Provenance Research

Nazi loot at the ZLB

The stock of the Berlin Central & Regional Library (ZLB) contains books that were taken from their rightful owners during the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945. This Nazi loot, more specifically known as “cultural heritage seized through Nazi persecution” not only includes objects that were forcibly stolen by the executive bodies of the Third Reich or expropriated through discriminatory laws, but also those which had to be sold by the persecuted to enable their escape or survival.

The tasks of the ZLB’s provenance research department include examining the stock, identifying the stolen books, and determining their origin so that these may be returned to owners or their heirs. In most cases, the books that have been found are the only remaining link between the pre-persecution days and today’s survivors or their families, and as mementos of the persecuted and their fate, their value is priceless.
In total, the provenance of more than one million books held at the ZLB needs to be researched. Each copy is examined, and its marks of provenance are photographed and publicly documented in the co-operative Looted Cultural Assets provenance database. A stamp, signature, small margin note or bookplate may be enough to identify the rightful owner.

Since 2002, the ZLB has been endeavouring to identify Nazi loot among its stock and return the items. Between 2009 and 2013 a research project funded by the Arbeitsstelle für Provenienzrecherche /-forschung (Bureau for Provenance Investigation and Research) was able to intensify the work. The final report for this project is available here. The ZLB’s provenance research is also being funded by the Berlin Senate since 2010.

Further reading
  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian and Narewski, Ringo: Looted Cultural Assets : Werkzeug kooperativer Provenienzforschung. In: Lenhart, Markus Helmut und Scholz, Birgit (Hrsg.): Was bleibt? Bibliothekarische NS-Provenienzforschung und der Umgang mit ihren Ergebnissen. Graz: Clio, 2018. p. 95-105
  • Prölß, Peter: Bücherspuren : Die Bücher der Verfolgten in der Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin. In: Weltzing-Bräutigam, Bianca (Ed.): Spurensuche : Der Berliner Kunsthandel 1933 - 1945 im Spiegel der Forschung. Berlin: be.bra, 2018. p. 79-93
  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian and Latza, Sina: Viel zu tun, wenig Zeit : Looted Cultural Assets - kooperative Provenienzforschung. In: Bibliotheksdienst 50 (2016), Issue 8, p. 712-724.
  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian and Prölß, Peter: Raubgut für den Wiederaufbau: die Berliner Bergungsstelle für wissenschaftliche Bibliotheken. In: Schölnberger, Pia und Loitfellner, Sabine (Ed.): Bergung von Kulturgut im Nationalsozialismus : Mythen - Hintergründe – Auswirkungen. (Schriftenreihe der Kommission für Provenienzforschung ; 6). Wien: Böhlau, 2016, p. 331-357 / Abstract (.pdf, 435 kB)
  • Winkler, Maria and Prölß, Peter: Geraubt und genutzt. Bücher von verfolgten und ermordeten Juden in Berliner Bibliotheken. Berlin, 2014
  • Finsterwalder, Sebastian and Prölß, Peter: Tracing the rightful owners. Nazi-looted books in the Central and Regional Library of Berlin. In: Borák, Mečislav (Ed.): "The West" Versus "The East" or The United Europe? The different conceptions of provenance research, documentation and identification of looted cultural assets and the possibilities of international cooperation in Europe and worldwide. Prague, 2014. p. 92-102 / full text available online
  • Prölß, Peter: Buchwege. Projektergebnisse der Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin. In: Dehnel, Regine (Hrsg.): NS-Raubgut in Museen, Bibliotheken und Archiven. Viertes Hannoversches Symposium. Frankfurt am Main, 2012. p. 455 - 472 / Abstract (805 kB)
  • Gerlach, Annette und Prölß, Peter: Forschungs-Verbunddatenbank „Provenienzforschung“. In: Bibliotheksdienst 46 (2012), Issue 1, p. 15-21.
  • Gerlach, Annette: Provenienzrecherchen im Bestand der Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin. In: Bibliothek: Forschung und Praxis, Vol. 36 (2010), Issue 1, p. 57 - 59
  • Gerlach, Annette: Die Recherche nach NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogenem Kulturgut im Bestand der Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin. Ein Werkstattbericht. In: Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg (Hrsg.): Die Verantwortung dauert an. Beiträge Deutscher Einrichtungen zum Umgang mit NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogenem Kulturgut. Magdeburg, 2010. p. 75-90
  • Bockenkamm, Detlef: Geraubt. Die Bücher der Berliner Juden. Berlin, 2008
  • Dürr, Michael and Gerlach, Annette (Ed.): Raubgut in Berliner Bibliotheken. Berlin, 2007