Who Owns the Sefarim That were Saved? // Tens of thousands of Jewish books looted in the Holocaust were found—and sold. But whose are they really? By Israel Mizrahi

During the course of World War II, it is estimated that up to five million books, including innumerable sefarim, were confiscated in an organized fashion by the Nazis, taken from institutions, archives and private collections. An even larger number are thought to have been left behind, lost or plundered locally as the Jews were taken to the camps or went into hiding. The Reich Institute for the History of New Germany (Reichinstituts für Geschichte des Neuen Deutschlands) was established in 1935 to catalog the confiscated books. The looting was done mostly by two organizations, the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt), founded by Heinrich Himmler, and the Advanced School of the Nazi Party (Hohe Schule der NSDAP). By the end of the war, nearly two million books were in their hands. The Germans planned on using these books in their research on the “Jewish question” to help them deport and murder the Jews, as well as for a future library of a projected elite Nazi university they intended to open after the war. A journal named Weltkampf was published by The Institute for the Study of the Jewish Problem.

After the war, the Americans made an effort to collect the looted Jewish books, manuscripts and archives from the various German sites where they were discovered. The collection point was the Offenbach Archival Depot, just outside of Frankfurt. The building where the books were stored in Offenbach was the same one used by I. G. Farben, the chemical conglomerate that manufactured the gas used in the death camps. Leslie Irlyn Poste, a trained librarian who was a lieutenant in the US Army, was selected by General Dwight D. Eisenhower to manage the collection and distribution of the books. When possible, the materials were returned to their rightful owners or at least to their countries of origin.

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