List of libraries damaged during World War II

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

This is a list of libraries damaged during World War II.


When Hitler’s Germany started the Anschluss with Austria in 1938, one of the first casualties was the looting of the public and private libraries of Vienna.[1]

  • Of the library of the University of Graz, about 100 manuscripts and 4,500 volumes of academic publications, which had been stored for safe keeping in Steiermark, were lost as a result of plunder.[2]
  • In 1938 the Nazis formed a Bücherverwertungsstelle which was a collection and distribution center for books stolen from the personal libraries, publishing companies and bookstores of Jews and other people who's possessions declared in forfeit to the states for political or ethnic reasons. These books contained 644,000 volumes, of which 410,000 volumes were destroyed. This center was directed by Albert Paust, who previously had been the director of the Deutsche Bucherei in Leipzig. Libraries in Austria could chose desired titles from this center for their own book collections.[3]
  • “The library of the Weiner Arbeiterskammer (Council of the Trade Unions) had a very valuable collection of material in socialism, communism, trade unions and related fields, but when the Germans took over in 1938 they broke up the entire collection and moved most of the material to Germany. The rumor went around that collection was to form the nucleus for a library of an international labor office to be established under “the New Order”. However, the collection disappeared altogether and has not been recovered yet. The library in Vienna opened its doors again in 1945 with its holdings reduced to a minimum.”[5]
  • The National Library had been instrumental in of taking the books and other possessions of Jewish citizens, and also other victims of the Nazi regime. It was estimated that about 195,000 books and other objects had been stolen from politically and racially persecuted victims, and unlawfully added to the collection.[6] In 2003 the Austrian National Library in Vienna states that 32,937 books, manuscripts maps and other objects had been restored to their lawful owners.[7]
  • A review of the library situation in Austria at the end of the war was prompted by the American Library Association. "“Vienna was heavily bombed and many of its famous buildings were badly damaged or altogether destroyed. But the library buildings were practically untouched. All functioned throughout the war, with only a short interruption when all facilities broke down in the Spring of 1945. But the conditions have suffered a great deal. There was at first a purge of books when the Nazis took over in 1938, and then all through the German occupation restrictions on new acquisitions and complete isolation from the rest of the world."[9]


Two hundred libraries in Belarus suffered damage during the war. T. Roschina calculated that 83 per cent of the libraries' collection were plundered, stolen or destroyed. 600,000 of those volumes were subsequently found in Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland after the war, but a million other volumes, including rare and old printed volumes, have not been returned.[10]

Belorussian libraries were plundered of 95% of their holding.[11]

  • In Smolensk, "...the German fascist invaders plundered and destroyed the most valuable collections in the museums. They desecrated and burned down ancient monuments; they destroyed schools and institutes, libraries, and sanatoriums. The report also mentions the fact that in April 1943, the Germans needed rubble to pave the roads. For this purpose, they blew up the intermediate school. The Germans burned down all the libraries of the city and 22 schools; 646,000 volumes perished in the library fires."[12]

The “Smolensk holdings” of five hundred files of the Communist Party Archives ended up in the National Archives in Washington, DC, along with manuscripts of the Belarusan poet Vassily Koval. The papers of the Polish folklorist and ethnographer, Professor Józef Obrebski, ended up in the archives of the University of Massachusetts. The Khreptovitch Library was temporarily removed to Kyiv (Kiev) during the war. A Dutch Trophy collection was given to the Soviet Union and returned to the Netherlands. Part of the library collection of Petlura was returned to the Ukraine.[13]

  • “The occupants looted the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus housing extremely rare collections of historic documents and books, and destroyed hundreds of schools, clubs, and theaters in Belorussia (White Russia). From the Pevlovsk Palace in the town of Slutzk the extremely valuable palace furniture, made by outstanding craftsmen of the 18th century, was removed to Germany.”[14]


