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 records an item "confiscated library", acquired by the Magistrate of Berlin, Finance Department or the "Verwertungsstelle Magistrat". This is a purchase of 1,028 books worth 1,285 DM. No documents on this transaction have been preserved either in the archives of the present Central and Regional Library Berlin or in the Berlin State Archives. The invoice may have been destroyed within the usual cassation periods. A preserved circular of the Magistrate of Greater Berlin, Department of Finance, Cash and Accounting Division of 17 September 1953 on the destruction of documents between 1945 and 1948 suggests this.1

Remarkably, Nazi looted property is found alongside non-suspicious books in this stock. The most recent titles date from 1949 and were published by publishing houses in the Soviet occupation zone or the newly founded GDR. For example, books formerly owned by Jacob and Käthe Kahn, Claus and Robert Hilb, Hedwig Hesse and Martin Ziegler, could be identified as definite Nazi looted property. In addition, some books were found that were seized from "deserters from the republic" after 1945, so-called GDR/SBZ looted property.

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

 

As early as the beginning of 1950, the Administrative Office for Special Assets was assigned a new task: organising and carrying out closures of businesses and shops in East Berlin "to protect the currency". Businesses whose owners lived in the western part of the city were checked for irregularities, liquidated if necessary and their goods confiscated. A large number of them had to give up their businesses as a result.2 So far, there are no indications that books from closed antiquarian bookshops, lending libraries, art shops or bookshops were transferred to the administration office for special assets, because trustees and the Berlin Book Trade GmbH were responsible for this. However, this cannot be ruled out. In addition, the Administrative Office for Special Assets disposed of the property of " deserters from the Republic".

In view of the genesis of the administrative office, it can be assumed that the approximately 1,000 books were handed over to the administrative office for special assets in the course of the dissolution of the German Trust Administration and the Salvage Office. The further development can be traced from the correspondence about two further purchases in September and November 1951.3 According to this, the administrative office supplied the library with books, sheet music and brochures. The names listed in the letter of 25 September indicate possible previous owners of the books. The library staff sorted out banned books with National Socialist or militaristic content and checked which copies would be suitable for lending. The library management then informed the Amt für Buch- und Büchereiwesen (Office for Books and Libraries) at the magistrate's office of the number of books taken over and asked for a corresponding invoice.4 In the purchase of November 1951, 171.50 DM were paid for 120 books and 43 brochures. This corresponds to approximately DM 1 per copy, as in the case of the 1,028 books for which the library had paid DM 1,285.

The two documented cases show that the purchase in August 1951 was not an isolated incident, but a regular practice at the time. There is no record of how many other times the library received books from the Sondervermögen administrative office. When the office was dissolved in 1954, it was said in retrospect: "As experience in the administrative office for special funds has taught us, books soon pile up and cause a lot of work and costs. "5

The books purchased by the Berlin City Library may be a residual stock that was not sold until the dissolution of the Salvage Office and the Trust („Treuhand“), including confiscated books from Nazi incriminated persons and books that had become "ownerless" due to escape 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 appeared in 1949, at the end of which year the Salvage Office was dissolved.

There are no further documents on the way of these books into the library. Documents about them were presumably already destroyed by the Treuhand and the Salvage Office before the Special Property Management Office took up its activities. For example, there is evidence of an incomplete file transfer to the administration office for the Trust Housing Unit ("Treuhandbereich Wohnungen").6 It is also conceivable that the documentation was inadequate, as books were considered to be of little importance at the time.

In order to find further information about the origin of the stock, the paths of the books must be reconstructed on the basis of their provenance characteristics, as far as they exist and as far as possible.

The books related to this acquisition, which could be identified so far in the holdings of the Central and Regional Library, 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: East-West Actions in Berlin in the 1950s. Schriftenreihe des Landesarchivs Berlin, Band 20. Berlin 2018.

3 Landesarchiv Berlin, C Rep. 725 No. 783, not paginated. Letter from the Berlin Public Library (BStB) to the Administrative Office for Special Assets-Realisation Office for Confiscated Goods at the Berlin Magistrate on 25.9.1951 and letter from the BStB to the Office for Books and Libraries on 21.11.1951.

4 The Office for Books and Libraries was responsible, among other things, for the Berlin library.

5 Landesarchiv Berlin, C Rep. 748 No. 232, not paginated. Letter of the Pawnshop of Berlin to the Magistrate of Berlin on 24.11.1954 concerning Magistrate Decision No. 735 (transfer of the work of the Administrative Office for Special Assets to the Pawnshop).

6 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.