Freiburg and Dresden university libraries restitute Nazi-confiscated property
The Saxon State and University Library Dresden (SLUB) and the University Library of the University of Freiburg have jointly returned three books to the heirs of Dutch philosopher Leo Polak (1880–1941). Polak’s descendants will give the books to Amsterdam University Library, as has been the case with other previously restituted volumes. The copy held by the SLUB was identified as Nazi-confiscated property during the course of a research project funded by the German Lost Art Foundation.
Polak, a Jewish philosopher, humanist and free thinker, became the chairman of the family firm Polak & Schwarz Essenz Fabriken in the 1920s. He taught philosophy at the University of Groningen until he was banned from his profession in May 1940 when the Germans began their occupation of the Netherlands. After being accused of not complying with the ban, Leo Polak was arrested in February 1941 and deported to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. The latest findings from the University of Wuppertal show that Leo Polak perished on December 9, 1941, as a result of severe physical abuse by concentration camp staff. It was previously assumed that he had died due to the effects of an operation and subsequent forced labor. After his arrest, Leo Polak’s family were forced to move out of their house in Groningen. His daughter, Jetteke, was first sent to Ravensbrück in October 1941 and later deported to Auschwitz, where she was murdered on November 11, 1942. Henriëtte Antoinette Schwarz-Polak and daughters Ans and Bettina survived the Holocaust.
Leo Polak owned a very extensive library containing both valuable and bibliophilic editions. These books can be recognized by four similar bookplates with the inscription “Ex libris Leo Polak”. After Polak’s arrest and deportation in 1941, a large part of his private library was confiscated by the National Socialist occupying force in Amsterdam. At the SLUB, one book previously owned by Leo Polak could be identified by its bookplate. It comes from the holdings of Dresden University Library, a predecessor institution of the SLUB. As there is no information on the year of its addition or form of acquisition, it can only be assumed that it ended up in a book collection depot after part of the collection was seized in 1941, and was then acquired for Dresden University Library after 1945 via the antiquarian book market. Two books with Leo Polak’s bookplate have been identified in the holdings of Freiburg University Library. They came into the holdings of Freiburg University Library in 2017 from the Oriental Department of the University of Freiburg. Likewise, it has so far not been possible to reconstruct their historical background.
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