The Nazis assumed control over libraries and information. Concerning the confiscation of library books, one military order stated: “The Army groups and their designees may demand information from any person concerning economic data, supplies, consumption, storage, purchase and sale of goods, products and wares of every kind. They may demand books, papers, receipts, and samples be shown, and that anyone required to furnish information appear in person… Information shall be given free of charge.”[15]

  • Brussels. The contents of the communist bookshop OBLA, Brussels, were sentby the Nazis to Racibórz, Poland.[16]
  • Brussels. The records of the International Federation for Housing and Town Planning were confiscated and brought to Germany.[17]
  • Jesuit convent in Enghien had 200 crates of books removed by the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce in 1941. Concerning this library and the École des Hautes Études mentioned below, the Germans said, “Both institutions were considered outposts of French culture on Flemish soil and unfriendly to Nazism.”[18] The archives and library of the international Jesuit college at Enghien, which was sent to the “Zentrale der anti-Deutschland speziell anti-National-Sozialistischen Information” (“Center for anti-German and anti-National Socialist Information”)[19]
  • Ghent. École des Hautes Études in Ghent had 56 crates of books confiscated by the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce.[20] The library of Niko Gunzburg (1882-1984) of history, law and Jewish culture, were confiscated by the ERR in January 1941, and shipped to Berlin in February 1941 in ten crates. Niko Gunzburg was a noted professor of law at the University of Ghent, was a leading member of the Jewish community, a prominent Mason, and he was also a protest-activist against National Socialism in Belgium. Of his large library, only 200 books were returned after the war."[21]
  • Liege. “Two remarkable photographic studies of the treatment of libraries by Germans shows what happened to the University of Liége in Belgium and the Polish Library in Paris. Books have been taken away- stolen, burned, dispersed- statuary lies in heaps of rubble on the floor, wainscoting and decorative woodwork have been pulled from their walls to be hacked to pieces, walls themselves have been destroyed."[22]
  • Louvain. Library of the University of Louvain (900,000 volumes, 800 manuscripts, all incunabula, and 200 prints of old masters lost; 300,000 books, manuscripts and incunabula were destroyed in World War I too) In May 1940, the stacks were completely burned down, as a result of German artillery fire. About 900,000 volumes, 800 manuscripts, all incunabula, and 200 prints of old masters were lost.[23] After the end of World War I, Belgium libraries were re-stocked with books from collections in defeated Germany and donations from the government, private citizens and other institutions of the United States. However, it was believed the Germans attacked the library because of a Latin inscription that was proposed for the library balcony, but never placed on the balcony: “Furore Teutonico Diruta, Dono Americano Restituta” (“Destroyed by the fury of the Germans, restored by the generosity of the Americans”).[24]
  • Public Library of Tournay (destroyed)[25]

Some of the captured library loot was returned to Belgium by the US Government after the war. A photograph in the Offenbach Archival Depot records says in its caption, “1st cases of Belgium items being prepared for shipment. Inspected by Belgium Restitution officer, Lt. Raymond and Capt. Seymour Pomrenze.”[26]


“According to the statistics of 1936 compiled by the Chinese Libraries Association, on the eve of the Japanese invasion there were 4,747 libraries in all throughout China, including independent libraries, school libraries, institutional libraries and county and municipal libraries. But by 1943, however, following the Japanese invasion and occupation, the number of libraries declined to 940. Four-fifths of the libraries were either destroyed or looted. Before the war, there were approximately 25 million volumes housed in the various libraries, but after the war the number was reduced to 15 million volumes. 10 million volumes, or forty percent of the books, were lost in the intervening years… Although some 158,873 volumes have been returned to China in the intervening years, it constitutes 6 percent of the total number taken, i.e., 2,742,108 volumes. The major portion has not been returned.”[27]

