Friday, September 19, 2008

Looted books: Hungen 1945

During the Second World War, the Allied command became increasingly aware of the effect that the war was having on culture, broadly imagined, and several committees were set up to try and assess, maybe even minimise, the damage. Priorities included the restitution of looted fine art, and the preservation of architectural heritage (this second, it is well to point out, in large part because of their concerns about the impact of Allied bombing in Europe).
This led to the creation of the 'Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives' office (MFAA), a small group of officers with backgrounds in fine arts. These officers were loosely attached to the ground forces, and would zoot about the continent armed with cameras and Baedekers, cataloguing the damage, doing makeshift repairs and, ultimately, collecting portable material into depots for possible restitution. Although few people had anticipated the size of the problem, one of the major concerns turned out to be looted books, many millions of which ended up in the American Zone of occupation.
This was partly because Frankfurt, the "capital" of the American Zone, had been destined to be the centre for Nazi research into the "Jewish Question", and thus housed an enormous number of books looted from the libraries of Europe. The biggest MFAA find was in Hungen, about 50 km north of Frankfurt, and these two photos show the before and after: books dumped in a cellar, followed by books being properly shelved and catalogued. Ultimately, these caches would lead to the creation of the Offenbach Archival Depot, but more on this another day.
These two photographs are from a contemporary article by the first professional librarian attached to the MFAA, Leslie Irlyn Poste (see his 'Books Go Home From the Wars', Library Journal 73 (1 December 1948), pp. 1699-1704).

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