Stolen Words: The Nazi Plun­der of Jew­ish Books

  • Review
By – February 1, 2016

Though writ­ten in a more play­ful style than one might expect, Glickman’s study is impor­tant for locat­ing in one place a suf­fi­cient­ly thor­ough and emi­nent­ly read­able treat­ment of its sub­ject. Glick­man begins by set­ting his imme­di­ate sub­ject into a few larg­er ones. These include the long asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish cul­ture and civ­i­liza­tion with the writ­ten word, which stress­es the pri­ma­cy of scribed and print­ed text in shap­ing Jew­ish life and iden­ti­ty. The sug­ges­tion is that no oth­er peo­ple would be as dam­aged as the Jew­ish peo­ple through the destruc­tion of its lit­er­a­ture, both sacred and profane.

Anoth­er impor­tant con­text devel­oped by the author is the Nazi plun­der­ing of the larg­er cat­e­go­ry: all Jew­ish cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion, notably includ­ing art­works. The anni­hi­la­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple, under Hitler, required as well the dis­ap­pear­ance or appro­pri­a­tion of its cre­ative expression.

Glick­man also pro­vides a his­to­ry of Jew­ish books and reli­gious scrolls: their mak­ing over the cen­turies of chang­ing mate­ri­als and tech­nolo­gies, their meth­ods of own­er­ship and dis­tri­b­u­tion, their priv­i­leged place in the trans­mis­sion of peoplehood.

The heart of the book, of course, is the holo­caust with­in The Holo­caust. Rab­bi Glick­man traces the tran­si­tion from destroy­ing Jew­ish books to hoard­ing and hid­ing them. The raid­ing of homes, libraries, and Jew­ish insti­tu­tions in gen­er­al led to a dis­persed accu­mu­la­tion of enor­mous num­bers. How­ev­er, even before the war was over, the effort to res­cue and reclaim was under­way. Jew­ish lead­ers rec­og­nized the need to res­cue and rehouse the trea­sure of the Jew­ish mind, spir­it and history.

Per­haps the most inter­est­ing mate­r­i­al in Stolen Words has to do with the role of U. S. mil­i­tary forces and of spe­cial­ly estab­lished insti­tu­tions for the res­cue, repa­tri­a­tion, and allot­ment of Jew­ish books as part of rebuild­ing Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty life after WWII.

There are sev­er­al heroes of this effort whose con­tri­bu­tions Glick­man treats in detail. These include Army Cap­tains Sey­mour Pom­ren­ze and Isaac Ben­cowitz; Salo Maron, who over­saw the sys­tem-build­ing that would deter­mine the fate of mil­lions of Europe’s Jew­ish cul­tur­al trea­sures,” includ­ing books, and such instru­men­tal fig­ures as Judah Leon Magnes, Cecil Roth, and Han­nah Arendt.

Rab­bi Mark Glickman’s vivid and metic­u­lous pre­sen­ta­tion of these efforts, instru­men­tal to cul­tur­al con­ti­nu­ity in what he calls the New Jew­ish Land­scape,” will be a rev­e­la­tion to most readers.

This book is a must-read for every Jew­ish library and every uni­ver­si­ty library as well.

Acknowl­edg­ments, after­word, index, intro­duc­tion, notes.

Relat­ed Content:

Rab­bi Mark Glick­man’s Vis­it­ing Scribe Posts

The Bat­tle for the Books


Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

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