Books in Nazi-Occupied France


Martine Poulain, a French socioiogist whose field is reading , recently published a book about the pilfered libraries in Nazi-occupied France between 1940 and 1944.

When she discovered that nothing had been written on the subject, Martine Poulain decided to explore it. She started with public libraries but found that they had been for the most part left untouched while institutional and private libraries had been emptied and the books sent to Germany.

She also realized that this pilfering had been planned carefully before the war had even started. Apparently the Nazis knew perfectly well where the precious manuscripts, archives and books were. To quote her words, prior to the war, “the only thing they didn’t have was the key”.

She identified three reasons for the looting of libraries by the Nazis:
Revenge. The Germans were still bitter about The Treaty of Versailles and they believed that anything German, in German or related to German history belonged to them.
Domination. The Nazis were preoccupied with what people read. They wished to be the masters of the world and as such felt that reading was a field they needed to control.
Antisemitism. Most of the private libraries the Nazis pilfered were that of Jewish intellectuals and families. When a family was arrested and deported, the whole library was emptied and sent to Germany. Similarly the libraries of The Alliance Israelite Universelle and The Séminaire Israélite de France (the French Jewish Seminary) as well as those of famous French rabbis were plundered.

After the war, only 20% of the books were returned to their owners.

Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day – starts tonight.

6 thoughts on “Books in Nazi-Occupied France

  1. Very interesting, and very frustrating. The extent of Nazi theft of priceless goods from Jews is overwhelming, and the fact that most books, paintings, etc. have not been recovered by survivors is also depressing.

    Thank you nonetheless for the information. While Yom HaShoah is never something to celebrate, sometimes it gives the soul a little relief to think about objects lost rather than people. I’m sure if we had had the choice, we would have preferred to give up those things rather than the lives that were taken so ruthlessly.

  2. Shimshonit: I had another story to share based on a book I have been redading but I wasn’t sure what exactly it was I wanted to write about it; somehow writing about books was easier.

  3. I just finished a reading a novel about art/paintings owned by Jews, and how the Nazis stole the artwork.

    Pictures at an Exhibition was informative in that respect.

  4. Pingback: Here in HP, a Highland Park, New Jersey blog » Holocaust Remembrance Day - Yom HaShoah

  5. Pingback: Weekly Round-Up « Ilana-Davita

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