Page 18 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

Basic HTML Version

10
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
9-81); the writer and civic leader, Dr. Herman Kruk; the poets,
Abraham Sutzkever and Shmerke Kaczerginski (who reported his
ERR work in his book
Partisaner geyen^
Buenos Aires, 1947); the
teacher, Rachel Pupko-Krynski (see her article in
YIVO Bleter
,
vol. XXX , 1947, no. 2, pp. 214 f.) and others. New books arrived
from Kovno, Shavle, Mariampol, Volozhyn and many other
localities. Books were also assembled from at least 300 synagogues
and from various private collections. During his short stay,
Dr. Pohl made the first selection of books suitable for transport to
Germany. Out of 100,000 books he selected 20,000 for shipping,
and ordered the rest to be sold for pulp to a paper mill for Reichs­
mark 19 per ton of paper. He disposed of the copper plates of the
famous Rom publishing house in a similar commercial deal. Pohl’s
assistants were even more unscrupulous in their transactions. One
of them, Sparkett, dumped five cases of rare books and manu­
scripts from a transport prepared for shipment to Berlin, in order
to make room for a black market shipment of hogs.
The Jewish employees of the ERR, some of them connected
with the Vilna underground, tried to save as many manuscripts
and books as possible. Risking their lives, they concealed the
most valuable items and smuggled them, one by one, out of the
closely watched YIVO building. Many of the salvaged cultural
treasures were buried in safe hideouts in the Ghetto. After the
war some were restored to the Jewish Museum in Vilna and others
were sent to Jewish institutions the world over.
Many libraries were destroyed and looted also in Kovno. Soon
after the German invasion, the books in the famous Mapu Library
were publicly burned. The ceremony was witnessed by high
German officials, while a military band played and Storm Troopers
danced around the fire. The vandalism of those early days,
however, gave way to a lucrative business pattern. Dr. Gott-
hardt, aided by Dr. Giselher Wirsing and other experts, took
charge of the ERR in Kovno and proclaimed a Jewish “book
action” in February, 1942. The most valuable books were trans­
ported to Germany, and the remainder was turned over for pulp
to a paper mill.
These exploits did not sate the avarice of the ERR. In May,
1941, Wilhelm Grau suggested in a memorandum to Alfred Rosen­
berg that the ERR activities ought to be extended to Spain, Italy,
Roumania, Hungary and Slovakia. Three years later, after
Hungary had come under the heel of the Nazis, Dr. Gerhard
Utikal, ERR chief of staff and author of the slanderous
Der
jiidische Ritualmord
, dispatched a special unit (Sonder-Kommando)
headed by Dr. Zeiss to confiscate Jewish books, archives and art
treasures in Hungary. The Jewish libraries suffered not only