The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Jewish Philanthropy, Hebrew Manuscripts and the Fate of a Jewish Collection in Postwar Frankfurt am Main

In 1950, the city of Frankfurt am Main sold eight valuable illuminated Hebrew manuscripts as part of a restitution case involving a Jewish family that had to flee Frankfurt after 1933. The manuscripts were meant to compensate for lost property. They came from the municipal library’s (Stadtbibliothek) outstanding Hebraica and Judaica collection. One of the largest collections of its kind, it was built upon private Jewish collections assembled by scholars, rabbis and book collectors donated to the library by their former owners or aquired with the support of Frankfurt Jews.

The Frankfurt collection is one of many examples of Jewish philantrophy, a heritage that became meaningless after 1933. The collection survived the war with major loses among the Hebraica, but remained Germany’s prime collection. Today, the University Library Frankfurt as the succesor of the Stadtbibliothek still holds the largest Hebraica and Judaica collection in Germany and serves as the national reference library in the field of Jewish Studies and Israel Studies.

In 1950 neither the city of Frankfurt nor the library cared for the history of the collection and the initial intentions of its Jewish benefactors, who aimed to serve the public good, spread Jewish knowledge and knowlege about Judaism. After the war, the collection was seen as asset. However, plans to sell more Hebraica an Judaica to support the funds of the library did not materialize.

The sale of 1950 and the fate of Frankfurt’s Hebraica and Judaica collection is a telling case study on how Jewish textual heritage was perceived in Post-War Germany. This talk will situate the manuscript sale of 1950 within the history of the Frankfurt collection, its Post-War history and within contemorary German cultural politics.