Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2023 Issue

Books Looted 80 Years Ago Returned


Heinrich Klang.

It is always good news when books, stolen long ago, are finally returned to their rightful owners. A few weeks back, four such books were returned 80 years after they were looted. However, it highlights just how massive the problem is and how hard it is to make significant progress, particularly when the thefts occurred long ago.


These four books were looted from an Austrian Jewish judge and associate professor by Nazis after Germany annexed Austria in 1938. They belonged to Dr. Heinrich Klang, the judge and instructor, having inherited them from his father in 1914. Klang had his teaching license revoked by the Nazis and was forced to retire. He had little choice but to sell his books to the notorious Nazi bookseller, the Antiquarian and Export Bookstore of Alfred Wolf in Vienna.


Wolf specialized in selling books looted from people sent to concentration camps. He had worked for Hans Peter Kraus, a dealer in Vienna. After the annexation, Wolf denounced Kraus, who was Jewish, to authorities, leading to his deportation to the concentration camps at Dachau and Buchenwald. Wolf took over his shop and inventory. After eight months in concentration camps, Kraus was released on the condition he leave the country (this was 1939 before the beginning of the mass exterminations in the camps). He came to America, his books left behind, settled in New York, again started a bookselling business, and became one of the most important booksellers of the twentieth century, H. P. Kraus.


In an earlier case, the Art Restitution Advisory Board quoted Klang as saying, “So as not to suddenly find myself in an impossible position, I began slowly to liquidate my possessions. The most difficult was to part with my library, which my father had already started compiling...” In 1942, he was sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Around 33,000 people died there but Dr. Klang was not one of them. He survived the war, returning to Vienna in 1945. He died in 1954 but never reclaimed his books, which would have been beyond difficult at that time. Authorities had little interest and the books were dispersed to parts unknown.


These books were finally located in the Bremen State and University Library in Germany. They were discovered as part of the Looted Cultural Property project. Volker Cirsovius examined library acquisitions made between 1933-1948. These books contained ownership labels of James Klang, Heinrich Klang's father who bequeathed them to his son. Eight libraries in Austria and Germany have banded together to conduct this research and return as many books as possible to their rightful owners.


While it is a noble task, attempting to right terrible wrongs, the reality is that success here is likely to be very limited compared to the number of books looted by the Nazis. In 2008, Der Spiegel published an article on the process. At the time, they said there were hundreds of thousands of such books, perhaps a million. In 2019, the New York Times also described the situation. They said in the previous 10 years around 30,000 books had been returned to owners, heirs and institutions. However, the Times also estimated there could be 3.5 million stolen books. Four at a time will hardly make a dent in the problem. A great many of these books are hiding in plain sight, in German libraries. Some were taken after the war by the Soviets. Now we learn that the Russians are at it again in Ukraine. When Kherson was liberated recently, Ukrainians discovered valuable books and art missing from their libraries and museums.


Der Spiegel said in 2008 that many libraries had shown little interest in dealing with the issue. When you have possessed someone else's property for a long time, you come to think of it as your own. However, even if there is interest, the task is still daunting. Libraries are often understaffed, making additional responsibilities difficult. Many books do not have ownership identifying markings, or perhaps once did but they were removed. Even if they do, identifying the person of that name can be difficult, and if there is an address, the person or family is unlikely still to be there. A great many of the owners were murdered by the Nazis, and of those who did survive the concentration camps, very few would still be alive today. That requires tracking down the heirs, but identifying and locating them is also very difficult. Survivors and heirs of German and other European Jews often left for other countries. They could be anywhere, scattered in different places, and trying to identify all of them and get them to agree on what to do with the books presents additional challenges. The efforts are worthy and justice is always the right ending, but accomplishing the return of millions of books to rightful owners 80 years later is virtually impossible. Even returning a small percentage is difficult, but justice requires every effort be made.


In the case of Dr. Klang's books, the heirs agreed to have the books turned over to a private individual. That person will, in turn, give them to the Supreme Court of Vienna.