  • National Library of China
  • Nanjing Library
  • Institute of Technology of He-pei, T'ien-chin. (Completely destroyed by bombs)
  • Medical College of He-pei, Pao-ting. (Completely destroyed by bombs)
  • University of Nanking. (10% of collections disappeared after 1939. Probably transferred to Japan, together with the card catalogue)
  • University of Shang-hai. (27% of collections in Western languages disappeared after 1939, as well as 40% of collections of works in Chinese. Probably transferred to Japan. Many other books damaged by water)[28]
  • Royal Asiatic Society, Shang-hai. Collections transferred to Tokyo after 1939.[29]


  • Prague National and University Library (25,000 lost books, mostly art books)
  • Library of the Faculty of Natural Sciences (dispersed and destroyed, including the card catalogue)
  • Ancient library of Jan Hodejovsky (seven codices)

Total losses of books, manuscripts and incunabula estimated at 2,000,000 volumes.


  • Municipal Library of Beauvais was destroyed by bombs in June 1940, with the loss of about 42,000 volumes.
  • Both the University and the Municipal Libraries of Caen were destroyed by bombs in 1940.
  • The Chartres Library was hit by an American phosphor bomb that destroyed about 23,000 volumes, including manuscripts and incunabula.
  • The Municipal Library of Dieppe was blown up in August 1944 by retreating German troops.
  • The Douai Municipal Library lost 110,000 out of 115,000 volumes.
  • The Library of the Société Commerciale in Le Havre was completely destroyed by bombs in an air raid. Geographical and travel books were lost.
  • The Library of the National Assembly lost 40,000 volumes during the liberation of Paris in 1944 when German soldiers set fire to the Palais-Bourbon. Old printed works in the fields of theology, science and the arts were lost.
  • The National and University Library in Strasbourg was partially destroyed by an air raid in September 1944. Literary periodicals and publications of learned societies were among the losses, as well as the greater part of the medical collection. About 300,000 out of 800,000 volumes were destroyed.
  • The Tours Municipal Library was hit by bombs in June 1940 and was completely destroyed, with the loss of 200,000 volumes, 400 incunabula

and 400 manuscripts.


  • Library of the Technical University of Aachen (50,000 volumes lost, including journals, doctoral dissertations and illustrated works)
  • National Library of Germany (2 million volumes lost)
  • Library of Berlin University (20,000 volumes lost)
  • Municipal Library of Berlin (damaged)
  • Library of the Reichstag (almost utterly destroyed)
  • Library of the German Army (damaged)
  • Library of University of Bonn (a quarter of volumes lost)
  • Library of Bremen (150,000 volumes lost)
  • The Hessische Landesbibliothek (760,000 volumes lost, including 2,217 incunabula and 4,500 manuscripts)
  • Municipal and State Library of Dortmund (250,000 volumes lost)
  • Sächsische Landesbibliothek (300,000 volumes lost)
  • Municipal Library of Dresden (200,000 volumes lost)
  • Library of the Verein für Erdkunde (12,000 volumes lost)
  • Municipal Library of Essen (130,000 volumes lost)
  • Municipal and University Library of Frankfurt (550,000 volumes, 440,000 doctoral dissertations and 750,000 patents lost)
  • University Library of Giessen (90% volumes lost)
  • University Library of Greifswald (17,000 volumes and 1,900 manuscripts lost)
  • University and State Library of Hamburg (600,000 volumes lost)
  • Commercial Library of Hamburg (174,000 volumes lost)
  • Municipal Library of Hannover (125,000 volumes lost)

About a third of books in German libraries were lost.



  • Public Library of Milan (200,000 volumes lost)
  • University Library of Naples (200,000 volumes lost)
  • Library of Parma (damaged)
  • National Library of Turin (heavily damaged)

About 2 million printed works and 39,000 manuscripts lost.



  • Provincial Library of Zeeland (160,000 volumes lost)


Most of Polish libraries were damaged and suffered losses by German occupation:

Around 15 million volumes were lost of a total 22,5 million volumes available.



  • In April 1941, the National Library of Serbia in Belgrade was completely destroyed as a result of German bombs. About 1,300 Cyrillic Manuscripts from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries were burned as well as important manuscript collections of Serbian authors and scholars. Incunabula and old printed works were also destroyed, as were Serbian books printed between 1832 and 1941.

