Shlomo Shunami, a former senior staff member at the National Library of Israel, devoted his life to locating Jewish libraries that remained scattered across Europe after the Holocaust, and bringing these books to Israel. Over decades, he managed to transfer hundreds of thousands of books to the Jewish State, many of them ended up at the National Library of Israel.
In an interview conducted in 1977, Shunami recounted that among the books that had come from Germany were some from the private collection of none other than the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, one of the most powerful figures in the Nazi regime.
I set out to find them.
Himmler was a talented administrator who successfully ran many complex governmental and policing systems while raining terror down on the citizens of Germany and the rest of Europe. He, more than anyone else, was responsible for the deportation of the Jews to ghettos in Eastern Europe, the establishment of concentration and extermination camps, and the murder of six million Jews and millions of others. Unlike other senior Nazis like Joseph Goebbels, Himmler did not have an extensive academic background. Yet he spent a great deal of time developing dubious racial and pseudo-scientific theories intended to “prove” the supposed superiority of the Aryan race and the inferiority of other peoples. It is easy to imagine him surrounded by books on history, folklore and science written by German and other scholars.
Adolf Hitler’s personal library, discovered after the war, was transferred to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The library of the antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer was deposited at the Yeshiva University Library in New York. But what ever happened to Himmler’s books?
Himmler was very interested in mysticism and the supernatural, and many of his books dealt with these subjects. Some of these books, collectively dubbed “the witch library,” were discovered a few years ago in the Czech Republic.
But what of the more traditional, classic antisemitic material that he most likely owned?
As luck would have it, this intriguing question has been solved. After years of searching, I stumbled upon a book from Himmler’s personal library in the collection of the National Library of Israel.
The book Der Aufstieg der Juden by the journalist Ferdinand Fried is a historical description of the Jewish people from the destruction of the Second Temple to the Roman period. Fried joined the SS and was promoted within the organization by Himmler himself. What’s more, the copy of Fried’s book in the National Library contains his own dedication to Himmler, who Fried described as his loyal partner in their joint struggle.
A year and a half after Fried penned the dedication, Himmler signed his name at the top of the page in large letters in green ink, with the date 28.12.38, probably the date on which he finished reading the book.
I have held many of the library’s treasures in my hands, but the thought that 84 years ago, the blood-soaked hands of the architect of the Holocaust also held this very book was chilling, to say the least.
This book led me to another title from Himmler’s library. This time, it was the book Schriften für das deutsche Volk, by the Orientalist and antisemitic biblical scholar Paul de Lagarde, on the subject of government and politics. Himmler had signed his name at the top of the book’s title page.
The next book I found was Die Vererbung der Geistigen Begabung, which deals with issues of heredity and race and their impact on character and intelligence. Himmler signed his name as usual, with the date 22.1.39.
Two other books I discovered on that occasion did not belong to his personal library, but were sent by Himmler to the Nazi movement’s branch in the city of Haifa. Yes, there was indeed such a thing!
Before World War II, less than 2,500 German citizens were living in Mandatory Palestine, most of them in the Templer colonies. The Templers (not to be confused with the medieval Knights Templar) were a religious group with roots in the Pietist movement of the Lutheran church in Germany whose members immigrated to Ottoman Palestine in the mid-19th century. Karl Ruff, an architect born in Haifa to Templer parents, founded the Palestine branch of the Nazi party. Nazi groups were established in the Templer colonies of Haifa, Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Sarona (Tel Aviv), and by the end of 1933, they had 121 members. The Palestine branch continued to expand, and members were emboldened to march through the city streets in Nazi attire, carrying flags emblazoned with the swastika. To encourage the members of the branch, the Nazi movement in Germany sent pamphlets, books, and even cheap radios for listening to propaganda broadcasts from Berlin. Towards the outbreak of the war, some of the men were drafted into the German army and returned to Europe. The rest of the Germans in the country were imprisoned or deported by the British Mandatory authorities (you can read more here).
Among the books that reached the Nazi library in Haifa were those sent by Himmler himself. Eventually, the British dismantled the organization in Haifa, and the books found their way to the National Library in Jerusalem. So far, I have located only two of them. The first, Bauernbrauch im Jahreslauf, describes the country life, nature, customs and folklore of Germany. The second book, Die Schutzstaffel als antibolschewistische Kampforganisation, is Himmler’s own book on the history of the German people, the founding of the SS, and the racial and mental qualities required of its members.
Both books open with a short dedication to the Nazi group in Haifa from November 9, 1937. Both also feature Himmler’s personal signature along with his rank, Reichsführer-SS.
I carefully closed Himmler’s books, returned them to the National Library’s rare books storeroom, and went to look for some hand sanitizer…