Restitution of Books at the Jewish Museum in Prague - DOC

Document Sample
Restitution of Books at the Jewish Museum in Prague - DOC Powered By Docstoc
					Restitution of Books at the Jewish Museum in Prague – the Kartagener
Case as an Example

       As a result of complicated historical events, there are books in our
collections that did not originally belong to the Jewish Museum in Prague
(hereafter ‘the Museum’). This is why, in 2001, the Museum launched an
extensive and long-term project ‘Identifying the Original Owners of Books’. For
more on the composition and putting together of the book collection, see: Bušek,
M.: ‘Identifying Owners of Books Held by the Jewish Museum in Prague’ in
Vitalizing Memory: International Perspectives on Provenance Research
(Washington 2005) and Bušek, M.: ‘Identifikace původních vlastníků knih
v knižním fondu Židovského muzea v Praze’ in Budoucnost ztraceného
kulturního dědictví [The Future of the Lost Cultural Heritage] (Prague 2007).
Also see Braunová, A., ‘The Origin of the Book Collection of the Library of the
Jewish Museum in Prague’ in Judaica Bohemiae XXXVI and the catalogue for
the exhibition at the Robert Guttmann Gallery, ‘Hope is on the Other Page’
(Prague 2007).
       The first phase of the provenance research was carried out between May
2001 and October 2003. During this phase, 80,527 books were examined, of
which nearly 34,000 contain owner records (of individuals or institutions). For
more on the details of the research, see the afore-mentioned papers. The project
continued with the second phase, which was launched in May 2008 at the
Spořilov (Prague) depository, where books that were shipped to the Museum
from the Terezín ghetto after the WW II are kept. These books were catalogued
there by a special work group (‘the Talmudkommando’), which marked them
with the letters ‘Jc’; according to this mark, we can now place these books in a
historical context. Research is being undertaken in a similar way as was done in
the first phase, but now once a week rather than everyday. To date, 5,798 of the
approximately 30,000 books have been examined; 4,982 of these contain owner
records. About 4,700 of these books belonged to institutions, only about 280 to
individuals. The latter are those who can put forward a restitution claim,
provided they meet the ‘Terms for the filing of claims for the restitution of books
from the library collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague which were
unlawfully seized from natural persons during the period of Nazi occupation’
(hereafter ‘the Terms’), which came into effect in July 2007. The full wording of
the Terms is available on the Museum’s website at
As of 16 June 2009, a total of 38,961 entries have been placed in the database;
of these, 26,744 are marked as belonging to institutions and 12,743 are marked
as belonging to individuals.
       I would now like to mention a specific case where books have been
returned to the original owners or their heirs on the basis of provenance
research. It was only after the adoption of the Terms that the Museum could
register a claim from the descendants of Naftali Zvi Kartagener for the return of
books originally owned by Mr. Kartagener. The heirs first contacted the
Museum in the 1990s, when Mr. Kartagener’s daughter asked the library staff
whether books belonging to her father were in the Museum’s book collection. In
the period before 2001 it was not possible to answer questions concerning the
origin of the books. As the collection was not fully accessible, it was practically
impossible to research it. Provenance research began only after quality
depositories had been built, and this resulted in a database of the original owners
of books. We respond to questions concerning the presence of books belonging
to specific persons in our collections on the basis of information included in the
database. If such books are found, a report is drawn up for the Restitution
Commission, which, subsequent to the request being approved, recommends that
the restitution claim be registered and presents it to the Administrative and
supervisory boards for approval. The claim is positively evaluated if the Terms
are met. In the Kartagener case, the restitution claim was for five books and was
registered on 7 June 2007. After a period of one year, the Terms were met and
Mr. Kartagener’s books were handed over to his heirs in September 2008. The
list of restituted books is available on the Museum’s website at:
        From the Museum’s perspective, these are not rare books whose
restitution significantly hampers the quality of the library collection. However
relevant such a perspective may seem to the Museum, it is not taken into
consideration in connection with restitution. Each restitution claim is evaluated
in a comprehensive way. Rare printed books and rare editions are the only items
that we try to keep in our collections, but this is a matter of agreement between
the restituent and the Museum, which always fully respects the decision of the
new owner.
        In connection with the afore-mentioned case, I would now like to touch
upon the most basic and most frequent problems that we can encounter when
dealing with restitution claims. If an heir requests that we carry out provenance
research, it is always beneficial if we have available more detailed information
about the person in question, the places of residence or the signature of the
owner. A clear restitution claim is not even proved by a correspondence of
names, if no further accurate information is known. We encounter such cases
most frequently with German names. In order to prevent a breach of the property
rights of another owner, we cannot put such a book forward for restitution if we
are not certain that the individual in question can be demonstrably identified.
