On a rainy Tuesday, we set off for an after-lunch visit to the Wiener Library. According to their website and what we were told, the Wiener Library is a library that was created from the personal collection of Dr. Alfred Wiener who collected much of the anti-Semitic propaganda that the Nazis sent out. “Dr Alfred Wiener, a German Jew, having fought in WWI, returned to Germany in 1919 and was horrified at the surge of right-wing antisemitism, which blamed Jews for the defeat.” This is why he collected all of these items (Wiener website). The “archive was started just to collect information about the Nazis, which formed the basis of campaigns to undermine their activities (Wiener website).
This was a highly interesting, but very emotionally heavy visit. We had great guides for our tour, which was organized through a previous British Studies Program LIS student, Jessica Green. She interned there, and now she has a full-time job there. Our guides were very kind and knowledgable about all aspects of the library. The topic was heartbreaking, as were some of the exhibits and items that we were shown, so it was a somber visit. The library has over 70 years of history and is the world’s oldest Holocaust library, so there was no shortage of historically significant information and items.
One fact that showed just how invested Dr. Wiener was is that when Hitler came to power in 1933 it almost sent Wiener into a nervous breakdown. This showed me just how personal his collection was, and you could sense it in all of the exhibits and the collection itself.
As we learned on our tour, this library is open to the public and has information on a lot of different things dealing with the Nazis and the Holocaust. It provided information for the Nuremberg trial, as well as providing information for people looking for others who were missing after the Holocaust. They have a digital copy of the International Tracing Service, which is a database of 20 million names associated with the Holocaust. In addition to the 17,000 photos in their collection, they have material that looks at the persecution of other groups besides the Jews, such as the disabled and homosexuals. One item we saw that I could not get out of my head was a board game called Jugen Raus. Jugen Raus was an especially atrocious game that means Jews Out and is a game where the players collect Jews, and whoever has the most wins. The level of indoctrination that occurred during the Nazis was shocking and appalling.
Over the years, the library has changed. They are adding materials at a faster rate than ever, and in 2011 they moved into their current location. The biggest change is that they are adding materials about different genocides, such as the ones that occurred in Rwanda and Darfur.
The library had so many interesting, eye-opening aspects to it. One thing that I realized on the tour was that this would be a rather intense job emotionally. If you worked on the exhibits and had to sift through all of those heartbreaking photos and stories, I can imagine that it would start to weigh on you. Of course, it is important and worthwhile work because it needs to be remembered. However, I had never really thought about how the focus of a special collection / special library could affect the librarians who work there. While I had a basic knowledge of the atrocities committed by the Nazis and during the Holocaust, seeing all of the items, exhibits, rooms, storage spaces, and reading rooms showed me many things that I didn’t know before.