National Library: Symbolically Handing Over and Repurchasing NS Looted Property

Austrian Press Agency (06/01/2010)

Some 8,363 publications are handed over to the National Fund and repurchased. Rachinger says, “It is sad and shameful that so much time had to pass”

Vienna – Restitution of looted books and all types of printed matter from the Austrian National Library is approaching its conclusion. During today’s ceremony, Director General Johanna Rachinger handed over 8,363 books that had been looted during the NS era to the Austrian National Fund for Victims of National Socialism. The past number of years has witnessed the return of property to their orginal owners or legal heirs. Now so-called “heirless” looted property is being restituted – and directly repurchased.

As a symbolic gesture, President of the National Council Barbara Prammer was given three looted books from the collection, while at the same time expressing the promise to have also all of the books housed in the Parliament’s library researched as to their origins.

“It is sad and shameful that so much time had to pass - 65 years – until the last of the NS looted material contained in the Austrian National Library collection could be identified,” said Rachinger. “At the same time, however, I feel relieved that the unfortunate chain of active entanglement and complicity during the NS era, the conscious failures and delays, have all finally come to an end.” She further emphasized that an institution like the Austrian National Library, a place of national memory, is willing at least to accept the dark chapters in its own history.

As to the volumes of printed matter, it involves exclusively objects that offer no hint as to their former owners. In the majority of cases, they are books from small, private libraries of Viennese Jews who emigrated or were deported; books which, without being catalogued, the Gestapo delivered at the time by truck to the National Library.

It was not until year 2000 that the National Library began to systematically examine numerous acquisitions during the NS period; since then some 35,217 single items could be returned to their legal owners. The collection of books, for which no heirs could be found, were handed over to the National Fund and repurchased for 135,000 Euros. Most of the collection contained children books, standard works pertaining to science, as well as theological critiques dating back to the 17th century.

“Consciously conceived as a commemoration,” accompanied by chamber music written by Jewish composers, the event was organized around the words of President of the National Council Prammer: “For those hundreds or thousands of people, whose fates, after extensive research,” could not be traced.

At the same time, Prammer emphasized that Austrian museums, which had exhibited looted art works “up until the 21st century,” profited from the NS robbery. In this regard she announced the next project, which is to research all the books of the library of the Parliament as well, expecting initial concrete results to be ready sometime this year.