Department of Early Printed Books

Research Project „Creating Transparency. Identification and Indexing of NS-Looted Books in the Collection of Printed Books of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin“

Started: September 2010 - Finished: June 2014

The project aimed at systematically examining about 11,000 accessions for the Collection of Printed Books of the State Library which were considered to be of dubious provenance (out of a total of 3 million volumes published between 1501 and 1945).

In the course of the project three methodical approaches were pursued:

  • Examination of those accession numbers which had already been listed in an internal database of dubious accessions – a process which included the identification of titles in the journal of accessions as well as the identification of relevant copies in the library’s online catalogue and possibly other catalogue systems.
  • Examination of entries for copies in the Alphabetical Card Catalogue II, with special emphasis on copies coming from the confiscated library of the Institut für Sozialforschung (Frankfurt on the Main).
  • Examination in the stacks of such shelf number sequences where NS-looted books could most likely be expected.

The State Library attaches great importance to sustainable documentation of the results of its provenance research projects. This is why in all verified cases of NS-confiscated books the findings including all provenance marks are promptly and comprehensively documented in the library’s online catalogue StabiKat and are thus made available all over the world. Moreover, through the intensified cataloguing of provenance data reuse effects will be created for other projects in the field. Any information on those copies which have unambiguously been identified as looted is also available through the Lost Art internet database.

Presumptive owners or their legal successors are being ascertained on the basis of evaluation of owners’ entries found in the copies. Files of clear cases are then handed over to the legal department of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, where the legal situation is assessed and the decision on restitution prepared for the foundation’s president.

At the beginning of the project suspicious cases in the field of Hebraica and Judaica were investigated; this included checks directly in the stacks. Subsequently, the entries for the accessions of donations and depository copies from Germany came under scrutiny. Especially in these files considerable quantities of books looted from the libraries of oppositional political and cultural organizations such as socialist and communist associations, masonic lodges, as well as Jewish and congregationalist religious communities are recorded. In the last phase of the project Socialist and Masonic literature was checked in the stacks, with a special emphasis on the former holdings of the Institut für Sozialforschung. Apart from that, clearly incriminated accessions of foreign literature were checked, above all those recorded as donations.

Two particular problems emerged in the course of the project and made work somewhat difficult: In the field of Hebraica and Judaica the library suffered heavy losses in World War II, so that often enough copies in question were not available for further examination. Moreover, especially those looted books which had come in from abroad hardly ever showed any provenance marks that would have allowed further research.

The project in figures:

The project in figures:

Accession numbers checked:


Titles checked:


Copies identified / checked:


-> of which lost during WW II:


-> of which could not be traced (no catalogue entry):


Checks in the stacks (including check of additional titles / copies):


Copies identified as NS-looted:


-> of which with relevant provenance marks: