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Provenance Research

Since 2019, the Heidelberg University of Jewish Studies has been actively searching for Nazi-looted material in its library holdings. Even a random reach into the bookshelf suggests that a considerable part of the collection published before 1945 at least gives rise to such suspicions.

This is, of course, no coincidence. Since its foundation in 1979, the library has been keen to build up a comprehensive collection as quickly as possible from a wide variety of sources.

The acquisition of older literature was essential and so Judaica and Hebraica were incorporated, the provenance of which was not initially questioned. Purchases were made from antiquarian sources, but the library also received numerous donations and bequests, which were gratefully accepted. These include the estate of the former rabbi of Westphalia, Emil Davidovic. As this collection is clearly identifiable and has numerous but spatially definable provenances, it was particularly suitable as an introduction to research into looted property. To this end, the university took advantage of the opportunity to apply for funding from the German Lost Art Foundation (Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste ). The project was also supported by the Lilli and Michael Sommerfreund Foundation.

As part of this project entitled "Nazi-looted property in the Albert Einstein Library of the Hochschule für Jüdische Studien - The provenances in the estate of Rabbi Emil Davidovic" (01.01.2019 - 31.12.2021), the provenances of this sub-collection will be examined by autopsy. Even in cases where restitution is ultimately not possible, the project will pay appropriate tribute to those to whom the books once belonged. In this way, the project will make an important contribution to the culture of remembrance in particular and to Jewish history during and after the Shoah in general.

The subsequent project "Heir tracing of Nazi-looted property from the Emil Davidovič estate in the library of the Heidelberg University of Jewish Studies", which began on 01.01.2022 and is also funded by the German Lost Art Foundation and the Lilli and Michael Sommerfreund Foundation, is dedicated exclusively to tracing the heirs of the books whose owners have already been identified.

The examined or restituted books and the provenance information found are published in the cooperative database Looted Cultural Assets and on the LostArt portal. Rare restituted works are digitized with the consent of the owners and are still available to interested parties via the platform Heidelberger historische Bestände - digital (UB Heidelberg).

Portrait Birgit Klein
Chair of the History of the Jewish People

Prof. Dr. Birgit Klein Rabb.

[Übersetzen nach: English]
Research Associate Project Provenance Research
Chair of History of the Jewish People

Philipp Zschommler M.A.

Student assistants:

Carmen Algaba Muñoz


Vera Wiethoff

In 1988, the HfJS acquired the estate of the former rabbi of Westphalia, Mr. Emil Davidovič (born 1912), who had died two years earlier. The majority of this estate consists of his private library and comprises around 6,000 volumes. Of these, around 2,500 volumes are to be examined for their provenance and suspicion of Nazi looting, e.g. due to their year of publication before 1945. The content is primarily Judaica in German and Hebrew. When considering the acquisition of the collection over 40 years ago, Dr. Uri Kaufmann pointed out in his expert opinion that the provenances were worthy of a separate investigation.

The Auschwitz survivor Davidovič initially worked as a rabbi in Prague and had already begun to build up his private library there. Books from Davidovič's estate contain numerous ownership notes from victims of Nazi rule as well as liquidated Jewish and non-Jewish institutions (e.g. from Berlin, Prague, Breslau, Munich). According to the names, it was mainly prisoners from the Theresienstadt ghetto who had to hand in more than just their books on arrival. The latter were incorporated into the libraries set up there. In addition, there were book collections from dissolved Jewish institutions in the German Reich, such as the Hochschule/Lehranstalt für die Wissenschaft des Judentums or the Breslau Rabbinical Seminary. All the books from Theresienstadt were initially taken to the Jewish Museum in Prague after the end of the war. Davidovič may have had the opportunity to take books from these collections. As one of the few surviving rabbis in Czechoslovakia, he was to take over the care of some communities and the need for literature was great. The fact that his estate contains numerous prayer books suggests that he did not (only) take the books for his own use.

However, the estate also contains books that were collected directly in Prague during the German occupation. These came mainly from the Jewish institutions in Bohemia and Moravia, which had been forcibly dissolved. As in Theresienstadt, Jewish librarians were employed to take over the cataloging. The "Central Jewish Museum" in Prague, renamed during the National Socialist occupation, was the place where all cultural assets from synagogues and libraries were hoarded. The meticulously kept lists of incoming items, which have been preserved, provide information about the masses of objects that had to be processed while their owners were sent to the extermination camps. Almost all of the museum and library staff - our collection also contains books belonging to them - were also murdered.

The library of the Jewish Museum Prague still owns the majority of these collections. After the end of the war, large quantities of books were also shipped to the USA and Israel, for example, while other collections had to be destroyed due to mold infestation and others probably ended up in second-hand bookshops. This is indicated by the abbreviations and prices found in some of the books in the Davidovič estate.

The political course of Czechoslovakia after the end of the war was characterized by anti-Jewish measures ranging from denunciations to the Stalinist "purges". It was not until 1962 that Davidovic and his family managed to obtain permission to leave the country, under the pretext of a family reunion in South America. Instead, the family soon arrived in Dortmund, where Davidovič was promised the position of rabbi. 10 years later, Davidovič became the state rabbi of Westphalia and in 1979 the chairman of the German Rabbinical Conference.

In his estate we also find Nazi-looted property with Westphalian provenance. According to our current knowledge, these books originate from restitutions made in the 1950s within the British zone to the Jewish Trust Corporation. The latter presumably distributed the restituted books to the Westphalian community libraries, from where they presumably passed into the possession of Davidovič. We can assume that Davidovič knew some of the owners of the books himself or their descendants. Unfortunately, we are no longer able to ascertain whether he sought to transfer the books.

Selected literature references

Bušek, Michal: Hope is on the next page. 100 years of the Library of the Jewish Museum in Prague / Židovské Muzeum v Praze, Prague 2007

Trnka, Vera: Emil Davidovič. The life of a Jewish scholar in the turmoil of the 20th century, Berlin 2020.

Zschommler, Philipp: Nazi looted property at the Heidelberg University of Jewish Studies. The provenances in the estate of Rabbi Emil Davidovic, Bibliotheksdienst 2020; 54(10-11), pp. 793-804.

Ders.: The provenance "Prague" in the library of the Hochschule für Jüdische Studien Heidelberg, Provenance & Research 1/2021, pp. 28-33.

Digital workshop

"Current projects and research on Nazi-looted property"

18. and March 19, 2021

[Conference report]

Since 2019, the provenance project of the Heidelberg University of Jewish Studies (HfJS) has been significantly funded by the German Lost Art Foundation to research the history of the estate of the former rabbi of Westphalia Emil Davidovič (1912-1986), which consists largely of books and which the HfJS, founded in 1979 under the auspices of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, acquired in 1988 to build up its library. Around 2,500 of the approximately 6,000 volumes in the estate, mainly Judaica printed before 1940 in German and Hebrew, may have ended up as Nazi looted property in the Prague Jewish Museum and antiquarian bookshops, where they were acquired by Davidovic after 1945. The Heidelberg project is thus dedicated to the provenance of the holdings of today's Jewish libraries, which has only been researched for a few years.

With this workshop, we would like to offer a forum for provenance researchers and interested parties to present new projects, discuss questions about methodology and receive impulses and handouts.

Thursday, March 18, 2021, 09:00 - approx. 16:30

09:00 - 11:15 a.m

Birgit E. Klein (Heidelberg University of Jewish Studies)

time to disperse - time to collect: Questions about the history of Jewish libraries after 1945

Tomáš Kraus (Federation of Jewish Communities in Czech Republic / Federace židovských obcí v ČR)

the Restitution of Jewish Property in the Czech Republic

Stephan Kummer (University Library of the Free University of Berlin)

Books Become History - A Review of the Provenance Research Project at the Centrum Judaicum (2014-2019) and the Private Library of Rabbi Dr. Moritz Moses Kahn (1871-1946)

Annegret Braun

Experiencing provenance research

11:15 - 11:30 a.m. Virtual coffee break for informal exchange

11:30 - 13:30

Andreas Kennecke (Potsdam University Library)

Provenance research data - Wikidata [Presentation]

Barbara Thumm and Sebastian Finsterwalder (Berlin Central and State Library)

From the books - an attempt at a systematic overview of "Access J" of the Berlin City Library

13:30 - 14:30 Lunch break

14:30 - 16:30

Bettina Farack (Leo Baeck Institute Jerusalem)

Provenance indexing in the library of the Leo Baeck Institute Jerusalem

Ulrike Vogl and Daniel Dudde (J. C. Senckenberg University Library Frankfurt am Main)

Provenance research at Frankfurt University Library: project start and regional/local particularities

Silke Reuther (Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg)

The reconstruction of the Judaica collection of Max Raphael Hahn (1880-1942). A cooperation project between the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg and Prof. Dr. Michael R. Hayden, Vancouver. Funded by the Stiftung Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste [Presentation]

Friday, March 19, 2021, 09:00 - approx. 12:00 a.m

Annette Weber (Heidelberg University of Jewish Studies)

"Jewish silver". Dealing with Jewish art and ritual objects in the post-war period

Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek ( and Julie-Marthe Cohen (Jewish Historical Museum / Joods Historisch Museum Amsterdam)

The Handbook on Judaica Provenance Research: Ceremonial Objects. An introduction

The Lost & Found Database of the Association of European Jewish Museums: A project in development

Julie-Marthe Cohen (Jewish Historical Museum / Joods Historisch Museum Amsterdam)

