Thursday, August 14, 2014

July 10: The Wiener Library

Late in the afternoon, we went to Wiener Library, which was actually one of my favorite places we have visited. Founded in 1933 by Alfred Wiener, a German Jew and WWI veteran who was horrified by the explosion of anti-Semitism in his country after the Great War, the Wiener Library is one of the largest collections of Holocaust material in the world, rivaling the Holocaust museums in D.C. and Israel. You can read more about the library's history on their website
The library is in a converted house, which gives it an open, welcoming atmosphere. Their collection is vast, and I pondered changing my paper topic just to have an excuse to return. The walls are all painted white, and they mostly rely on natural light to fill the building. The artificial light they do have is soft, unlike harsher neon lights that are so common these days, which makes the reading atmosphere that much more pleasant.

The library is divided into two main areas: the reading room, which has a huge collection of books related to the Holocaust and Judaism, and the archives below. Their archives are especially well organized and contain artifacts that will surpass any expectations you have. For instance, Tobey, the librarian who gave us the tour (great guy!), showed us some children’s books used as Nazi propaganda. The first one was a coloring book depicting the Third Reich as an honorable, patriotic organization. I asked Tobey if there were any fiercely anti-Semitic books for children, and he said absolutely, then kindly brought one out for us. The picture I took is fuzzy, unfortunately, but the book was as creepy as can be. It was a story about good little Nazi children chasing out the nasty Jews, and the Jews were drawn as the most grotesque caricatures, having enormous noses and gross skin. The Jews are illustrated as crying while they leave the Aryans, and the Aryans are throwing rocks at them—because that is such a lovely thing for children to do. We were all equally fascinated and disturbed by the books. To be honest, I could have stayed there all day.

In honor of the Great War’s centennial, the Weiner Library had a display about Jewish soldiers in WWI, along with many artifacts from the war. Tobey told us, showing the library’s materials as evidence, that prior to and during WWI, being Jewish and being German were intertwined; after the war, however, things obviously changed. He had diary entries from Jewish heroes from the war who were distraught over having to leave Germany, the country for which they had served and loved so much. I was saddened and disturbed looking at that collection.

All in all, this was a fantastic library and one to which I will definitely return!

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