Page 196 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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ISRAEL MEHLMAN
From a Bibliophile’s Memoirs*
V
a r i o u s
s i g n s
t h a t
became evident early in life indicated that I
was destined to join the family o f bibliophiles. But, as time has
shown, I did not adopt all their traits; there were also other preoc­
cupations that attracted me. While yet a child studying both in
heder and a government school in Berzan, Galicia, I became
addicted to reading. I was enthusiastic about stories and poetry,
and at times when returning home in the evening from the public
library, I would impatiently lean against the street light and begin
to read. I wanted to collect books and succeeded in some small
measure, in keeping with the conditions o f a Galician town.
My most productive period as a collector began in Vienna,
which I reached with my family as a World War I refugee, at the
age o f fourteen. When walking along the city streets, I would be
drawn to the window displays o f the bookstores. The colorful
bindings and the golden lettering o f the books enticed me and
hinted at hidden secrets which were unknown to me. I would
stand gazing for hours on end, intoxicated by what I saw. Gradu­
ally I summoned up enough courage to enter the stores. The
salespeople were mostly women whose husbands and sons had
been drafted into the army. Some o f them, especially the older
ones, observed with curiosity the strange lad who coveted the
books and even made an occasional purchase. A few would even
escort me after closing hours to their storerooms and show me
old, worn books. My excitement was intense. Since then I
acquired books in increasing quantities, despite my limited finan­
cial abilities. I collected indiscriminately everything that I liked
and could afford. In our modest apartment, that o f a refugee
family, space was at a premium and my first bookcase was a box
under my bed.
* Translated from the introduction to the catalogue,
The Israel Mehlman Collection
in the Jewish National and University Library.
Jerusalem, 1984.
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