Soviet Union[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

England also lost her share of books destroyed during the war. Some 54,000 children’s books went up in flames during the bombing of England, and thousands of special collections housed in the libraries are gone forever. Of the 1,145,500 books destroyed in the ruins of the bombed libraries, 982,000 were in city libraries; 155,813 belonged to university libraries, and the rest in county libraries.[31]

  • Channel Islands. Although the Germans were never able to actually invade England, the Channel Islands were occupied, and many of their library books were also stolen by the ERR. After the war, some 3,740 books were shipped in 17 cases, and included “…books, Masonic documents and emblems looted from the British Channel Islands.”[32]
  • London. On the night of 10 May 1941, the Luftwaffe lit up the skies over London, dropping a cluster of incendiary bombs that struck the old Iron Library of the British Museum. The southwest quadrant of the institution on Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury was destroyed, with a loss of 250,000 volumes, including a large number of American titles.[33]
  • London. During an aerial firebombing in 1940, at least six million books were destroyed in London's Paternoster Row area, the wholesale booksellers' district.[34]
  • London. The Guildhall, London, which housed the ancient Corporation Library, was burned to the ground and 25,000 volumes, many of them unique, were lost.[35]
  • Manchester. The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society was formed in 1781, and next to the Royal Society, this is the oldest scientific society in England. Their beautiful home and library was destroyed by enemy action on 24 December 1940. The collections of eminent scientists were destroyed, including the John Dalton Collection, which was especially rich.[36]
  • The University Library of Bristol was damaged by air raids, which destroyed the Library of the Department of Anatomy, with further damage to books by water and broken glass.
  • The Central (Public) Library of Coventry was completely destroyed by German bombs; more than 100,000 volumes were lost.
  • The Central Lending Library of Liverpool was destroyed.
  • About 7,000 volumes of King's College London were removed to Bristol and were lost when the Great Hall of Bristol University was hit by incendiary bombs.
  • The London law libraries of the Inner Temple and Middle Temple suffered losses as a result of air raids.
  • The Guildhall in London was partly destroyed by fire and lost 25,000 volumes.
  • The Minet Public Library in London was hit by bombs in December and lost 20,000 books.
  • The Library of the British Museum was damaged and lost 200,000 volumes in the main building and 30,000 volumes of newspapers in the Hendon Repository.
  • Lambeth Palace Great Hall received a direct hit from an incendiary bomb on 10th May 1941, destroying or badly damaging some 10,000 books.
  • Manchester Central Library sustained minor damage from flying masonry when the Manchester Police Headquarters on Bootle Street was hit on the night of 1 June 1941.



