Website of the German Lost Art Foundation

Freiburg and Dresden university libraries restitute Nazi-confiscated property

Date 2020.05.29

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.

Project de­scrip­tion SLUB (on­ly Ger­man ver­sion)

Blog Post SLUB (on­ly Ger­man ver­sion)