In January 2023 the Leo Baeck Institute London (LBI London) began a research project on the provenance of the institute’s Arnold Paucker Library, named after its long-serving and esteemed second director Arnold Paucker. Building on the recent cataloguing of the library’s holdings and following an exhibition of key items from this collection, the current research project seeks to explore yet another layer of information contained within the 4600 volumes that have come to our institute since its foundation in 1955. The project aims to provide insights into the provenance markers found in this unique corpus of books dedicated to German-Jewish history and culture and aspires to record evidence of the Networks of Knowledge that were established by and via the LBI London since its foundation, tracing markers of intellectual exchange amongst Jewish émigré scholars.
Under the supervision of Deputy Director Kinga S. Bloch, intern Malaika Muwanya and ARSP volunteer Clara Koser commenced a structured review of the books at the library which had been donated to the LBI London in large parts by its first LBI Year Book editor and director Robert Weltsch (1891-1982). A first batch of 1350 books (all published before 1950) was examined in the opening phase of the project. Our volunteers have contributed invaluable work in the systematic documentation of the hitherto dormant information recorded in these fragile and often rare volumes, identifying close to 1200 provenance markers so far. The team has thus been able to take stock of a wide range of traces left by those working with the LBI London’s library holdings since, and often even before, the foundation of the institute in 1955.
Being part of this project was an exciting and insightful experience. I learned a lot about working in an archive and dealing with sensitive and fragile objects. I was always excited to find another book stamp that tells us more about the origin, use and purpose of the book as well as about the owner.
Malaika Muwanya, 2023
The research project focuses on the creation of a detailed database documenting the provenance markers in the books, such as: dedications, Ex Libris, stamps, handwritten notes, highlighted passages, doodles, drawings, and so forth. The archival research commenced with our old and rare volumes section and has already revealed some interesting insights into institutional and personal connections that we would like to share with you.
Traces of German-Jewish Institutions
A diverse array of stamps from libraries, publishing houses, and scholarly institutions can be found in a small selection of the holdings of LBI London. Examples originate from renowned German-Jewish institutions such as the Deutsch-Israelitischer Gemeindebund founded in Leipzig in 1869, the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums Berlin (1872-1942), or the Jakob B. Brandeis, Verlagsbuchhandlung, a German-language Jewish publishing house founded in late 19th century in Prague. The stamps are traces of institutions that were involved in German-Jewish academic, cultural and communal life of the late 19th and early 20th century.
A central figure who, unsurprisingly, features prominently throughout the collection is Robert Weltsch (1891-1982), a founding member of the Leo Baeck Institute and the first editor of the London based Leo Baeck Institute Year Book. So far, his signature and his initials appear in a wide range of volumes (approximately 425), suggesting that these books were either donations from his personal collection, or only added to the library of the LBI London once he had reviewed each title. Often his signature is dated so these provenance markers allow us to understand when a specific book was added to his personal collection.
Robert Weltsch is often addressed personally in dedications that point to his remarkable standing amongst a diverse and international community of Jewish intellectuals in the 1920s and 1930s. Influential German-speaking Jewish thinkers, such as his longstanding friend, Martin Buber (1878-1965), presented him with their publications adding personal notes. Such dedications also include messages from the liberal British Zionist Paul Goodman (1875-1949) and Zevi Diesendruck (1890-1940), an Austrian-Jewish Professor of Jewish philosophy based in Cincinnati. A wide array of such messages also includes notes by Richard Beer-Hofmann (1966-1945), renowned author of Austrian modernity, or the Antwerp-based religious Zionist Joseph Schulsinger (1899-1943?). The books owned by Robert Weltsch contain a multitude of traces of his intellectual network predating his flight from Nazi persecution. We hope that examining the second batch of books published up until 1978, the final year Weltsch served as the editor of the Leo Baeck Institute Year Book, will provide clues about connections that continued after the foundation of the LBI London in 1955.
Being a part of this project is particularly exciting, as you can expect traces by former book owners behind nearly every book cover. Still, you never really know what hides between the pages – Whether it is a dedication by a famous scholar, a beautifully designed ex libris or a stamp by no longer existing libraries. These markers all give us a unique insight into a different world with their people, relations, interests, and sorrows.
Clara Koser, 2023
Other provenance markers such as a cluster of beautiful, intricately designed Ex Libris hint at connections into the community of Jewish émigrés in Britain. It is likely these books were donated to or purchased by the institute in batches. It appears that the LBI’s library holds several titles previously owned by Marlene Hobsbawm’s parents, Austrian-born Lilly and Theo Schwarz, as well as volumes that belonged to Leo Baeck’s son-in-law, Herman Berlack. The Ex Libris’ design informs about the aesthetics of the day and the common practice amongst book collectors to use personalised art to mark their private library. The images were often commissioned by artists and tell us about readers’ self-perception and the pride they felt for their collections. Examples of the diversity of the visual landscape unfolding in this unique artform can be viewed in our virtual gallery below. Whilst Harold Aufochs’ Ex Libris presents a man in a smart business suit happily reading in a well-stocked library, a beautiful sketch of an ethereal woman by W. Miels adorns the books owned by a person with the surname Lewandowsky. Rudolf Bleistein’s literary treasures were marked with an ornate sketch featuring a female nude with an elderly man in an oriental headdress facing the rising sun. This Ex Libris is poetically titled “Mehr Licht” (More Light).
Sources pointing to previous book owners’ personalities also materialise in form of notes on the pages’ margins commenting on the text, and traces of humour such as doodles, caricatures, tongue-in-cheek dedications, and lovingly-made bookmarks.
Loose Materials Hidden in the Volumes
The project revealed a significant number of previously uncatalogued primary sources, such as newspaper pages from 1930s Germany, bookmarks, or postcards left undiscovered between the book covers. A small selection of the items left in the books are of a personal nature, pointing to the value attributed to reading. These items generate meaning beyond the text in presenting expressions of affection, leaving traces of personal relationships. Meanwhile, postcards, letters, and personal notes stored in the books reveal more mundane ways the volumes were embedded into every-day practices.
One example of a newspaper clipping is a page torn from the weekly Centralverein-Zeitung (the organ of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith) published on the 5th of February 1932.
This clipping contains an article about the book it was stored in. At the same time, however, the source also presents a testimony on German-Jewish discourse about contemporary political developments in the early 1930s, shortly before the Nazi party came to power. The presence of such newspaper clippings is interesting as it points to the practice of scanning and preserving press articles on newly released books or their authors. Coincidentally, the source also exposes us to the news the German-Jewish community was confronted with and how confidently they responded to their situation and the slanderous politics of the Nazi Party in the late years of the Weimar Republic.
The next phase of the project explores provenance markers in books published between 1950 and 1978. We hope to gain an understanding of how the connections between German-Jewish émigré scholars developed in the first two decades after the LBI London’s foundation, seeking insights into the development of the institute’s Networks of Knowledge.
Information about all provenance markers found among the holdings of the library of the LBI London published before 1950 is now recorded in a database and documented in photographs. The images and the database can be made accessible for academic purposes. Please contact Kinga S. Bloch for further information.