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The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe's Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance

Review

The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe's Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance

written by Anders Rydell, translated by Henning Koch

Of all the horrors of World War II, the worst of them, by far, was the attempt at wiping out an entire race of people. This mass genocide was perpetrated on the Jewish people by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. The trouble is that, even with the people physically gone, something of them would still exist.

The Nazis realized that books, the embodiment of the written word, would carry on even if they were successful in wiping out every Jew. This meant the opportunity for their ideas, thoughts and personality to live on even after they were gone. The biggest fear for the Nazis was the reemergence of the Jewish people through sympathy created by the books they left behind.

Author Anders Rydell has tirelessly researched his nonfiction work, THE BOOK THIEVES, which appropriately enough has been published in time for the Passover season. As we all know, the Nazis were not successful in eliminating the Jewish race. However, the scenes caused by the mass book burnings are indelible on the memory for anyone who saw the photos taken of these events. In the book's foreword, Rydell speaks of being in possession of a book that belonged to a victim of Auschwitz. He guarded this small green book with his life because he realized what it represented. This small, innocuous book bore the inscription of its original owner, and that made it not only a piece of history but also a representation of the life connected to that item.

"Rydell's work spans all of Europe and touches every corner of it, and reads almost like a thriller as each threat against the books in peril takes on the quality of fiction."

There is a power in books. The Nazis recognized that words could be weapons, and wiping out and controlling the written word was vital. It was not only the Jewish people who were targeted but anyone who had an opinion contrary to that of the Nazi party. Whether it was German-born authors like Thomas Mann and Stefan Zweig, or works of Christian, Communist, Leftist and Freemason ideologies, the words that drove the imagination of men to support these causes were the enemy.

The George Clooney film The Monuments Men was a fairly successful release in 2014 and depicted the branch of military responsible for preserving classic art threatened by the Nazis during WWII. Rydell now has taken on responsibility for presenting historical background to the task of preserving and returning the literary inheritance in the form of books that had been taken away during the war. He spends time tracing the work of the heroes who did everything in their power to right this literary wrong.

From ledgers bearing evidence of thousands of stolen books to the dozens of librarians who combed Berlin's public libraries to recover looted books, THE BOOK THIEVES tells their story. Rydell's work spans all of Europe and touches every corner of it, and reads almost like a thriller as each threat against the books in peril takes on the quality of fiction. It is only when the author personalizes matters, like the story of the book with which he was entrusted at the opening, that the account become most poignant. Seeing Rydell reunite this book with the ancestors of its rightful owner is one of the more powerful things I have read in a long while.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 14, 2017

The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe's Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance
written by Anders Rydell, translated by Henning Koch

  • Publication Date: February 7, 2017
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking
  • ISBN-10: 0735221227
  • ISBN-13: 9780735221222