Page 14 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

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wept bitterly, almost silencing us with their cries. We summoned
the military band, and with joyful shouts the soldiers drowned out
the sounds of the Jewish cries”
(Frankfurter Zeitung
, March 28,
In several Polish cities, notably in Bedzin and in Poznan, special
German “Brenn-Kommandos” (arson squads) were assigned to
burn synagogues and Jewish books. Jews attempting to save
Torah Scrolls or books from the burning buildings were shot or
thrown into the flames. Similar brutalities were reported also in
other countries, especially Holland and France, after their occu­
pation by the Nazis. In the Nazi-occupied Soviet territories,
532 synagogues and 258 other buildings belonging to religious
institutions whose denomination is not specified, were “burned,
looted, destroyed and desecrated,” according to General R. H.
Rudenko, Chief Prosecutor for the U.S.S.R., before the Nuremberg
International Military Tribunal (
, vol. VII, p. 189). Inas­
much as Jewish religious buildings had long since been nationalized
in the Soviet Union proper, the U. S. S. R. prosecutor listed only
the synagogues destroyed in the former Polish areas of the
U. S. S. R. The Nazis put the torch not only to Jewish books, but
also, in a limited degree, to non-Jewish books. In his book
Vilner Ghetto
(Paris, 1945), Abraham Sutzkever, the Jewish poet,
asserts that Dr. Johannes Pohl, a high German official, ordered the
burning of the books in the medical library of the Vilna University
Hospital. Other non-Jewish libraries are also known to have been
pillaged, but the vandalism never attained the dimensions directed
against Jewish institutions.
Simultaneous with the destruction of Jewish books, the Nazis
inaugurated a policy of saving a small number of rare and precious
volumes for commercial and scholarly purposes. These looted
items were offered for sale by agents in various European countries.
The well-known Jewish historian, Cecil Roth, stated in an address
in April, 1943: “More than once in pre-war days I was offered,
through reputable agencies in this country [England], objects of
art of German-Jewish provenance, sold by order of the Nazi
Government; and in 1939 even the contents of the Jewish Museum
in Berlin were hawked about the art world on the instruction of
the Reich Minister of Finance.” In the same address Dr. Roth
stated also: “After the German occupation of Lithuania, new
copies of the much-reviled Talmud, from the famous Rom Press
in Vilna, were offered for sale in Amsterdam, in return for ready
money.” Copies of rare Jewish books and manuscripts were also
offered for sale, according to unconfirmed reports, by Nazi agents
in Switzerland.
A few “intellectuals” among the Nazi leaders came to realize