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Distributed for Brandeis University Press

The Lost Library

The Legacy of Vilna’s Strashun Library in the Aftermath of the Holocaust

Distributed for Brandeis University Press

The Lost Library

The Legacy of Vilna’s Strashun Library in the Aftermath of the Holocaust

The Strashun Library was among the most important Jewish public institutions in Vilna, and indeed in Eastern Europe, prior to its destruction during World War II. Mattityahu Strashun, descended from a long and distinguished line of rabbis, bequeathed his extensive personal library of 5,753 volumes to the Vilna Jewish community on his death in 1885, with instructions that it remain open to all. In the summer of 1941, the Nazis came to Vilna, plundered the library, and shipped many of its books to Germany for deposition at a future Institute for Research into the Jewish Question. When the war ended, the recovery effort began. Against all odds, a number of the greatest treasures of the library could be traced. However, owing to its diverse holdings and its many prewar patrons, a custody battle erupted over the remaining holdings. Who should be heir to the Strashun Library? This book tells the story of the Strashun Library from its creation through the contentious battle for ownership following the war until present day. Pursuant to a settlement in 1958, the remnants of the greatest prewar library in Europe were split between two major institutions: the secular YIVO in the United States and the rabbinic library of Hechal Shlomo in Israel, a compromise that struck at the heart of the library’s original unifying mission.

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"The complex, hitherto murky, and too often deliberately distorted story of the postwar destiny of this greatest of all Jewish public libraries has finally and definitively been recounted in Rabinowitz’s superb study..."

Allan Nadler | Jewish Review of Books

“A fascinating work about Vilna’s Strashun Library, bringing to light this institution which serviced a wide diversity of Jewish men and women and changed the nature of what a public library’s function could be.”

Jewish Voice and Opinion

“Rabinowitz has done a brilliant job in his moving and important book. . . . He vividly portrays the restoration of the books of the Strashun Library, a testimony to the indomitable Jewish spirit.”

Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat, author of Imperfect Justice: Looted Assets, Slave Labor, and the Unfinished Business of World War II

“Rabinowitz detects a breathtaking history of loss and mourning, of illegal claims and desires, of appropriation and incorporation that expresses the rupture of the Holocaust and the contested visions of Jewish life after catastrophe.”

Elisabeth Gallas, author of A Mortuary of Books: Rescue of Jewish Culture after the Holocaust

"Rabinowitz demonstrates a mastery of his subject. . . . Rabinowitz effectively deploys the Strashun Library as a lens through which to examine wider cultural and geopolitical forces in the 19th and 20th centuries. An essentially tragic story—of a lost culture and of the mistreatment of its material remains by those who claim to be the heirs to that culture—ends on a more sanguine note."

Reviews in History

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments • Introduction • Vilna: The Study House • Mattityahu Strashun: The Book Collector • Vilna Builds Its Public Library • Jewish Books and the Ravages of World War II • Lost and Found in a German Book Depot • A Transatlantic Crossing • Ex Libris and Obscurity in Postwar America • Another Port of Call • Postscript • Notes • Bibliography • Index

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