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January 31, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime: Contributor Patricia Kennedy Grimsted on Plundering Libraries in World War II

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Dr. Patricia Kennedy Grimsted wrote “The Postwar Fate of Einsatzstab Riechsleiter Rosenberg Archival and Library Plunder, and the Dispersal of ERR Records” in the Fall 2010 issue of the Journal of Art Crime. In her abstract, Dr. Grimsted wrote:
“Alfred Rosenberg was one of Nazi Germany’s most successful “looters.” The Einsatzstab Richsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), organized specifically for plunder under his direction, seized cultural property across Nazi-occupied territories. This article traces what happened to the ERR’s hoard of books and archival materials that ended up at war’s end in the ERR evacuation center headquartered in Ratibor (now Polish Racibórz) in Upper Silesia. In contrast to the treasures found in the Western occupation zones of Germany and Austria, a large part of the property in Silesia fell into Soviet hands. Thus plundered a second time, it was held in secret for decades. Only recently has it been possible to find and identify the displaced books and archives, and to raise the issue of restitution. The author also addresses the issue of where and why the ERR’s own records were scattered, as well as current efforts to identify them and make them more accessible to researchers electronically on the Internet.”
Dr. Patricia Kennedy Grimsted is a Senior Research Associate at the Ukrainian Research Institute and an Associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University and an Honorary Fellow of the International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam). She received her Ph.D. in Russian history at the University of California, Berkeley in 1964 and has taught at several universities, including American University and the University of Maryland. Among many fellowships and awards, she was a Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2000-2001), and in 2002 she received the Distinguished Contribution to Slavic Studies Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies. Dr. Grimsted is the West’s leading authority on archives of the former Soviet Union, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the other Soviet successor states. She is the author of several historical monographs, documentary publications, and a series of directories and many other studies on Soviet-area archives, including the comprehensive Archives of Russia: A Directory and bibliographic Guide to Holdings in Moscow and St. Petersburg (Russian edition, 1997; English edition, 2000). She currently directs the Internet version of ArcheoBiblioBase, a collaborative electronic directory project with data from the Federal Archival Service of Russia, maintained by the International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam).

She has also written widely on World War II displaced cultural treasures (see below). In 1990 she was responsible for revealing information about the archives from all over Europe that were captured by Soviet authorities after the war and long hidden in Moscow. With Dutch colleagues she edited the volume Returned from Russia: Nazi Archival Plunder in Western Europe and Recent Restitution Issues (Institute of Art and Law, UK, 2007), soon to be released in an updated paper edition. Most recently, she edited and was a major contributor to the collection Spoils of War v. Cultural Heritage: The Russian Cultural Property Law in Historical Context, published as International Journal of Cultural Property 17, no. 2 (2010). She is currently consulting for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, and has just completed the guide Reconstructing the Record of Nazi Cultural Plunder: A Survey of the Dispersed Archives of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), soon to be released on the Internet, which is already serving as the basis for virtual display of many dispersed fragments, in cooperation with the Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archives).

ARCA blog: You write about meeting a retired Belarusan professor of French philology, Vladimir Makarov, who had found in Minsk books with autographs of French writers such as André Gide, André Malraux, and Paul Valéry. He told you in 2003 that he had not found anyone else so concerned about the provenance and fate of these books. More than six decades after World War II, what is it about these stolen and misplaced libraries that is so compelling for you? And are you surprised that these volumes have not been destroyed?
Dr. Grimsted: Over the past decade and a half there has been a renewed interest in the fate of cultural valuables looted during the war. I find it tragic that many of these books were looted from Holocaust victims and other prominent individuals in Western Europe, and that unlike countries in Western Europe, the Soviet Union never made any effort to return them to their owners. Only since the 1990s have we learned about the fate of the art, archives, and libraries books looted a second time by the Soviets after the war.

Some of the volumes from Western Europe the Soviets captured were destroyed, but close to half a million survived. The rare books that were hidden away for half a century in Belarus, many with famous autographs, are finally being catalogued. However, Belarus librarians have no interest in returning them to their owners, and prefer to consider them “compensation” for their own war losses..
ARCA blog: You write that owners of half a million plundered books from Western Europe and the Balkans that went to Minsk (and another half million plundered from Soviet libraries) never knew that their books had survived and been “saved” by the Red Army. The information was classified or secret for half a century. You think that even today the Rothschild family or the heirs of Léon Blum, Georges Mandel, or Louise Weiss may not know that some of the treasures from their family libraries traveled to Minsk. Are people making inquiries now that ERR records of plunder are being gathered, digitized and made available on the internet?
Dr. Grimsted: Some of those people have learned about the books that went to Minsk after my articles revealed the story of their fate, and there have been a number of inquiries about them since. There is considerable interest, especially among the families and heirs of Holocaust victims in learning more details, and even the suggestion of setting up a database about the looted collections.
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