This is why we prefer to keep such a book in our collection with an awareness
that it cannot be proved who the original owner is. We opt for the same
procedure for books whose last owner cannot be reliably determined. In many
books, the names of two or more people are included in an owner record. In
such instances, it is not within the Museum’s scope to determine the name of the
very last owner from whom the book was confiscated. Such an instance
occurred in the Kartagener case. As part of our provenance research, we
identified a total of 13 books where N.C. Kartagener appeared as an owner. It
was possible to clearly identify Mr. Kartagener’s ownership of only five of these
books. The name of another owner appeared in the other books, which is why
they remained in our collection and were not restituted.
        The problem in identifying names is something we encounter with hand-
written marginal notes or signatures. Oftentimes, the records pertaining to
ownership are illegible, the handwriting cannot be deciphered and the form of
the name cannot be accurately determined. In such cases, the owner remains
unidentified in the database, although the language of the record and any legible
information are included in a note. In the future, such books will be included in
the unrestitutable category and will be kept in the Museum’s care. As of the 15th
of June 2009, we have been unable to identify the owners of 579 books.
         As is known, the Museum restitutes only objects or books that were
owned by individuals prior to confiscation. A legal framework has not yet been
put in place for the restitution of items to foreign corporations, which means that
these items also remain in the Museum’s care. When carrying out provenance
research, we do not take into consideration the presence of an owner record by
an individual person if there is also a record of the book in question by an
institution. In the database of owners we only add an entry on the institution,
which may in the future prove acquisition of the book.
        The records in the Museum’s wartime (German) catalogue which are
related to objects and books are of importance when determining the provenance
of books that were acquired during the World War II. If a record in this
catalogue includes the name of an organization or association as its provenance
rather than the name of a person, the Museum regards the book as the property
of an institution rather than an individual, even though the owner record clearly
refers to a private person. Despite the supposition that the owner probably left
the books with a particular institution for safekeeping and that this institution
later, during liquidation, had to hand them over to the Museum, the rule is that
the items shall remain in the Museum’s care if ownership by an individual
cannot be fully proved. After the Museum was privatized in 1994, all the assets
of the inter-war Jewish organizations in Bohemia and Moravia were transferred
to the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, which is their
legal owner. The items registered in the Museum’s collections are in its care.
        As for the future, the question is whether and how the ascertained
information will be made available to the general public. The Museum certainly
expects to have a website presentation of its database of original owners, but the
specific form of such a presentation has not yet been determined. The project is
still ongoing, which is why the information is not yet publicly available; in
response to queries, however, we check the current database and look up the
relevant information, which serves as documentary material in the event of
       The database of owners was originally created using Microsoft Access.
The appearance of the original database and the work on it have also been
presented to specialists at conferences and at a workshop in the Museum’s
Library. After lengthy considerations, however, it was decided that this database
was unsuitable for the requirements of future website presentations. The
technical processing and editing of data was not only time-consuming, but above
all expensive. The possibility of using the Aleph electronic library system,
which is in use at the Museum, was then offered. Aleph was developed in Israel
and enables the processing of Hebrew books, which is ideal for the Museum in
view of its focus. This system is used by many public and specialist libraries in
the Czech Republic and abroad and it is easy to search and share information
about books using its online database. We intend to make use of this service
particularly when entering information about books that will be part of a record
pertaining to ownership. The entries can be supplemented by illustrations, which
we plan to add to owners (scans of stamps, signatures and ex-libris, etc.) but also
to the actual books (title pages). The original database was transferred to the
Aleph system by members of the Library staff. For restituted books, the entries
have been completed and supplemented by all the data and illustrations that we
are presenting here for clarification. For the time being, the other entries include
information about the location and registration of the relevant items, the name of
the owner and the kind of the ownership.
       Obviously, the entire project is very expensive, time-consuming and
labour intensive. In the first years, the Museum fully covered all the expenses
associated with the project. For the ongoing part of the research (books
from Terezín), we have managed to gain financial support from the Conference
on Jewish Material – Claims against Germany, Inc. New York.
        We believe that our work will facilitate, at least in part, a mitigation of
some of the injustices that were committed by the Nazis during the Shoah, and
we trust that we will have a successful co-operation with other organizations that
are working on similar projects.