New chapter in ‘lost Jewish library mystery’ as books returned to Lublin from Berlin
A World War Two mystery has come a step closer to being resolved after two books from the lost religious library of what was once the largest Talmudic school in the world were returned to Lublin.
The religious books from the original collection in the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva were found in a university library in Berlin by one of its employees. Both copies bear the stamps of the Yeshiva library.
Agnieszka Litman, an animator of the Lublin branch of the Jewish Religious Community in Warsaw, said: "The finder contacted us and expressed his wish to return these books to their original place. This is an exceptional event for us.
“It is historically important because finding each such book shows the fate of this book collection and allows us to reconstruct a piece of history.”
The history of the Lublin Yeshiva library is shrouded in mystery as it is not fully known what happened to it.
Many believe that the collection was burnt by the Germans, though no official images or records of such a book burning exist.
However, it is known that part of it was hidden and after the war sent to Warsaw in 1946, which is where the trail ends.
Books from the library have been found in Israel and in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.
In 1930, the Lublin School of Sages was opened in Lublin. It was the birthchild of Rabbi Meir Shapiro and at the time it was the largest and most modern Yeshiva in the world to educate future generations of rabbis.
This formidable edifice was financed from contributions of Jewish communities from all over the world. The academy revived the traditions of Talmudic studies which flourished in Lublin in the Old Polish period.
The Talmudic school had to have a religious library to match it. The plan was to collect 100,000 books.
Piotr Nazaruk of the Grodzka Gate - NN Theatre Center, which runs the Digital Yeshiva Library that recreates digitally the school‘s pre-war book collection, said: “Committees formed all over Poland donated thousands of books to Lublin from institutions and private donors.
“After Shapira's death, his private book collection found its way here.
“At the end of the 1930s, it was one of the biggest and most valuable Jewish religious libraries in Poland.”
The collection included copies of the Talmud, which is a commentary on the biblical Torah that explains how to observe the law contained in the Torah.
It also contained the Holy Scriptures as well as works created over the centuries by rabbis concerning morality or principles of Judaism.
There were no works in Polish in the book collection, even Yiddish appeared rarely and religious works written in Hebrew dominated.
The fate of the library is one of the biggest wartime mysteries of Lublin. Stories handed down in the city say that the Germans burned the books in a huge fire that raged for many hours.
Nazaruk said: “This version does not hold water and is not corroborated by either documents or accounts.
“The Germans not only did not destroy the book collection but also secured it very carefully. However, we do not know what their plan was for it.”
Shortly after the liberation of Lublin, documents, press accounts and accounts of the library staff began to appear saying that the Yeshiva's book collection had survived.
It is believed that at the end of the war the collection, or at least part of it, was stored in another library building in Lublin.
According to Nazaruk: “It came under the care of the Jewish Committee, then in 1946, the committee sent the book collection to Warsaw, which is where the trail ends.”
Eight decades later, when Nazaruk was browsing through the digital resources of the Institute when he came across a few books with clear Yeshiva stamps.
“Out of more than six hundred Jewish old prints digitized by the Jewish Historical Institute, 130 had the stamp of the Lublin Yeshiva.
“It is highly probable that there are many more books with such stamps in the JHI collection, although it is certain that the entire collection is not there.”
Some books from the collection have also appeared on online auction sites. Nazaruk has found others in the National Library of Israel.
It is unknown how the books returned from Germany arrived in the Berlin university library’s collection.
There are physically only five books from the library presently in Lublin and are held in the Yeshiva by the Jewish community.
The Yeshiva Digital Library run by Nazaruk contains nearly 260 books, with descriptions and links to individual libraries.
The books from Berlin have now joined those copies that the Jewish Community already hold.
First, they will be visually inspected and, if their condition allows, they will be digitized.
Eventually, they will be displayed in the Yeshiva museum on Lubartowska street in Lublin.