter 1945 – 20.000 “gifts” for the Berliner Stadtbibliothek?

After the end of the war, there was no interest in identifying and returning the NS-looted books. In August 1945, the BStB began recording the unprocessed holdings and thus also the remaining books of the deportees. These were not recorded in a separate accession book, as had previously been the case, but were recorded together with other deliveries as "gifts" - between the summer of 1945 and the end of 1950, over 20,000 accession numbers were assigned. Of these, 16,000 entries were distributed among the three suppliers: the Kulturamt (Cultural Office), the Bücherlager (Book Depository) and the "Bergungsstelle" (Salvage Office). When incorporating the NS-looted books, there was a mixture of regular additions and old holdings from before 1933.

An enormous amount of Nazi-looted cultural property came to the BStB in the post-war period with deliveries from the "Bergungsstelle für wissenschaftliche Altbestände" (Salvage Office for Academic Libraries). The "Salvage Office" existed from July 1945 to February 1946 as an institution of the Berlin Magistrate. Its main task was to secure book collections with the aim of making the destroyed Berlin libraries usable again as quickly as possible. For this purpose, the libraries of the dissolved "Reich" and state authorities, the NSDAP party organizations, so-called ownerless collections and expropriated libraries of former NSDAP members were taken over: including books from the depots of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Main Office, RSHA) and other agencies involved in the theft of cultural property. In this short period of time, over a million books were recovered, sorted and distributed. The main recipients were the Ratsbibliothek Berlin (Berlin Council Library) – part of the BStB since 1955 – with over 350,000 copies (including the library of the Reichsinnenministerium), the BStB (approx. 60,000 volumes), the public libraries of the city of Berlin and the State Library (approx. 20,000 volumes). The Berlin public libraries also transferred their old holdings to the BStB.

The numbers of the salvage operations, which stand for specific salvage sites and localize them - e.g. "15" and "209" for the RSHA - are usually entered in pencil in the books. In cooperation with the Landesarchiv Berlin , the files of the "Salvage Office" were published at in 2011.

A Question of accession

Provenance research at the ZLB has concentrated on the stocks of the BStB since 2009. Our work and the files have shown that, in addition to the 1943 acquisition, the post-war "gifts" in particular are suspected of being extensively interspersed with Nazi-looted cultural property. In principle, every book that was printed before 1945 and reached today's ZLB after 1933 is the focus of our research. The books are suspected of being looted until the question of their provenance and previous ownership has been clarified. This work is very complex and time-consuming due to the large number of suspicious facts.

The identification of NS-looted cultural property

Books are generally not recognizable as unique. They were produced industrially and therefore do not differ from one another within the same edition. They only become unique items when markings are added later and can be assigned to a provenance under certain conditions. Stamps, handwritten entries and bookplates, for example, show us the way to the previous owner. The starting point for processing is the accession books, which, however, do not explicitly name Nazi executive authorities or other utilization agencies as suppliers.

After this orientation, the autoptic examination of the shelf begins. If the book does not contain any features, which is not unusual, the work is completed for the time being. When evaluating the provenance information, however, even then certain collection contexts can shed light on the question of previous ownership and thus clarify the question of ownership. Ongoing processing in the stock such as transfers, exchanges, rebindings and segregations complicate the work of provenance research.

The central aim of our work is to return the looted books to their original owners, their descendants or legal successors.

Researching the previous owners

If a book contains a name, address or other information on previous ownership, this information is recorded in the Looted Cultural Assets database and documented photographically. The aim is to identify books that belong together first. In many cases, several persecuted persons with the same name come into consideration. The cooperative collaboration supports the pooling of expertise. With the help of this network, we can exchange data, research results and experience in order to primarily avoid multiple searches. Ten German and one Israeli institution are currently part of the cooperation.

Wenn es uns gelingt, die Eigentumsfrage eines Exemplars zu klären, wird diese Information mit den Ergebnissen anderer Forschungsprojekte und verschiedenen Datenbanken (such as the Memorial Book of the Federal Archives and Yad Vashem). In addition, various archival documents such as the compensation and restitution files must be consulted and evaluated. If our research confirms that a book is Nazi-looted cultural property and we succeed in resolving the question of inheritance, we will contact the descendants and legal successors. An agreement is reached to initiate the return of the book. A selection of research, resolved cases and restitutions can be found under restitutions.


The first beginnings of provenance research at the BStB date back to 2002 and are due to the tireless commitment of individuals and the associated support from the ZLB. From October 2009 to 2013, it was possible to obtain funding from the Federal Ministry of Culture and Media (BKM) and special funds from the State of Berlin (since 2010). The ZLB's own contributions supplemented the project work. The focus was on examining the stocks through autoptic research work. A database developed independently by the team significantly professionalized the work processes. The examination of the holdings with the help of the various accession books confirmed the basic suspicion that the various groups of holdings and collections contained Nazi-looted cultural property. This basic research was seamlessly followed by research into previous ownership. As part of the project, initial standards were established that are constantly being applied and further developed. In this project period alone, 354 books were successfully restituted to 29 legal successors. Even then, it became clear to what extent the BStB's old stocks were interspersed with Nazi-looted cultural property. You can read the final report here.

In 2018, the ZLB decided to fund a project to gain further insights into a purchase of "a confiscated library" noted in the 1951 accession book in order to clarify unanswered questions about the history of the collection after 1945. In 2020, a further investigation into the "barn collection" supplemented the provenance research at the ZLB. You can read about the results of these two projects below.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.