Projects underway at Leo Baeck Institute and the Goethe University Library in Frankfurt could give scholars access to a landmark collection of Judaica that was long believed to be permanently fragmented by World War II.
Led by head Librarian Renate Evers, a team of researchers at LBI have painstakingly cross-referenced a list of works missing from the Frankfurt Library’s 1932 catalogue of “Science of Judaism” titles with LBI holdings. They identified copies of most of the lost titles in the LBI library, collected over decades through private donations by German-Jewish refugees in New York.
(Learn more about the biographies of some of these donors in this recent New York Times article).
Both institutions have applied for funding to digitize their holdings, which opens the possibility of virtually recreating a historical collection that is significant not just for its content, but for its place in modern intellectual history and German-Jewish culture. Parts of the Frankfurt collection have already been digitized through a grant of the German government and are accessible via the website: http://www.judaica-frankfurt.de/
In the wake of emancipation, Jewish scholars in 19th century Germany began to investigate the history and culture of Judaism from a scientific perspective, replacing theological exegesis with the tools of history, archeology, and sociology. This new discipline, known as Science of Judaism (Wissenschaft des Judentums), laid the foundations for modern Jewish Studies and have became a standard component of rabbinical education.
Founded at the Frankfurt City Library with support from Frankfurt’s Jewish Community in 1898, the Judaica Collection was an exception in an era when Jewish scholarship was largely confined to Jewish institutions. Its curator, Aron Freimann, built it into the most important Judaica collection on the European continent before the Nazis dismissed him from his post in 1933. Despite losses during World War II, It remains the most important Judaica Collection in Europe today at the Frankfurt University Library, into which the City Library’s holdings were later incorporated
Most of the 15,000 volumes Freimann catalogued in 1932 survived, ironically, because they were confiscated by the Nazis for the establishment of an “Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question.” About 2,000 of the works were lost in the chaos of World War II, however, as valuable collections were moved outside the city for safekeeping.
Reintegrated into the Frankfurt library after the War, the collection is once again among the most important collections of Judaica in the world, thanks to a comprehensive acquisition policy. The pioneering partnership between LBI and the Frankfurt library offers hope of restoring the foundation of this great collection and points the way for libraries of the future.