Today, the Wiener Library in London is known to historians, researchers, and genealogists as a valuable source of rare books and archival materials, particularly pertaining to the experiences of German and British Jews during the Holocaust. Robert Philpot tells the story of its origins:
Eighty-five years ago this year, Alfred Wiener, a German Jew decorated with the Iron Cross in World War I, fled his homeland and established the Jewish Central Information Office in Amsterdam. Its purpose was to alert the world to the dangers posed by Germany’s new rulers. . . . [H]e had been aware, and trying to warn his fellow countrymen, of the growing menace posed by the German far right for almost the entire period of the Weimar Republic. . . . To inform and document his work, Wiener collected pamphlets, books, leaflets, newspapers, and posters charting the Nazis’ rise and their hatred of Jews. . . .
In the late summer of 1939 Wiener departed Amsterdam for Britain, where on the ill-fated date of September 1, 1939, he reopened the Jewish Central Information Office in London’s Marylebone [neighborhood] as Germany invaded Poland. Scrambling to [gain information] about the leaders, military commanders, and institutions of the country with which Britain was now at war, the BBC and such government departments as the Ministry of Information paid Wiener to access the resources of what they began informally to call “the library.” . . .
[Beyond this, there] is the critical role played by the library in adding to, and helping to shape, early postwar thinking about, and studies of, Nazi ideology, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust. Gerald Reitlinger’s classic 1953 study of the Holocaust, The Final Solution, [the first English-language history of the subject], was, for instance, mainly researched at the library. It also supported Lionel Kochan’s 1957 book, Pogrom: November 10 1938, the first detailed analysis of Kristallnacht. . . .
Crucially, the library also began to assemble and publish eyewitness accounts of the Nazis’ war on the Jews almost as soon as Hitler was dead. . . . It [also] provided documentation to the prosecutors at Nuremberg that was available nowhere else. . . . Nearly fifteen years later, it performed the same function at the trial of Adolf Eichmann.