Books Stolen by the Nazis


Restitution of a book from the WU University Library collection

On July 22, 2021, WU co-hosted an event held in Vienna’s Jewish Museum. The event was open to the public and focused on one particular book from the year 1881. This book come in the possession of the library of the University of World Trade, the organization that would later become WU, during the Nazi years as part of the process of Aryanization, i.e. the state-organized theft of Jewish property. The book is a report by Julius Ritter von Neuwald, then vice-mayor of Vienna, on Vienna’s municipal administration during the years from 1877 to 1879. The volume originally belonged to the Viennese textiles magnate Sigmund Mayer (1831–1920), who became a delegate to the Vienna City Council in 1880.

The addition of this book to the University of World Trade library collection in November 1942 was most likely related to the persecution of Sigmund Mayer’s descendants by the Nazis. Specifically, the story revolves around Sigmund Mayer’s two heirs who inherited his library – his son Felix and his daughter Helene. Following Austria’s “Anschluss” to Nazi Germany (March 1938), Felix was forced to flee to the US to escape the persecution of Austria’s Jewish population. Helene was murdered in the Łódź Ghetto.

With the support of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism, the WU provenance research team was able to track down the rightful heir of the book, historian Dr. Karina Urbach. During the event in the Jewish Museum,WU Library Director Nikolaus Berger had the opportunity to give her the book that once belonged to her great-grandfather.

This is the seventh time that WU has restored a Nazi-confiscated book to the rightful owners. In her brief restitution speech, Vice-Rector Tatjana Oppitz stressed that provenance research is a key element in WU’s efforts to critically reflect upon its connections to National Socialism, along with the WU Commemorative Project and individual events such as the panel discussion about the so-called Borodajkewycz Affair.

What made the event in the Jewish Museum even more special is that it was combined event, also including a  presentation of the book “Das Buch Alice” that Karina Urbach published last year. In this book, Dr. Urbach documents that a cookbook published by her grandmother Alice in 1936 was subsequently republished under the name of a different author under Nazi rule. Even after the end of World War II, the publisher, Ernst Reinhardt-Verlag, long refused to acknowledge this theft of intellectual property. It was only 37 years after Alice Urbach had passed away (1983) that the publisher reissued the cookbook “So kocht man in Wien!” under the name of the real author – albeit in a very limited version.

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