Short presentation of PhD research on the Nazi looting of Jewish Ceremonial Objects and Postwar Restitution (University of Amsterdam)

Philipp Zschommler (Heidelberg University of Jewish Studies)

The Davidovic Collection, Hugo Friedmann and Books from Theresienstadt [Presentation]

Contemporary objects are particularly suitable for conveying historical facts. They are tangible and provide an introduction to a past world. As books are still part of our lives today, they only require a small amount of transfer in order to build a bridge from our own handling of books to that of other people. If the books in question are Nazi-looted property and the ownership and circumstances of their confiscation can be established with the help of provenance research, the books are able to reflect the barely imaginable events of the Shoah in miniature. They bear witness to the disenfranchisement, persecution, "strangulation of existence" (Jacob Jacobson) and murder of those who were regarded as opponents of the Nazi state.

Exhibition Restitution to Budapest

Exhibition Dr. Tobias Jakobovits

In the meantime, we have identified around 200 books in our library that originate from the collection of the Berlin Hochschule/Lehranstalt für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, which was confiscated by the National Socialists in 1942. The surviving books from this institution are now scattered all over the world and a project initiated by the Leo Baeck Institutes in Jerusalem and London is dedicated, among other things, to reconstructing this library. The HfJS is involved in documenting these books and will host the accompanying traveling exhibition in autumn 2024. As part of this cooperation and the idea of using the CItizen Science method, we initiated a collaboration with the Thadden-Gymnasium in Heidelberg, in which students helped us to find books with the corresponding stamps in our old collections.

The project's extremely appealing website offers a walk through the history of the institution and more - and for various topics related to the university and the project, see #haveyouseenthisbook.

The Library of Lost Books is a citizen science project that includes an exhibition and an online campaign to tell the story of one of the most important German-Jewish libraries, the library of the Berlin School of Jewish Studies, and its users.

The project documents the history of the university, the looting of the library by the National Socialists and the dispersal of its remains in the post-war period. Using the example of the Berlin College for the Science of Judaism and its library, the project is breaking new ground in historical education with this exhibition. The public is also invited to help in the search for Nazi-looted property and to collaboratively collect the books found in the university library.

The "Library of Lost Books" is a joint project of the Leo Baeck Institutes in Jerusalem and London and the Friends and Sponsors of the Leo Baeck Institute e.V. The launch event is being held in collaboration with the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

The project is funded by the Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future (EVZ) and the Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF) as part of the educational agenda on Nazi injustice.

Library of Lost Books, In: H-Soz-Kult, 28.11.2023, <>.

One of the ideas behind the "Library of Books" project is to get people to take part for whom dealing with older books or even provenance research is not part of everyday life. In the 2023/24 school year, we invited Year 9 pupils from the Elisabeth-von-Thadden School in Heidelberg to go on a joint search for books and biographies. As part of the history class led by Dr. Eva Bernhardt, the students were first able to gain an overview of the historical context of the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums. After getting to know the relevant sources and literature, the students independently researched biographies of people involved in the Berlin Hochschule. These were primarily previous owners of the books, who could be identified with the help of bookplates or donation labels. In an as yet unexamined old stock of books, the students independently searched for provenance features and fortunately found further books from the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums. The students will write a workshop report on the action days, the assessment of which will be included in the final grade for the school year.

We would like to thank the students and Dr. Bernhardt very much for their trusting cooperation and support!

Forged stamp:

"Zentralbücherei KL Theresienstadt

Böhmen & Mähren

Leiter: Emil Utitz"

In the context of art history, provenance research is closely linked to forgery research. The interest in antique sculptures or late medieval paintings, for example, gave rise to the desire for classification, dating and attribution in the academic debate. Objects could be attributed to specific artists and schools, usually on the basis of stylistic characteristics, and precise knowledge of these also made it possible to expose false attributions. The phenomenon of object-related forgery and deception is as old as it is multifaceted and the methods for deciphering it must continually try to keep pace.

To the best of our knowledge, the study of looted books during the Nazi era has not yet revealed any works that attempt to simulate certain ownership relationships. In a different context, however, books have come onto the market in recent years that use a forged stamp to claim the Theresienstadt camp as their provenance. In the offers containing such books, the title/content of the works themselves is often neglected and the descriptive text usually emphasizes the provenance. Even if such objects can cause confusion in our field of research, they are not intended to torpedo provenance research. Rather, they are probably intended to serve a clientele that is interested in acquiring supposed "objects of persecution", be it private individuals or museums, memorials, etc. Several groups of objects from this context of persecution have already become the focus of counterfeiters, such as textiles (armbands from ghettos) or stamps (Theresienstadt).

In this respect, it is to be hoped that this forgery is an isolated case. Fortunately, there is enough comparative material in the "established" collections to successfully disprove the authenticity of such stamps.