In February 1940, the Deutsche Jugend Zeitung, the official news organ of the Hitler Youth, published a story about the German seizure of the yeshiva in the city of Lublin. This act was followed, according to the article, by the ceremonial burning of its 30,000 books. But the story is without corroboration from contemporary sources, and recently historians have concluded that it was mere propaganda intended to stir the enthusiasm of young Nazis. But where, then, did the books from one of Poland’s largest yeshivas go? Barbara Finkelstein discusses what is known:
[The Polish historian Adam] Kopociowski contends that the Germans preferred stealing surreptitiously from Jewish individuals and Jewish organizations [to such public burnings]. He has learned that they sent Lublin’s vast holdings to the so-called Lublin Staatsbibliothek, a German state library that served as a depot not only for the yeshiva books, but also books from the Jesuit College Bobolanum, the Municipal Public Library, the Catholic University of Lublin, and the H. Lopacinski Memorial Library. To catalogue the Jewish religious texts, the German-appointed [official] Vasyl Kutschabsky recruited Rabbi Aron Lebwohl, a brilliant yeshiva student and one-time secretary to Rabbi Meir Shapiro, [the founder and former head of the Lublin yeshiva].
From April 1941 to November 1942, Rabbi Lebwohl labored at his task. Well before its completion, though, he was deported with the rest of the Lublin ghetto to Majdanek, the nearby German concentration and extermination camp. According to Nazi records, Lebwohl went straight into the gas chambers. His catalogue has never been found. . . .
As for the books themselves, it seems they were originally intended for a planned Nazi “museum of an extinct race.” A number were supposed to be shipped to Berlin. But where they actually went, writes Finkelstein, is a mystery. Yet the books have turned up in a variety of settings, from Jewish libraries to auction houses, and they now seem to be “all over the place.” How they were scattered also remains a matter of speculation.
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