Page 11 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

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THE FATE OF THE JEWISH BOOK
DURING THE NAZI ERA
By
P
h il i p
F
r ie dm a n
J
EWISH books often shared the persecutions inflicted upon
Jews, the “People of the Book.” The first recorded persecu­
tion of the Jewish book probably occurred about 2,100 years ago.
Antiochus IV, King of Syria, in his zeal to Hellenize the Jews,
ordered the Torah Scrolls to be torn to pieces and set on fire
(I Macc. 1:56). Later, during the destruction of the Second
Temple, Torah Scrolls and other Hebrew manuscripts were
destroyed. The same happened during the Bar Kokhba uprising.
In the Middle Ages, the burning of Jewish books often preceded
the extermination of “Jewish heretics.” In 1242, twenty-four
cartloads of Talmud manuscripts were publicly burned in Paris,
and in 1288, ten Jewish martyrs and their books were burned in
Troyes. Jewish books were publicly burned in Spain on various
occasions; for example, in 1263, in Barcelona. Christian kings and
ecclesiastical authorities in several countries ordered the burning
of the Talmud and other Hebrew books. Thus, Pope Clement IV
issued a bull decreeing the confiscation and destruction of the
Talmud. In 1299, Jewish books were destroyed in England, and
in 1415, after the famous dispute in Tortosa, Pope Benedict XIII
condemned copies of the Talmud. An order including also the
books of the Kabbalah and other Hebrew works was issued by
Emperor Maximilian I in 1510. The last large-scale persecution
of Jewish books prior to the Nazi period occurred 200 years ago.
After a disputation between the Jews and the adherents of Jacob
Frank, Dembowski, Catholic bishop of Kamenetz Podolski
(Ukraine), ordered the confiscation and destruction of all Talmud
copies in his diocese. None of these recorded confiscations and
destructions, however, attained the gigantic dimensions of the
Nazi crusade against the Jewish book.
In order to appreciate the magnitude of this greatest book
pogrom in Jewish history, let us take stock of the Jewish books in
libraries and private collections in Nazi-occupied Europe. Jewish
libraries existed in almost every European country before 1939.
They were founded and maintained by institutes of higher learning,
rabbinical seminaries, educational and research institutes, syna­
gogues, youth organizations, and the like. Jewish book stores,
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