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Millions of Library Books Were Looted in War

But researchers are reuniting them with Jewish families
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 14, 2019 7:00 PM CST
Adolf Hitler and his fellow Nazis walk through Paris in June, 1940.   (Wikimedia Commons)
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(Newser) – "People have looked away for so long, but I don't think they can anymore." So says a Nazi-looting expert about millions of works stolen during World War II—not paintings by master artists, but books once owned by Jewish families and institutions. Researchers in Europe and America are finding ways to trace the books while libraries, mostly in Germany and Austria, are trying to identify which were taken by Nazis and who they belong to, the New York Times reports. Such libraries have given roughly 30,000 books back to 600 institutions, heirs, and original owners over the past decade. "There's definitely progress, but slow progress," says Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, a Harvard University researcher.

Yet challenges remain. Russians, still bitter over WWII losses, refuse to return millions of books they took from Nazis; half a million ended up in Belarus, where a professor told the Wall Street Journal in 2017 that "restitution is a bit of a taboo for us." In other countries, not all books are properly catalogued or still bear the original owner's name. On the upside, hundreds of thousands of Nazi plunderings are listed online and stories are emerging of reunited books. In 2018 a man and his father, a Holocaust survivor, flew from Israel to Germany for a 16th-century rabbinical work that delves into the Torah's commandments. The survivor's father, who once owned the book, had died in a concentration camp in 1943. "It was quite an emotional experience for my father and myself," said the grandson. (Meanwhile, Holocaust photos that went unnoticed for decades have been found.)

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