Since 2003 the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (BSB) – the Bavarian State Library – has been combing its holdings for works looted by the Nazis. For this purpose library staff initially formed a task force that was assisted by voluntary helpers. The preliminary work performed by the task force not only provided a basis for subsequent projects but also led to the first restitution of objects. From June 2013 until May 2016 funding by the Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste (German Lost Art Foundation) enabled a systematic research project into looted books to be carried out; the emphasis lay on works that entered the BSB between 1933 and 1945. The looted books came into the possession of the library at that time both as allegedly standard acquisitions as well as through the transfer of previously confiscated objects. In the duration of the project some 1000 titles from the 65,000 works that entered the library during the Nazi era were conclusively identified as looted items. The heirs of previous owners or institutions were traced and, as far as possible, individual books returned. Restitutioins were made to, among others, the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Germany, to the Thomas Mann Archive in Zurich and to descendants of the persecuted Caspari and Rosenthal families. The restitution of the so-called Płock Pontifical, the oldest Polish pontifical, to the Catholic Church in Poland by the Minister of State, Dr. Ludwig Spaenle, on 14 April 2015 in Warsaw, attended by the Polish Foreign Minister, Grzegorz Schetyna, and the Director-General of the BSB, Dr. Klaus Ceynowa, is an outstanding highlight. Another important step was marked by the handing over of 203 titles from the GecaKon publishing house of Belgrade to the Serbian National Library on 7 April 2016.
All questionable books without any concrete indication as to their previous owners will continue to be included in the online catalogue at the State Library as well as on the ‘Lost Art’ website in future. As far as is legally possible, the publications will be digitalised and will, therefore, still remain accessible even after their restitution.
Questionable acquisitions after 1945 are being examined as part of a two-year follow-up project that started on 1 August 2016 that is also being funded by the German Lost Art Foundation. In the post-war period the BSB acquired several libraries from former Nazi institutions, including 30,000 works alone from the former ‘Ordensburg Sonthofen’ in the Allgäu region. Spot checks have already brought several cases of looted works to light; the first restitutions took place in autumn and winter 2015 to institutions such as the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien (Vienna Israelite Community) and the Abraham-Geiger-Kolleg Potsdam.
Further information on research at the BSB into Nazi confiscated works as well as on individual items restituted can be found on the project’s home page.