The odyssey of Jewish books in the wake of the Holocaust.
Robert Edsel’s The Monuments Men (2008) has increased awareness of Allied efforts to track down and save art and artifacts stolen by the Nazis. In a related but more specific vein, Glickman (Sacred Treasure—The Cairo Genizah: The Amazing Discoveries of Forgotten Jewish History in an Egyptian Synagogue Attic, 2010), a rabbi, traces the fate of Jewish books from the outset of Nazi vandalism through the course of World War II and beyond. While the Nazis were noted for burning books, the author explains that this wanton destruction was actually quite limited. The Nazis were far more interested in hoarding books owned by Jewish families, libraries, and institutions, and they did so by the millions. “The Nazis devoted so much attention to Jewish books because Germans were a bookish people,” writes Glickman, “and they understood the importance of the printed word to cultural identity and ethnic pride.” The Nazis hoped to destroy Jewish culture by stealing and suppressing its written words, but their motives did not end there. Representative of the Nazi penchant for pseudo-science, many Nazi scholars hoped to study Jewish texts for academic, yet misguided reasons. From a material perspective, they also mined book collections for rare and valuable specimens, much as was done with art during the same period. At the war’s end, the job of collecting, cataloging, and redistributing these books fell to a few dedicated scholars and professionals, including such important figures as Salo Baron and Hannah Arendt. Glickman has produced a provocative history that preserves this important yet often overlooked aspect of the Holocaust, and readers will come away with a valuable perspective on how the written word can be abused for the sake of cultural genocide. At times, the narrative is chronologically confusing, and the author’s voice can become a slight annoyance in an otherwise serious framework—e.g., a surprising plethora of exclamation marks.
The text is approachable and the material is invaluable. The written word prevails.