Events this week in Germany demonstrated that free speech can triumph over censorship, even if the victory arrives decades late.
In a ceremony at the city’s landmark synagogue, Berlin’s state library returned to Berlin’s Jewish community 13 books plundered by the Nazis more than six decades ago.
The books, all in German, included 19th- and 20th-century novels, a travel guide to Palestine from 1934, volumes of poetry, and a book on Jewish history from 1913.
The recovery and restitution of the books is the result of a state project to research the provenance of its holdings and return plundered cultural treasures in Germany. The German government allocates some $1.4 million annually to restitution projects across the country.
“The 13 books being returned today preserve the memory of the Berlin Jewish community which was decimated and its members murdered or driven out,” said German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann, in an AFP interview. “That is why such projects are so important now and in the future.”
The Berlin Central and Regional Library said more than 200,000 of its volumes were being examined by researchers as part of the project to return stolen Jewish books. Some 25,000 books have already been investigated in the last decade, with about 5,100 of them thought to have been stolen by the Nazis, who looted Jewish homes, businesses, synagogues, schools, and community centers. Many books stolen by the Nazis were lost or burned, but some of the remaining books eventually found their way to the Berlin library.
It’s difficult work determining the provenance of decades-old books, like searching for a needle in a haystack, researchers said. They look for clues like a stamp on the first page, a number, or even handwritten notations indicating the book’s owner.
Many of the recovered books had faint stamps indicating they belonged to Jewish schools, libraries, and cultural centers.
Although they have little to no monetary value, the returned books symbolize an effort to account for Jewish cultural treasures stolen by the Nazis, the head of the Berlin Jewish community, Lala Suesskind, said in an AFP interview.
“This handover reminds us all that even after all these years, injustice has no statute of limitations,” she said.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.