In our May Collections & Exhibitions newsletter, we wrote about the first object in the Museum’s collection: A list of rules for the Buchenwald concentration camp library.
Rules (translated from German):
You Are Responsible
For the book that you borrow!
Never read while eating!
Do not rip any pages out!
Fat stains and dog-ears do not belong in the book!
Spare the covers!
Do not underline any lines!
No notes on the sides!
On the exchange day you must give your book back!
If you want to extend the lend, put a letter in!
If you mislay your book, you are subject to replacement!
You are punished if you do not follow these orders!
– Prisoner library
Understandably, people had questions. Surely there couldn’t have been a library in the concentration camp? Did we make a mistake and mean the Terezin camp/ghetto? Did we instead mean a Displaced Persons camp at Buchenwald from after the war?
But there was indeed a prisoner library at the concentration camp.
Just as they did at Terezin, the Nazis staged visits for various officials and foreign journalists at other concentration camps, and the Buchenwald Library (Haftlingsbucherei K.L. Buchenwald) was likely set up to counter rumors about the condition of the camp.
The Nazi regime established Buchenwald in 1937, before the start of World War II. Most of the early inmates at Buchenwald were non-Jewish political prisoners and until 1943, the prisoners were all male. The library was set up in 1938.
By the end of the war, the Buchenwald Prisoners’ Library contained almost 16,000 books. The collection originally came from the abandoned concentration camps Bad Sulza, Sachsenburg, and Lichtenburg which stopped operating in 1937 (Lichtenburg continued to hold female prisoners until 1939). The SS expanded the library from books taken from the prisoners, books they bought specifically for the library, and select books ordered for privileged prisoners. Though the SS forbade certain books and authors, many of these books still made it into the camp. In the end, the library contained a vast array of books ranging from politics, literature, history, science, and more. Two examples of books that have been discovered postwar with the Buchenwald Prisoners’ Library stamp inside are a book on the French Revolution and the German fiction book El Hakim: Roman.
Not all prisoners in Buchenwald were allowed to read books from the library. The Buchenwald Prisoners’ Library was mainly intended for political prisoners in administrative and leadership roles of a higher status. Beginning in 1942, Jews were explicitly forbidden from using the library.
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