“We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds;
our planet is the mental institution of the universe.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“The monster was forced onto its knees in agony.
Die, you beast, you symbol of the German Reich.
To us, Goethe did not exist anymore, Himmler had exterminated him.
Diary of Prisoner 4935
I don’t know what it is like to steal.
I don’t know what it is like to loot or even plunder.
But what I do know is that stealing, looting and plundering are all wrong and quite sinful…
in that the act of taking that which has not been ‘freely’ given to you…is wrong.
Yet have we not witnessed in most recent months that unrest, demonstrations, riots,
pogroms and even wars have each given way to some unspoken allowance or free license
for those so inclined to act upon the notion of stealing?
I suppose people steal for various reasons however I’ve noticed that human beings
try to, in turn, somehow justify and lessen the intent of those who steal…
giving excuses and passes to those who so choose to steal.
Feeding a starving child is about the only pass I can comprehend as a need to steal.
Yet during the early 1930’s most of the libraries and privately owned book collections
throughout the majority of Europe were plundered, looted and stolen.
“In France alone, the ERR (Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce, a Nazi Party organization dedicated to appropriating cultural property during the Second World War)
confiscated the collections of 723 libraries, containing 1.7 million scripts,
incunabula, and other valuable books and writings.
In Poland, probably the country that was hit harder, it is estimated that 90 percent
of the collections belongings to schools and public libraries were lost.
In addition, 80 percent of the country’s private and specialized libraries disappeared. More or less the entire collection of the polish national library, consisting of some 700,000 volumes, was scattered.
According to one estimate, 15 million of Poland’s 22.5 million books were lost.
“In the Soviet Union “one suggestion from UNESSCO lists as many as 100 million books that may have been destroyed or looted.”
“Germany “is believed to have lost between a third to a half of all its book collections,
as a consequence of fires, bombing, and plunder….
In 2008 it was estimated that there were at least one million plundered books in
But what an odd thing to steal.
Books and periodicals…both ancient and current.
Items not essential to one’s survival.
Yet items highly prized and pinpointed as crucial in the game of
the spoils of war.
‘For the Nazis realized that if there was something that gave more power than
merely destroying the word, it was owning and controlling it.
There was a power in books.
Words could act as weapons, resounding long after the rumbling of artillery had stopped.
they are weapons not only as propaganda, but also in the form of memories.
Whereas stolen and looted artwork, priceless cultural treasures,
have garnered more world attention over the ensuring years,
it was however the written word that was considered to be the
Why that is, we will explore over the next couple of weeks…as we pursue the tale
of the lost, stolen and seldom reunited in Anders Rydell’s book The Book Thieves /
The Nazi Looting Of Europe’s Libraries And The Race To Return A Literary Inheritance.
Because German libraries are in a race against time as they wrestle with the origins of their current collections…
For “every book carries a story of theft, blackmail, and a tragic fate.
At best, it may be a story of flight, of bailing out on life–
but at worst a story of people who have left no trace behind except for their books.”
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.
Do what it says.