A Mortuary of Books: The Rescue of Jewish Culture After the Holocaust

New York Univ. Apr. 2019. 416p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781479833955. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781479809875. SOC SCI
In this remarkable tale of a little-studied aspect of the Holocaust, Gallas (Simon Dubnow Inst. for Jewish History and Culture) reckons with what the attempted Nazi erasure of Jewish intellectual and cultural heritage means for a people whose identity is tied to a tradition of books and learning. The theft of monographs and destruction of centers of learning was a tragedy occurring in parallel with the destruction of the people, and salvaging and returning or distributing works and ceremonial items was a high priority in the war’s aftermath. Rebuilding and reforming postwar Jewish communities was only possible owing to the serious efforts of a number of agencies and people. The difficulties in distributing monographs between survivors and the international community captured ongoing political tensions about the nature of Judaism as a cultural identity. Particularly effective is the author’s profiles of four people instrumental in this work, including German Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt. The intellectual and psychological impact of the work shows the ranges of coping among all affected.
VERDICT A serious work of Jewish studies scholarship that is nevertheless important and accessible for anyone interested in the history of the book or postwar Europe

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