Detectives welcome on historic quest to rediscover the Lost Library of Books

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Detectives welcome on historic quest to rediscover the Lost Library of Books

Wiener Library teams up with Leo Baeck Institute to search for collection of 60,000 precious books looted by Nazis from The Higher Institute for Jewish Studies in Berlin

  • Model of the Hochschule library, Berlin.
    Model of the Hochschule library, Berlin.
  • Label on the case of the Hochschule library model.
    Label on the case of the Hochschule library model.
  • Library of Lost Books Exhibition.
    Library of Lost Books Exhibition.
  • Library of Lost Books exhibition
    Library of Lost Books exhibition
  • Library of Lost Books exhibition
    Library of Lost Books exhibition

A new exhibition launched last night at London’s Wiener Holocaust Library.

Produced by the Leo Baeck Institute, The Library of Lost Books runs until 10th July. The first project of its kind, it tells the story of an important German-Jewish institution, from its role as a vibrant space for learning to a victim of Nazi crime.

The Higher Institute for Jewish Studies in Berlin (Hochschule des Judentums 1872 – 1942) was dedicated to the study of Jewish history, culture and religion.

Considered one of the largest and most important Jewish libraries in the world, it welcomed scholars such as Rabbi Dr Leo Baeck and Franz Kafka. Its collection included books in languages including German, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Hungarian, Latin and English. In 1942 the Nazis targeted it for destruction.

During the Holocaust the Hochschule’s unique library of books was looted by the Nazis and scattered across the globe.

One last group photograph: lecturers, students and staff of the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies in the reading room of their library, summer 1938. Pic:

The new pop-up exhibition at the Wiener Library reveals the complex journeys looted books took in the aftermath of the Shoah. It forms part of an international project which aims to commemorate and educate about the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies.

Alongside a series of online and physical exhibitions, the project also includes a global citizen science project to trace the 60,000 lost works. So far books have been found in Germany, the Czech Republic, Israel, the USA, and in Britain.

Kinga Bloch, deputy director of the Library of Lost Books in London told Jewish News: “We aim to educate about the long-term impact of this Nazi crime and invite young people to take action with us in the present day. Today, these books are scattered worldwide, and our project encompasses educational outreach about the German-Jewish community, integrating provenance research into classrooms globally.”


The international search for the Higher Institute’s lost books is supported by an interactive online exhibition about the institution and its community,

Screenshot, Library of Lost Books website

Bloch adds: “To date, 4,355 of the books have been found at our partner organisation, the Jewish Museum in Prague. Some of those manuscripts were brought to the country from Theresienstadt Ghetto and other locations where the Nazis had hidden Jewish libraries that they previously stole and looted to conduct so-called ‘enemy research’, much like academic espionage to prove their anti-Semitic ideology.

Left to right: Markus Knauf (Head of Department for Economic Affairs, Energy and Global Issues at the German Embassy in London), Dr Joseph Cronin (Director of the Leo Baeck Institute London), Kinga Bloch (Deputy Director of Leo Baeck Institute London), Dr Toby Simpson (Director, The Wiener Holocaust Library), Dr Barbara Warnock (Senior Curator and Head of Education, The Wiener Holocaust Library). Pic: Michelle Rosenberg

“What they did is they took the sources away, so it was a cultural theft, so they could interpret them and nobody else. It was a violent attack on Jewish culture and Jewish scholarship alongside the violent attack on Jewish people that everybody is aware of.”

Prof. David Rechter, Chair of the Leo Baeck Institute London said: “The Hochschule was one of the most significant institutes of liberal German Jewry in the interwar period. The exhibition will help us highlight the diversity of German-Jewish society before the Holocaust.”

Library of Lost Books Exhibition, Wiener Library. Pic: Michelle Rosenberg, Thursday 6th June 2024

Dr. Irene Aue-Ben-David, Director of the Leo Baeck Institute Jerusalem said: “The choice of engaging the public digitally is meant to pique young people’s curiosity about a thriving educational institute destroyed by the Nazis. We hope many youngsters around the world will be involved in locating the lost books in libraries, used books stores, private collections and archives.”

Dr Barbara Warnock, senior curator and head of education, The Wiener Holocaust Library told Jewish News: “This collaboration between the Library and the Leo Baeck Institute reflects a shared a history as institutions founded in Britain by Jewish refugees from Nazism, and other connections that can be traced back to the pre-Nazi era.

“The Library’s founder Dr Alfred Wiener was himself a student at the Hochschule, and we have a number of important publications relating to the history of the lost library in our collections. The Leo Baeck Institute’s project to try to trace these precious books, looted and dispersed by the actions of Nazis over 80 years ago, is a vital one.”

Cassy Sachar, senior librarian, Leo Baeck College told Jewish News: “Leo Baeck College, the British progressive rabbinical school, was founded by refugees from Nazi Germany who had studied and taught at the Hochschule in Berlin and wanted to recreate its profound tradition of liberal Jewish scholarship after the Holocaust. It is deeply moving that the Hochschule library books that have been in the college’s care, are going to be reunited in the digital Library of Lost Books with others stolen and scattered around the globe.

“We are very excited to welcome book detectives to our library to discover more treasures from the Hochschule and create a community of young researchers defying the Nazi attempt to distort Jewish history. The Library of Lost Books is not a passive commemoration but a celebration of Jewish life and learning and a profound opportunity to tackle injustice. It is an inspiring example of the power of citizen science, global collaboration and books themselves.”

  • The Library of Lost Books is a collaboration between the Leo Baeck Institutes Jerusalem and London, and the Leo Baeck Institute Friends Association. The project is funded by the German Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility and Future (EVZ) and supported by the German Ministry of Finance.

To find out more, click here.

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