University Library
University Library

Project on National Socialist Looted Art

This project running from 01.11.2012 to 31.10.2015 focused on the examination of books and journals transferred from the Luftkriegsakademie Gatow to the University Library of Technische Universität in 1945 for evidence of Nazi loot. The project was sponsored by the federal government commissioner for culture and media through the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz in response to a decision taken by the Bundestag.

The project team was led by Angelika von Knobelsdorff M.A., subject specialist at the University Library, and further consisted of research associates and provenance researchers Dr. Cornelia Briel and Dr. Regine Dehnel as well as librarian Michael Jurk and student assistant Christian Ulrich.

You can read here about the background to the project as well as its findings, which were also presented in an exhibition held between 01.10 and 30.11.2015 in the University Library entitled “KRIEGSWICHTIG! Die Bücher der Luftkriegsakademie Berlin-Gatow” (history of the previous owners, context in which the items were looted and their transfer to the library of Technische Hochschule). The accompanying publication is available online in the University Library’s digital repository as well as in print from the University Press.

Historical background

The persecution on the grounds of politics, race, and ideology pursued by the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945 included the confiscation of the assets of both individuals and associations and organizations, such as labor unions, left-wing parties, and Masonic lodges. In contravention of Article 56 of the Hague Convention, the German occupying forces in the conquered countries of central, western, eastern, and south-eastern Europe looted and destroyed cultural assets on a huge scale, including books and entire libraries. Those profiteering from these raids included scientific libraries in Germany and Austria as well as the book collection centers of official party departments.

The library of Technische Hochschule Berlin (the predecessor of Technische Universität Berlin) lost nearly all its holdings during World War II. As such, we can reasonably assume that the library today contains almost none of the books and journals transferred to academic institutions by the agencies of the Nazi regime, including the Gestapo, various ministries, and the Wehrmacht. However, the TU Berlin University Library still houses literature published before the end of the war in 1945. These works were acquired as the result of gifts and antiquarian purchases, mainly in the years immediately following the war as part of efforts to build up the library collection.

In November 1945, the British military government transferred some 10,000 volumes previously stored at the former Luftkriegsakademie in Gatow. Random examinations carried out in 2011 revealed that these books, brochures, and journals, which had been successively added to the library’s holdings in the years following the war, apparently included items looted by the Nazis.

In accordance with the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art of 1998 and the “Declaration of the German federal government, German states and leading municipal associations to locate and return cultural assets confiscated through Nazi persecution, especially those of Jewish ownership” of 1999,  the TU Berlin University Library saw it as its duty to examine this collection (which can quite properly be regarded as a “hidden collection” due to the fact that these volumes had to be first identified among the entire holdings of the library) for Nazi loot.

As part of the research project referred to above, staff first identified the volumes which had been transferred in 1945 and then examined their provenance.

Project findings

It was possible to identify 2,218 volumes among the University Library’s current holdings:

  • 342 were assessed as suspected Nazi loot
  • In the case of a further 442 volumes, it was not possible to reach a decision based on current knowledge
  • The remaining 1,334 volumes can in all probability be regarded as legally acquired

A considerable number of the volumes identified as Nazi loot were confiscated, stolen or otherwise illegally acquired from libraries – especially military libraries – in areas occupied by Germany during World War II.

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