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Department of Early Printed Books

Research Project „Reichstauschstelle“

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In cooperation with the Max-Planck-Institut für Geschichte (and later on with the MPI für Wissenschaftsgeschichte) the State Library conducted a research project to investigate the history of the Reichstauschstelle and the Prussian State Library. Funded by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, this project also received support from the Beauftragter der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien (BKM).The project aimed at elucidating as comprehensively as possible the administrative structures and professional processes of both institutions with a special view to legal and financial aspects. Moreover, it also wanted to sound the scope of action of the protagonists involved and the political dimension of procedures.At the end of the project, carried out by Dr. Cornelia Briel, a substantial study was published by Akademie Verlag in 2013. Based on a rich variety of sources and thoroughly indexed it has become an indispensable work of reference that will support further research on NS-looted books in the State Library and beyond. The scope of sources analyzed is remarkably broad; beside archival records of the State Library, relevant holdings of the following institutions were analyzed: •    the Bundesarchiv,•    the Geheimes Staatsarchiv,•    the Politisches Archiv of the Auswärtiges Amt,•    the Landesarchiv Berlin,•    the Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv Potsdam•    the Sächsisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Dresden•    and the Staatsfilialarchiv Bautzen.

For the first time it was possible to consult the files of the Acquisitions Department of the Prussian State Library for the period 1938 to 1945, which are kept in the Archiwum Państwowe we Wrocławiu, Oddział w Jeleniej Górze. They had been handed over to Polish authorities in the summer of 1945 by members of the department, which had been evacuated from Berlin to Hirschberg (now Jelenia Góra) in Lower Silesia in the course of the war.

Investigations have shown that the Prussian State Library as well as the Reichstauschstelle were part of a network which handed out to academic libraries and other institutions of the Reich considerable quantities of books which had been confiscated from persecuted Jews and other so-called “enemies of the Reich”. In this context it has also become clear to what extent both institutions since about 1936 had been competing with certain NS agencies - among them organizations whose primary task was plunder and robbery, such as various institutions of the SS or the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg. Despite several ordinances in their favour by the Ministry of Finance, neither the State Library nor the Reichstauschstelle could sustain their claims against them.

Research Project „Reichstauschstelle“

In the perception of contemporaries the Reichstauschstelle had always been somehow associated with the Prussian State Library due to certain interrelations of managing staff and also, because it had for many years operated from the premises of the library. At no point, however, had the Reichstauschstelle been a department of the Prussian State Library. Founded in 1926, it was part of the portfolio of the Bibliotheksausschuss of the Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft (established in 1920). When its president, the physicist Josef Stark, pursued its national socialist renewal, the Notgemeinschaft (which was soon to become the “Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft”) parted with its Libraries Committee in the autumn of 1933. The Reichstauschstelle, the Beschaffungsamt der Deutschen Bibliotheken and the Deutsch-Ausländischer Buchtausch – all of which emanated from the Libraries Committee – were put under the administration of the Director-General of the Prussian State Library, Hugo Andres Krüß. Their day-to-day management fell to Adolf Jürgens, a deputized member of the senior staff of the State Library. From 1941 onwards the Reichstauschstelle gained greater autonomy, when it was merged with the Beschaffungsamt to form an authority of the Reich. In order to replace books and collections which had been destroyed in the course of the war, the Reichstauschstelle bought up private libraries and antiquarian as well as modern books in Germany and also in territories under German occupation, where it often enough could profit from favorable exchange rates imposed by the occupying power. The Reichstauschstelle also went after duplicates which had been confiscated from private collections and church libraries and were concentrated at certain collecting points in the occupied territories. Meanwhile the background of such acquisitions could be clarified on the basis of files concerning the libraries in Luxemburg, Metz municipal library, the State and University Library Strasbourg and the Book Collecting Point at Posen (Poznań). In the German Reich the Reichstauschstelle bought up confiscated books and collections of emigrated or deported jewish Germans, whose property was “exploited” by the fiscal authorities. At the end of the war the “Reichstauschstelle und Beschaffungsamt der Deutschen Bibliotheken” had more than 50 employees. In the course of the libraries reconstruction programme more than 1,000,000 books were stored in about 40 depots all over Germany and beyond.

Preußische Staatsbibliothek

As investigations have shown, it was not the Reichstauschstelle (as previously assumed) that held a key position in the distribution of confiscated books, but the Prussian State Library itself. According to the present state of knowledge the “exploitation” of confiscated books was not the primary task of the Reichstauschstelle. Instead it acted as a secondary institution, which received from the State Library duplicates or other books from confiscated collections which the library deemed dispensable.

By an ordinance of the Prussian Ministry of Finance of March 27, 1934, the Prussian State Library was authorized and commissioned, to supplement from books confiscated in Prussia above all its own holdings and to pass on those books not needed to the German university libraries. In this way, the Acquisitions Department of the Prussian State Library became the hub of a distribution network, which included more than 30 academic libraries in Germany and former Austria.

In 1938 and 1939 further ordinances of the Finance Ministry of the German Reich determined the Prussian State Library as the “central collecting point” for Hebraica, Judaica and political as well as literary works confiscated from persecuted Jews. In this field, however, the Prussian State Library competed against such institutions of the National Socialist regime that were collecting the literature of political and ideological enemies for their own libraries.

Moreover, between 1941 and 1944 the Prussian State Library received looted books from the Wehrmacht (the German Armed Forces), which had been stolen in the Soviet Union and in France.