The purchase of a "confiscated library" by the Berlin City Library in 1951

On 13 August 1951, the acquisition journal of the Berlin City Library notes an item "confiscated library", acquired from the Berlin Magistrate, Department of Finance or the "Verwertungsstelle Magistrat". This involved the purchase of 1,028 books worth 1,285 Marks. Documents on this process have not been preserved in the archives of the Central and Regional Library Berlin or in the Regional Archives Berlin. The invoice for this may have been destroyed within the usual time limits for cassation. This is suggested by a preserved circular of 17 September 1953 issued by the Magistrate of Greater Berlin, Department of Finance, Department of Cash and Accounting, on the destruction of documents between 1945 and 1948.1

Remarkably, this inventory contains Nazi loot next to unsuspicious books. The most recent titles date from 1949 and were published by publishers in the Soviet occupation zone and the newly founded GDR. Books from the former possessions of Jacob and Käthe Kahn, Claus and Robert Hilb, Hedwig Hesse and Martin Ziegler, for example, could clearly be identified as Nazi loot. In addition, some books were found that had been confiscated from "deserters from the republic" after 1945, so-called GDR/SBZ loot.

According to the current state of research, the bundle is not a closed library, as the entry in the acquisition journal suggests, but a collective item of the Special Assets Administrative Office ("Verwaltungsstelle Sondervermögen"). This office belonged to the Finance Department of the Berlin Magistrate and was responsible for former Reich and state property, Nazi property and other confiscated property (e.g. from Nazi encumbrants). The administrative office was founded on 1 October 1949. It took over tasks from two predecessor institutions: the German Trust Administration ("Deutsche Treuhandverwaltung"), which was dissolved at the end of 1950, and the Salvaging Office ("Bergungsamt") of the Finance Department of the Magistrate, which ended its work on 31 December 1949. The Salvaging Office stored, sold or rented confiscated and abandoned goods, including home furnishings and books.

As early as the beginning of 1950, a new task was assigned to the Special Assets Administrative Office: the organisation and implementation of company and business closures in East Berlin "for the protection of the currency". Companies whose owners lived in the western part of the city were checked for irregularities, liquidated if necessary and the goods confiscated. The majority of them had to give up their trade.2 So far, there has been no evidence that books from closed antiquarian bookshops, loan libraries, art dealers or book shops were transferred to the Special Assets Administrative Office, as trustees and the Berliner Buchhandels GmbH were responsible for this. However, this cannot be ruled out. In addition, the Administrative Office for Special Assets used the property of "deserters from the republic".

With regard to the genesis of the Administrative Office for Special Assets, it can be assumed that the approximately 1,000 books were transferred to the administrative office for special assets in the course of the dissolution of the German Trust Administration and the Salvaging Office. Looking back on the dissolution of the Administrative Office in 1954, it also says: "As experience in the Administrative Office for Special Assets taught us, books soon pile up and cause a lot of work and costs.3

The books purchased by the Berlin City Library may therefore be a residual item that was no longer sold until the Salvaging Office and the Trust were dissolved, including confiscated books from Nazi-occupied persons and books that had become "ownerless" due to their flight from the Soviet occupation zone or the GDR. The entry in the 1951 acquisition journal is very close to the dissolution years of the predecessor institutions in 1949/50. Thus the last book from the holdings was published in 1949, and at the end of the year the Salvaging Office was dissolved.

It remains to be seen whether the books were actually acquired in 1951 or earlier and only later entered in the acquisition journal. There are no documents about the route of the books into the library. Documents about this were probably already destroyed by the Trust and the Salvaging Office before the Administrative Office for Special Assets began its activities. For example, there is evidence of an incomplete file delivery to the administration office for the Trust Housing Unit ("Treuhandbereich Wohnungen").4 It is also conceivable that the documentation is inadequate, since books were considered to be of little importance at the time.

In order to find further information about the origin of the holdings, the routes of the books must be reconstructed on the basis of their provenance characteristics, if existing and as far as possible.

The books related to this acquisition, which so far have been identified in the holdings of the Central and Regional Library Berlin, are listed here in the cooperative provenance database Looted Cultural Assets.

Text & research: Jeanette Toussaint

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1 Landesarchiv Berlin, C Rep. 124 No. 312, not paginated. Excluded from this were construction invoices, receipts for war damage and occupation costs as well as economic books for construction projects.
2 For more details: Heike Schroll: Ost-West-Aktionen in Berlin der 1950er Jahre. Schriftenreihe des Landesarchivs Berlin, Volume 20, Berlin 2018.
3 Landesarchiv Berlin, C Rep. 748 No. 232, not paginated: Letter of the Pawnshop of Greater Berlin to the Magistrate of Greater Berlin on 24.11.1954 concerning Magistrate Decision No. 735 (transfer of the work of the Administrative Office for Special Assets to the Pawnshop).
4 Landesarchiv Berlin, C Rep. 124 No. 311, not paginated: According to a letter from the Magistrate, Dept. of Finance, to the Mayor of Berlin, dated 3 May 1952, on the examination of the Office for Special Assets, Administrative Office for Jewish and Foreign Real Estate ("Amt für Sondervermögen, Verwaltungsstelle für jüdischen und ausländischen Grundbesitz") by the Commission for State Control ("Kommission für staatliche Kontrolle"), the dissolution of the Trust Office ("Treuhandstelle") and the handover of the files on 1 January 1951 had been catastrophic.