  1. ^ Harclerode, Peter and Brendan Pittaway, 2000, The Lost Masters: World War II and the Looting of Europe’s Treasurehouses. Pages 9-15, 22
  2. ^ Hoeven, Hans van der; Van Albada, Joan, 1996, “Memory of the World: Lost Memory: Libraries and Archives Destroyed in the 20th Century.” Pages 7-15. They comment from: M. Hirschegger, in Liber Bulletin. Volume 32/33(1989), pages 6-12.
  3. ^ Der Raub der Bücher: Plünderung in der NS-Zeit und Restitution nach 1945. by Evelyn Adunka. 2002.
  4. ^ Der Raub der Bücher: Plünderung in der NS-Zeit und Restitution nach 1945. by Evelyn Adunka. 2002.
  5. ^ Langer, Elizabeth M. 1949. “Vienna’s Libraries Desire U.S. Books.” Library Journal. May 15, 1945. Page 789.
  6. ^ Austrian National Library. 2003. “Looted Books: The Austrian National Library confronts its Nazi Past.”
  7. ^ Werner, Margot. 2003. “Provenance Research and Restitution.” Bericht der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek an die Kommission für Provenienzforschung (Provenienzbericht). Wien: Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek.
  8. ^ Der Raub der Bücher: Plünderung in der NS-Zeit und Restitution nach 1945. by Evelyn Adunka. 2002.
  9. ^ Langer, Elizabeth M. 1949. “Vienna’s Libraries Desire U.S. Books.” Library Journal. May 15, 1945. Pages 788-89.
  10. ^ Adam Maldis. “The Tragic Fate of Belarusan Museum and Library Collections During the Second World War.” Page 79.
  11. ^ Hiller, Marlene P. 1997. “The Documentation of War Losses in the Former Soviet Republics.” In: Simpson, Elizabeth, ed. “Spoils of War.” Page 83.
  12. ^ Nuremburg Trial Proceedings. Volume 8, 64th Day, Thursday, February 21, 1946. Morning Session.
  13. ^ Adam Maldis. “The Tragic Fate of Belarusan Museum and Library Collections During the Second World War.” Page 80.
  14. ^ Nuremberg Trial Proceedings. Volume 7. Fifty-fourth Day, Friday, February 8, 1946.
  15. ^ Lemkin, Raphael. 1944. Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. Page 322.
  16. ^ Lust, Jacques. 1997. “The Spoils of War Removed from Belgium During World War II.” In: Simpson, Elizabeth, ed. “Spoils of War.” Page 59.
  17. ^ Lust, Jacques. 1997. “The Spoils of War Removed from Belgium During World War II.” In: Simpson, Elizabeth, ed. “Spoils of War.” Page 59.
  18. ^ Grimsted, P.K. Returned from Russia. Pages 203-204.
  19. ^ Lust, Jacques. 1997. “The Spoils of War Removed from Belgium During World War II.” In: Simpson, Elizabeth, ed. “Spoils of War.” Page 59.
  20. ^ Grimsted, P.K. Returned from Russia. Pages 203-204.
  21. ^ Grimsted, Patricia Kennnedy. Returned from Russia. Pages 217-218.
  22. ^ Shaffer, Kenneth R. and Kipp, Laurence J. 1947. “Books- Agents of War and Peace.” The Scientific Monthly. Volume 64 (5), May 1947, page 429.
  23. ^ Lemkin, Raphael. 1944. Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. Pages 319-320.
  24. ^ Battles. Library: An Unquiet History. Pages 156-163.
  25. ^ Lemkin, Raphael. 1944. Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. Pages 319-320.
  26. ^ Pomrenze, Seymour. The records of the Offenbach Collecting Point for books and library collections are in the Ardelia Hall Collection, Boxes 250-262, OMGUS, Record Group 260, National Archives at College Park, MD.
  27. ^ Li, Peter (editor). 2003. Japanese War Crimes: The Search for Justice. Page 281, 285.
  28. ^ R. Pelissier, Les bibliothèques en Chine pendant la première moitié du XXe siècle. Paris etc., 1971, esp. p. 143-146
  29. ^ Memory of the World: Lost Memory - Libraries and Archives destroyed in the Twentieth Century. Prepared for UNESCO on behalf of IFLA by Hans van der Hoeven and on behalf of ICA by Joan van Albada. 1996.
  30. ^ Biblioteka na Koszykowej: O nas at the Wayback Machine (archived August 15, 2010)
  31. ^ “Nazis Burned Books Across the Channel, Too.” Christian Science Monitor. October 1, 1945, page 1.
  32. ^ Posté, Leslie. 1948. “Books Go Home” Library Journal. December 1, 1948, page 1701.
  33. ^ Mitgang, Herbert. 1981. “Library Microfilming 6,000 Blitz-Damaged Books.” New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Nov 26, 1981. pg. C.17.
  34. ^ Knuth. Libricide. Pages 90-91.
  35. ^ Knuth. Libricide. Pages 90-91.
  36. ^ Sarton, George. 1952. A Guide to the History of Science: A First Guide for the Study of the History of Science with Introductory Essays on Science and Tradition. Waltham, Mass: Chronica Botanica Company. Page 273.

See also[edit]