The All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature
“ Heritage Revealed”
I have entitled my paper after one of the joint projects that our Library is carrying out now together with its foreign partners. I’ll revert to this project in the second part of my presentation since at first I would like to give you a brief overview of our Library’s international activities in this field, the so-called prehistory of this “Heritage Revealed” project.
The international data exchange is an essential part of international cultural dialogue in such a complicated and delicate sphere as the fate of cultural valuables displaced as a result of World War II.
In this connection our Library established in 2001 an International Information and Documents Center on the Problems of Displaced Cultural Valuables and my presentation will be focused on the Centre’s activity.
But at first I would like to say a few words about the Library itself.
The All Russia State Library for Foreign Literature was founded in Moscow in 1922. It is a part of the Library system subordinated to the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. The LFL is one of the 9 Libraries of federal importance in Russia. Its collection amounts to 4 500 000 publications in 30 languages.
The Rare-book Department was established in 1974. Its main goals are – preservation, scientific and full bibliographic description of the old-printed books published between the 15-th and the 20th centuries, including the books displaced to the Library as a result of World War II. I would like to mention that currently the Library has got about 35 000 removed books , 17 000 of which are in the Rare Book Department. In that way, its staff members have accumulated substantial experience, related to the provenience-research, description and compilation of indexes and databases of displaced book collections.
For example, before the Center was officially opened, the Rare book department had carried out an international project I would like to dwell on. It was work on catalogue of “Displaced books from the Sarospatak Calvinist College Library (Hungary) in the collection of the Nizhny Novgorod Regional Research Library” which was published in 1997 in cooperation with the Nizhny Novgorod Regional Research Library and Cultural, Scientific and Information Center of Hungarian Republic with the support of the Soros Foundation. This project in both electronic and printed versions (You can find the electronic version of this catalogue at www.libfl.ru), is of great interest to art- and book historians since the Russian part of the Sarospatak collection includes some really unique icunabulae and manuscripts. I would like to mention that among its most precious items are such rarities as a “Catholicon” printed in Mainz in 1460, an illustrated edition of the Bible printed in Nurenberg by Anton Koberger in 1483 and splendid publications from the famous Elzevir’s Publishing House.
And now I would like to say a few words about the tragic fate of those books and their way to Russia. While studying the provenience of this collection we found out that in 1945 a unit of the Red Army returning from Germany brought to the city of Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod) a large collection of Hungarian cultural valuables including paintings, sculptures and books. The book collection was put into a special store-room of the Nizhny Novgorod Regional Scientific Library inaccessible not only for the general public but also for many librarians. Thus, more then 1 300 old-printed editions and manuscripts on the history of Hungarian education, upbringing and religion were lost for scholars and researchers for more than 50 years. Publication of the catalogue helped to fill up this gap.
Following the publication of the Sarospatak books catalogue there was another interesting international project carried out by the Rare Book Department’s staff – catalogue of “Foreign owner’s book marks in the Rare Book Collection of the Library for Foreign Literature”, which became later the basis for many other international projects aimed to virtual reconstruction of the book collections split during the war.
By the year 2000 the Library had gained a wide experience in working with displaced book collections and, besides, we started receiving inquiries from researchers living all over the world concerning not only trophy book collections but also other categories of displaced cultural valuables.
Thus, the opening of the Center was a result of the Rare book department’s activities which also included - as you see on the screen- organization of conferences, seminars, round tables and exhibitions dedicated to the issues of trophy book collections in Russia.
The Center joined all the efforts and projects in this field.
The mission of the Center is to contribute to return of historical and artistic valuables, displaced to the territory of the Russian Federation as a result of World War II to the world cultural and scientific circulation.
In this connection one of the main purposes of the Center’s activity is:
To build up an information field on the problems of cultural valuables, displaced to Russia as a result of World War II the Center has been running several international projects .
One of them is an international newsletters “Spoils of War” which has been published in Russian from 1998 up to now in co-operation with our German partners from Koordinierungsstelle fur Kulturgutverluste (Magdeburg). So far, 8 issues have appeared in both electronic and printed versions. We consider this periodical as a forum to discuss different aspects of the removed cultural valuables issue. In 1995 Ekaterina Genieva who is Director General of the LFL became a member of the newsletter’s editorial board.
Another important step in that direction was creation of a special “Displaced Cultural Valuables” page on the LFL web-site in 2001. It’s located at www.libfl.ru/restitution and has got 7 main subject sections: collections, law, institutions, conferences, “Spoils of war” newsletter, “Rudomino” archives and bibliography. This Internet project was realized together with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands and the Open Society Institute – Soros Foundation.
Within the two last years we have produced 4 electronic databases of the book collections, displaced to the territory of the USSR as a result of World War II and presently kept at the LFL. They are: “Books from the Esterhasi-Galanta private collection (Austria)”, “Books from the von der Gabelentz family collection”, “Books from the Heritz-Lubek collection” and “Books from the Boizenburg private Library”. All these data bases are available at the LFL web-site www.libfl.ru/restitution.