Posted On: 2023-02-16 19:28
User Name: Bkwoman

The looting was appalling, but the burning of books was even worse.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b><center>Koller Auctions<br>Books & Autographs<br>29 March 2023</b>
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> DADA - <i>Cabaret Voltaire.</i> A collection of artistic and literary contributions. Edited by Hugo Ball. CHF 5,000 to 8,000.
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> EXPRESSIONISM - <i>Der Sturm.</i> Weekly magazine for culture and the arts. Almost complete suite from the years 1910 to 1932. CHF 20,000 to 30,000.
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> LISBON EARTHQUAKE - <i>Augsburg collection of copper engravings of Lisbon. CHF 40,000 to 60,000.
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> Hamilton, William. <i>Campi Phlegraei. Observations on the Volcanos of the Two Sicilies as they have been communicated to the Royal Society of London.</i> Naples, 1776-1779. CHF 50,000 to 70,000.
    <b><center>Koller Auctions<br>Books & Autographs<br>29 March 2023</b>
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> Leonardi, Domenico Felice. <i>Le Delizie della villa di Castellazzo descritte in verso dall'abbate Domenico Felice Leonardi lucchese fra gli Arcadi Ildosio Foloetico.</i> Milan, 1743. CHF 12,000 to 18,000.
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> Zwingli, Huldrych. <i>Von erkiesen und freyhait der speisen. Von ergernusz und Verbößerung. Ob man gewalt hab die speyß zu etlichen zeyten verbieten [...]</i>. CHF 2,500 to 4,000.
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> HENDRIK VAN VULLENHOE, UMKREIS. Benedictional and other texts for Johannes von Venningen, Bishop of Basel. Latin manuscript on parchment. CHF 50,000 to 80,000.
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> Gujer, Hans Rudolf. Master typist's book by Hans Rudolf Gujer from Wermetschweil (Wermatswil). German manuscript on paper. CHF 3,000 to 5,000.
  • <b><center>Stargardt Autographenhandlung<br>Autographs: Literature, Music, Art, Science, History, Theatre & Film<br>March 28, 2023</b>
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Autograph album leaf signed, 1826. €9,000 to €12,000.
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Franz Kafka: Autograph letter unsigned, 1924. €15,000 to €20,000.
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Torquato Tasso: Autograph poem signed, no date. €12,000 to €16,000.
    <b><center>Stargardt Autographenhandlung<br>Autographs: Literature, Music, Art, Science, History, Theatre & Film<br>March 28, 2023</b>
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Charles Darwin: Autograph letter signed, 1866. €4,500 to €6,000.
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Albert Einstein: Autograph letter signed, 1933. €6,000 to €8,000.
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Heinrich Hertz: Autograph manuscript signed, 1889. €18,000 to €24,000.
    <b><center>Stargardt Autographenhandlung<br>Autographs: Literature, Music, Art, Science, History, Theatre & Film<br>March 28, 2023</b>
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Giambattista Bodoni: Autograph letter signed, 1787. €900 to €1,200.
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Francisco de Goya: Autograph letter signed, 1789. €18,750 to €25,000.
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Martin Luther: Notes from his desk, no date. €30,000 to €40,000.
    <b><center>Stargardt Autographenhandlung<br>Autographs: Literature, Music, Art, Science, History, Theatre & Film<br>March 28, 2023</b>
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Ludwig van Beethoven: Autograph letter signed, 1816. €22,500 to €30,000.
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Gustav Mahler: Foto portrait signed and annotated, 1907(?). €7,500 to €10,000.
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Bed?ich Smetana: Autograph letter signed, 1883. €4,500 to €6,000.
  • <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper<br>30th March 2023</b>
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Roman binding.- Pindar. <i>Olympia, Pythia, Nemea, Isthmia,</i> translated by Johannes Lonicer, contemporary Roman binding by Niccolo Franzese, Basel, 1535. £40,000 to £60,000.
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Raverat (Gwen). Comprehensive album of 530 wood engravings, circa 1909-1950. £40,000 to £60,000.
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Hemingway (Ernest). <i>Fiesta,</i> first English edition, first impression dust-jacket, 1927. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper<br>30th March 2023</b>
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Fleming (Ian). <i>Casino Royale,</i> first edition, first impression, 1953. £12,000 to £18,000.
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>Great Expectations,</i> 3 vol., first edition, first impression, Chapman and Hall, 1861. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Campbell (Colen) & others. <i>Vitruvius Britannicus, or The British Architect...,</i> 5 vol., vol.1-3 later editions, vol.4 & 5 first editions, [?1731]-31-67-71. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper<br>30th March 2023</b>
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Geography.- Mela (Pomponius). <i>Cosmographia, sive De situ orbis,</i> Venice, Franciscus Renner de Heilbronn, 1478. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> America.- [?Espinosa y Tello (José)]. <i>Relacion del Viage hecho por las Goletas Sutil y Mexicana en el Año de 1792,</i> 2 vol. including Atlas, first edition, Madrid, 1802. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Australasia.- Péron (Francois) and Louis-Claude de Saulces de Freycinet. <i>Voyage de Découvertes aux Terres Australes,</i> 5 vol. including Atlas, second edition, Paris, 1824. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper<br>30th March 2023</b>
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Botany.- Curtis (William). <i>The Botanical Magazine; or, Flower-Garden Displayed,</i> 83 vol. in 62, 1794-1956. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Darwin (Charles).- Lecky (W.E.H.) <i>The Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe,</i> 2 vol., Darwin's copy with inscription "Charles Darwin 1865", pencil marginalia and pencil notes, 1865. £7,000 to £10,000.
  • <b><center>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Printed & Manuscript African Americana:<br>March 30, 2023</b>
    <b>Swann March 30:</b> Victor H. Green, <i>The Negro Motorist Green Book,</i> New York, 1949. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann March 30:</b> Papers of pianist-composer Lawrence Brown relating to Paul Robeson & more, various places, 1925-54. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann March 30:</b> Freedom Summer archive of civil rights activist Karen Haberman Trusty, Atlanta & elsewhere, 1963-64. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann March 30:</b> E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> New York, 1933. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann March 30:</b> Archive of letters from the sculptor Richmond Barthé to a close Jamaican friend, various places, 1966-85. $25,000 to $35,000.

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