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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wiener Library List of Accessions


Looking through an old Journal of Contemporary History (Vol. 3, Number 1, 1968) yesterday, I found a library list of newly acquired books. This little list had a big title: The Institute of Contemporary History and Wiener Library Quarterly Select List of Accessions, Winter 1967/1968. But then, the Wiener Library is no ordinary library.


The Wiener Library, in London, is the world's oldest Holocaust memorial institution. The recent assault at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. makes this discovery for my collection all the more timely, topical, and poignant.

This pamphlet of eight pages (two 8.5" X 10.5" sheets folded and stapled) is the first library accession list I've run across. I don't know how prevalent they are, but I would think the journal had a lot to do with this list getting out to the public.

Within the eight pages are an impressively diverse range of topics for such a short list. Most of the categories deal with European countries and the Middle East, but there are also categories for books about Political and Social Sciences, Historiography, International Affairs, Jewry, Biography, World War II, and the U.S.A.


The library's homepage states the history best, so I'll copy it here. First, though, a word about the connection between the journal where I discovered the list.

I assumed there was a connection between the list and the journal because of the wording in the two titles. But the journal offered no other clues that I could see. The description of the library on the Web site did, however.

Dr. Alfred Wiener, who started the library in 1933 in Germany (the collection was moved to London in 1939), died in 1964 and was eventually succeeded by Walter Lacqueur, who started the Journal of Contemporary History. I had another look at my 1968 journal and found him listed as publisher. He was also behind the establishment of the Institute of Contemporary History, which is included in the title of the accession list. The institute was created for scholarship in the field of modern European history. Quite likely, the accession list was inserted in the journal for subscribers' information.

And now, a brief history of the Wiener Library in London, from the library's Web site:
The Wiener Library is the world's oldest Holocaust memorial institution, tracing its history back to 1933. Alfred Wiener, a German Jew who worked in the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith, fled Germany in 1933 for Amsterdam. Together with Prof. David Cohen, he set up the Jewish Central Information Office, collecting and disseminating information about events happening in Nazi Germany.

The collection was transferred to Manchester Square, London in 1939 with Wiener making the resources available to British government intelligence departments. The Library soon became known as 'Dr Wiener's Library' and the name was adopted. After the war the Library's academic reputation increased and the collecting policies were broadened.

Funds were raised, a new board was formed and the Library was re-launched. Work continued in providing material to the United Nations War Crimes Commission and bringing war criminals to justice. The Library's most successful publishing venture was the production of a bi-monthly bulletin commencing in November 1946 (and which continued until 1983). The Wiener Library Bulletin covered a range of topics and was a forum for scholarly debate, unusual for this early time. Another important task during the 1950s and 1960s was the gathering of eyewitness accounts, a resource that was to become a unique and important part of the Library's collection. The accounts were collected systematically by a team of interviewers.

Wiener planned for the Library to be incorporated into the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He had little support from Anglo-Jewry and wanted to secure the future of the Library after his death. Negotiations were long and complex - difficulties concerning the identity and autonomy of the Library were involved. In the end Wiener applied for funds from the Claims Conference.

In 1956 the Library was forced to move from Manchester Square and temporary accommodation had to be found, with some material being put into storage. A new premises was found in Devonshire Street (where the Library remains today) and the future became a bit more calm. In 1961 Wiener announced his retirement as director and the appointment for this vacant post was not successful. Temporarily C.C. Aronsfeld took over as acting director and the library suffered under financial difficulties.

Dr. Alfred Wiener died in February 1964 and the search for director continued until Professor Walter Laqueur was appointed. Laqueur's priority was to gain the funding necessary to support the work of the Library. He also set up the Journal of Contemporary History and organised many events, conferences and seminars. The Institute of Contemporary History was established in 1964 and took up the neglected field of modern European history.

In 1974 a funding crisis again broke out and it was decided to move the collection to Tel Aviv. However, funding came to support a microfilming project and after two years, much of the material being sent away had been preserved in London with the book stock being sent to Israel in 1980.

Once again the Library struggled successfully to re-establish itself through funding applications and the establishment of a Friend's scheme and an Endowment Appeal.

Today the Library continues from strength to strength, acquiring major collections, holding regular lectures and events, providing a focal point for researchers, the media, the public and students both young and old...

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