How Two U.S. Officers Became Jewish Librarians in Allied-Occupied Germany

After taking the German city of Offenbach near the end of World War II, American forces found hundreds of boxes of books, recently moved there by the Nazis from nearby Frankfurt-am-Main when the latter came under bombardment. The task of sorting these books, mostly looted from Jewish libraries, fell to one Captain Isaac Benkowitz. Daniel Lipson explains:

The Nazis stole millions of books during the Holocaust. Nearly two million volumes had found their way from Eastern and Western Europe to the Institute for the Research of the Jewish Question in Frankfurt. Founded by Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi regime’s chief ideologue, this institute was just a small part of his grandiose plan to establish a network of research institutes for Nazi studies, for which he had received Hitler’s personal blessing. . . . [T]he institute in Frankfurt began to operate during the war and its library became the largest “Jewish library” in Europe. . . .

It was Benkowitz’s predecessor, another Jewish officer by the name of Seymour Pomrenze, who established the Offenbach Archival Depot, as it came to be known. A huge and daunting task lay ahead of him, but within a short while he had the whole process of sorting and organizing the books up and running. In a matter of months, he was able to return roughly a million-and-a-half books. Pomrenze was fortunate not to have to sort through all of them, as a large portion of the books, mainly from the Netherlands and France, were still in the crates from their original libraries. . . .

Benkowitz, on the other hand, who had been Pomrenze’s assistant and right hand until the latter’s departure, knew that he would have to deal with hundreds of thousands of other books from all across Europe, each from a different place. . . . The army had placed under his supervision German workers who were assigned a variety of jobs after the war. . . .

As most of the books’ owners had been murdered, and the institutions that housed them destroyed, the majority found their way to such major Jewish libraries as the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City.

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories free

Register Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in now

Read more at The Librarians

More about: Books, Holocaust, Jews in the military, World War II


Is There a Way Out of Israel’s Political Deadlock?

On Tuesday, leaders of the Jewish state’s largest political parties, Blue and White and Likud, met to negotiate the terms of a coalition agreement—and failed to come to an agreement. If none of the parties in the Knesset succeeds in forming a governing coalition, there will be a third election, with no guarantee that it will be more conclusive than those that preceded it. Identifying six moves by key politicians that have created the deadlock, Shmuel Rosner speculates as to whether they can be circumvented or undone:

Sign up to read more

You've read all your free articles for this month


Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Jewish Journal

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Election 2019, Israeli politics