The Arty Semite

One Man's Quest for Julius Streicher's Jewish Books

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share

Photo by Claus Felix Meyer

Before and during World War II, between 30,000 and 40,000 Jewish books ended up in the hands of Julius Streicher, the infamous Nazi and editor of the anti-Semitic propaganda newspaper Der Sturmer. Today, German-Jewish community leader and former journalist Leibl Rosenberg is working to return 10,000 of them to their rightful owners.

The task is far from easy, given that few, if any, of the people from whom these books were stolen are still alive. To make matters even more difficult, only one-third of the books have stamps, signatures, ex-libris plates or bookmarks to indicate to whom they belonged.

But that has not deterred Rosenberg, who turned himself into a librarian, a Jewish and German historian, and a genealogist to catalog the collection and track down descendants and heirs of the books’ owners. He’s been at the task since 1997, and so far he has successfully restored 200 of the 10,000 books. “I don’t think we will even return more than 500,” he admits.

Instead of deterring Rosenberg, this realistic assessment has encouraged him to do what he can to honor the memory of the books’ owners by documenting and preserving the collection. The animated, yarmulke-wearing 63-year-old considers it a holy undertaking.

The Sammlung Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Nürnberg (Collection of the Jewish Community of Nuremberg) is housed at the Nuremberg Municipal Library, where it has been stored since the end of World War II. Streicher’s vast Jewish book collection, along with other looted and confiscated Jewish books, was taken to collection points in the American Zone and sent to libraries at The Hebrew University, Yeshiva University, the Jewish Theological Seminary and similar institutions. According to Rosenberg, the American military government offered to return recovered books to the 38 survivors from Nuremberg’s 10,000-strong pre-Holocaust community, but they, with more pressing concerns at the time, turned them down.

Consequently, the books ended up in storage rooms or mixed in among the stacks of the city’s municipal library. It was at the urging of Arno Hamburger, a Nuremberg survivor and influential local politician, that Rosenberg went to check out the Jewish books, which had been ignored for decades.

“The first book I picked up from the heap on the floor was a Nuremberg siddur, inside of which a woman name Berthe had inscribed her name and her parents’ yahrzeits,” Rosenberg recalled. “I reflexively kissed it. The library guy who was with me looked at me funny.”

From that moment on, Rosenberg committed himself to the Sammlung IKG. Although the books are housed at the library, they are the legal property of Nuremberg’s 2000-member Jewish community. The City of Nuremberg funds his salary, as well as the book restoration, administration and outreach costs. No processing fee is charged to families seeking restitution of their property.

In the past 14 years, Rosenberg has located every single IKG book in the library. “We don’t know how each of them got here, and we’ll never know,” he said. He has been able to document that 3,600 of the books have provenance signs (including 2,154 names), that they come from 444 places in 26 countries (“from Albania to the U.S.”) and that they are written in 20 different languages. The books run the gamut from biblical and rabbinic literature to liturgical works to secular subjects to school texts and children’s books.

Rosenberg’s work of digitally scanning provenance signs and creating a database of the books has been akin to detective work. He has gleaned “traces and fragments” of people’s lives. “It’s like a broken mirror, with only bits and pieces that can be seen,” he reflected.

He has publicized the Sammlung IKG list through the project’s website, Jewish organizations and social media, and he is waiting for survivors’ families to contact him. Once a family is in touch with him, he confirms that they are indeed related to the book’s original owner, and he requires them to sign a legal contract. “We don’t want more stealing,” he emphasized.

Rosenberg, who was born to Polish survivor parents in a Bavarian displaced persons camp and has lived in Germany his entire life, except for a year of study in Israel, has not recovered any books belonging to his own ancestors. He was, however, able to make one personal connection to the collection. Through some research he determined that a school book published in 1910 and inscribed in a child’s handwriting with the name “Else Wechsler, Munich” once belonged to the girl who would grow up to become Rosenberg’s own Hebrew school teacher after the war. That book is one of the 200 that have been claimed. It is now in the hands of Wechsler’s grateful daughter in Toronto.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sammlung Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Nürnberg, Renee Ghert-Zand, Nuremberg Books, Leibl Roseberg, Collection of the Jewish Community of Nuremberg

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.