Restitution of Books Stolen by Nazis


Restitution of Books Stolen by the Nazis

Thanks to this bookplate with Leo Polak’s ex libris, it was possible to identify these three books as having been stolen by the Nazis. Source: SLUB, Deutsche Fotothek

An ethnological study of wedding customs in Turkey by Theophil Loebel, a religious history about death and the belief in the immortality of the soul in ancient Israel by Johannes Frey, and an introduction to the history of the Greeks and the Romans by Peter Lauremberg: These three books were recently returned by the Saxon State and University Library in Dresden (SLUB) and the University Library at the University of Freiburg to the family of the Dutch philosopher Leo Polak. All three had originally belonged to Polak and were part of his personal library. Two of the books were published at the end of the 19th and the third at the beginning of the 18th century. The books had been confiscated by the Nazis in 1941, but how they came to be in the collections of the libraries in Dresden and Freiburg is still unknown. As with other books originally owned by Polak, his family donated the three volumes to the University Library at the University of Amsterdam, where Polak’s personal library is now part of the Bijzondere Collecties.

Dr. Leonard Polak was born on January 6, 1880, in Steenwijk in the Netherlands. He was a Jewish philosopher, humanist and freethinker. In 1917, he married Henriëtte Antoinette Schwarz, whose father ran a business, and they had three daughters. In the 1920s, Polak became the director of the family fragrance company Polak & Schwarz. He also taught philosophy at the University of Groningen until May 1940, when the Germans occupied the Netherlands and banned him from practicing his profession. Polak was arrested in 1941 and deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he died. According to the latest research from the University of Wuppertal, Polak’s death was not the result of an operation, as previously believed. Instead, evidence was found that he died on December 9, 1941, from the effects of severe physical abuse by camp guards.

Polak owned a large library with many valuable books. These volumes can be recognized by four similar bookplates with the inscription “Ex libris Leo Polak.” Most of his personal library was confiscated by the Nazis after he was arrested in Amsterdam and deported in 1941. One book originally been owned by Polak was recently discovered in the SLUB, when his ex libris was identified. Before the book became part of the SLUB’s collections, it had belonged to the University Library at the University of Dresden, the predecessor of SLUB. Because no information is available about the date and method of acquisition, it is thought that the book was sold to the University Library by an antiquarian bookshop after 1945. Another two books with Polak’s ex libris were also found in the University Library at the University of Freiburg, where they became part of the collection in 2017. Before that, they had been in the library of the Department of Oriental Studies. Unfortunately, the provenance of these two books is also unable to be traced.

University Library at the University of Freiburg

/Public Release. View in full here.