Among other ways to spread information on the cultural valuables removed during WWII our Library organizes and holds international annual conferences gathering experts from all over the world – librarians, archivists, lawyers, historians, museum workers and independent researchers. Since 2001 we have held 3 such conferences in cooperation with our German partner Society on Development and Support of International Information Exchange (Germany). Every year we publish all the conference documents.
I would like to dwell on the last year international conference which was held in St. Petersburg and, to my mind, had a very special meaning. Its subject was “Cultural cooperation in Europe: issues of conservation and preservation of cultural valuables” and the conference itself was timed to the official completion of the reconstruction works at the famous Amber Chamber in the Catherine Palace.
The conference participants among which there were world-famous scholars had a chance to visit the Chamber before its official inauguration by presidents of both Russia and Germany on the 31st of May 2003 and see at first hand the striking results of international cooperation in the field of preservation and reconstruction of cultural heritage.
In June 2004 we are going to hold our next conference “Cultural valuables: in search of new solutions to old problems” to discuss contemporary trends and possible ways to settle the issue of displaced cultural treasures.
To promote the return of lost cultural valuables our Center organize exhibitions based not only on the Library for foreign literature’s collection but also on other institutions’ and private materials.
Thus, in 2002 under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation and in co-operation with the Russian Antiquarians Association we put on an exhibition “Private collections and personal trophies” showing the works of art from Russian private collections that got to Russia after World War II as personal trophies.
Altogether 21 painting were exhibited and 3 of them arose strong public interest. Now you see one of those pictures – “A bunch of flowers in a glass vase” by Rachel Roich, which disappeared from the Vienna Academy of Art.
Though the exhibition was supposed to show only items from private collections we displayed there some of the most precious books from the Esterhazy castle library (Austria) which are presently held in the LFL collection.
And at last, but not at least
Among numerous international projects , in which the LFL has been involved, there is a very special one which is called “Heritage Revealed”.
It is a joint American-Russian project based ,on the one hand , on the “Guiding Principles of the Washington Conference on the Holocaust Period Property in Resolving the Issues Related to Objects of Art” (which Russia signed among 44 countries in 1998) and, on the other hand, a cooperation agreement between the Ministry of culture of the Russian Federation and a non-commercial American organization the Research Project on Art and Archives, Inc.
It was launched in 2002 to conduct researches aimed to discover and description of the monuments of Jewish culture displaced as a result of World War II and presently held at the territory of the Russian Federation.
The project is being financed by the Research Project on Art and Archives, USA.
The first result of the international cooperation within the frames of the Project was the restitution from the USA to Russia of documents of the Smolensk Communist Party Regional Archive documents in December of 2002.On the screen you can see the ceremony of restitution which was held in the Ministry of culture of the Russian Federation) Those documents had been plundered during occupation of Smolensk in June of 1941. Part of Smolensk archive was moved by Rosenberg staff to Bavaria where it was later placed under the USA army control. 65 years later that the documents were returned home.
Smolensk Archive restitution has come to be a well-known action of great symbolic significance. Yet the main purpose of the project “Heritage Revealed” is an international research.
The second result of the work undertaken by Russian researchers in this direction is “Catalogue of Manuscripts and Archival Materials of Juedisch-Theologisches Seminar in Breslau held in Russian Depositories”. This project realized in closely cooperation Library’s Center with the the Russian State Library, the Russian Federal Archives Service and the Russian State Military Archives.
The manuscript collection of the Breslau (Wroclaw) Jewish Theological Seminary is one of the most renowned monuments of Jewish culture plundered or destroyed during the war. The library was confiscated by the Nazi government and removed from Breslau.The collection was split and, in all probability, partly lost. A large number of manuscripts from this collection was found after the war in in the town of Kłodzko (Glatz) and handed over to the Polish Goverment, so these documents are kept in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw now. Another part of the collection happened to get to the Soviet Union.
Only 39 items were found in Russian Depositories and described in the Catalogue, including the correspondence of the Library with readers, publishers and scientists. So, its importance is enormous : firstly, because for the Breslau (Wroclaw) Theological Seminary, whose collection was practically destroyed during the war, every newly found manuscript is a priceless gift; secondly, because as a result of this important and happy research several dozens of cultural valuables which were believed to be lost forever become available to many scholars and are at the world cultural community’s disposal once again.
You can find the electronic version of the Catalogue on the Library’s web-site.
I would like to add that on the basis of the catalogue materials we have put on an exhibition and printed the postcard sets.
We have just finished working on the second catalogue from these series – “Catalogue of Art Objects from Hungarian Private Collections” It includes specific information about fifty-two of the paintings and sculptures confiscated from Jewish collectors in Budapest. These works of art were brought to the former Soviet Union at the end of World War II and their fate is closely connected with the Sarospatak books since they arrived in Nizhny Novgorod in the same carload.
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