Berlin library returns books stolen by Nazis

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Berlin's state library on Wednesday handed back 13 books stolen by the Nazis to the Jewish community as the German government pledged to redouble its efforts to return plundered cultural treasures.

The emotional ceremony came about thanks to a new drive to research the provenance of state holdings with the aim of restitution, German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said.

"The 13 books being returned today preserve the memory of the Berlin Jewish community which was decimated and its members murdered or driven out," Neumann said. "That is why such projects are so important now and in the future."

The books returned at the event, held in the Centrum Judaicum cultural centre at Berlin's New Synagogue, included 19th and 20th century novels, history books, poetry collections, travel guides and bound newspaper volumes.

The yellowed pages bore fading stamps such as "Jewish Reading Room and Library Berlin" or "Jewish Community-Boys School Berlin".

Many of the stamps had been simply covered over for more than six decades with the label of a German state institution.

Although their monetary value is negligible, the books symbolise a new commitment to systematically account for the countless cultural objects stolen by the Nazis, said the head of the Berlin Jewish community, Lala Suesskind.

"This handover reminds us all that even after all these years, injustice has no statute of limitations," she said.

The library said the origin of about 200,000 of its volumes needed to be researched as part of restitution efforts.

About 25,000 books have been investigated in the last 10 years and 5,100 of them categorised as likely stolen under the Nazis, who systematically looted Jewish homes, businesses, synagogues, schools and community centres.

Those books that were not torched, destroyed or lost often found their way to German libraries.

More than 100 books have now been returned to their rightful owners but the library estimates it will take another 10 years to complete the review.

The culture ministry and the cultural foundation of the 16 German states contribute 1.2 million euros ($1.7 million) per year for provenance research.

Neumann called on the regional states to step up the investigation of their own holdings.

© 2011 AFP

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