Research on Nazi looting at the Herder Institute's research library

Examination of stock taken from the former Berlin-Dahlem publication office

Project Leader: Dr. Jürgen Warmbrunn
Project Staff:
Dr. Cornelia Briel
Stiftung Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste Magdeburg
Duration: 11/2016 – 10/2019

It has long been thought probable that the book collection, which was transferred in 1964 from the former Berlin-Dahlem publication office to the Herder Institute, contained material that had been looted by the Nazis.These suspicions were reinforced by the results of research carried out by in 2008 by David Zimmer, who investigated around 350 selected volumes. In 1994, 212 volumes with stamps indicating Ukrainian ownership had already been sent back to the Ukraine. Finally, in 2016, a research project was initiated with aim of investigating the entire collection received at that time. The process will entail identifying each of the previous owners, recording the materials in question in the OPAC system and returning the books, brochures and journals that were illegally held at the Herder Institute back to the rightful inheritors or successors. The project is part of the provenance research being pushed forward by agents of the Commissioner for Cultural and Media
Affairs with the aim to investigate illegally obtained cultural property in museums, libraries and archives. 

The Berlin-Dahlem publication office was founded in 1931 by Albert Brackmann, an adherent of the German national party and general manager of the Prussian State Archive. It was set up as a publication fund and was initially based in the Prussian Secret State Archive and functioned as a branch of the North and East German Research Council. During the Nazi era, the office helped to reinforce the German Reich’s claim to power based on ethnic arguments. Employees of the publication office therefore supplied cartographic material, among other things, for the development of the General Plan for the East. Late in the winter of 1945, ahead of the approaching Soviet army, the employees fled Bautzen, where they held a  provisional wartime office, and moved operations to Coburg. They took with them files and a large section of the library into the American occupied zone.  According to their records, the library of the Berlin-Dahlem publication office expanded rapidly, especially during the war years. The publication office exploited its
relatively prominent position in the Nazi regime’s hierarchy to acquire possession of literature that had either been confiscated within Germany or looted from occupied areas. Through the Gestapo, it also obtained brochures belonging to disbanded Sorbian associations and the Polish Union in Germany. The German Foreign Office granted its employees access to the book collections it had taken from the foreign ministry, embassies and consulates in Czechoslovakia and used its Geographical Service to pass on looted literature from Eastern Europe into the holdings Berlin-Dahlem publication office. The publication office shared with the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg plundered material that the ERR had stolen from the  Bibliothèque Polonaise, a library that had been founded in Paris by Polish immigrants.

A book originally from the library at the headquarters of the Polish Union in Germany, taken by the Berlin-Dahlem publication office and held at the Secret State Police Department

A considerable number of items can already be clearly identified as stolen property on account of reviews in the research library’s journal concerning around 2,000 “PuSte” duplicate copies. Further unequivocal evidence can be found in correspondence between the publication office and other Nazi institutions, which is contained in files at the Federal Archives in Berlin-Lichterfelde.

Confiscated Estonian journal