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In London, the world’s oldest Holocaust archive is still collecting material

20 6 20

LONDON (JTA) — There are two sketches of Philipp Manes, a leading early-20th-century German-Jewish businessman, in the notebooks that he kept with him during his two-year imprisonment at the Theresienstadt transit camp.

Both are drawn shortly before Manes was deported to Auschwitz in October 1944, and could not be more different. One portrait shows Manes as an old man with tired eyes and sagging skin. The other models him as a heroic Goethe-like figure, with an accompanying dedication that describes him as “the cultural pioneer of Theresienstadt.”

That’s because during the difficult years that Manes spent at Theresienstadt, he became the fulcrum of an unlikely cultural flowering of dozens of Jewish intellectuals. Manes hosted over 500 lectures, plays, and musical performances, bringing together many of Europe’s best and brightest Jews for brief moments of normalcy in the ghetto.

His notebooks, which offer rare insight into lived Holocaust life, are just some of the over one million documents held in London’s Wiener Library, the world’s oldest Holocaust archive.

“These are completely unique documents,” said Toby Simpson, the library’s director, as he leafed through the pages of one of Manes’s bright floral fabric notebooks.

Simpson had meandered through the Wiener’s archive and wheeled apart two metal shelves in the basement of the narrow archive, which sits tucked between two other brick buildings in central London’s busy Russell Square, almost hidden to most passersby.

The shelves part like the Red Sea to reveal stacks upon stacks of neatly filed and coded boxes that chart in meticulous detail the rise of antisemitism in Germany from the 1920s onward, and its tragic aftermath.

Founded as the Jewish Central Information Office in 1933, which itself grew out of an earlier bureau that Alfred Wiener had operated in 1920s Berlin, the institute was established to monitor German antisemitism. Much of the collection was gathered before and during the Holocaust.

The thousands of newspapers, pamphlets, photos, and other documents that were compiled speak to what the researchers and refugees who staffed the institute felt was important to keep, without the benefit of hindsight that characterizes many other Holocaust collections.

“It has an evolving character, because of this,” says Simpson. “It is unique to the library that it evolved during the Holocaust and before it.”

Wiener, a trained Arabist and decorated World War I veteran, had become concerned at the antisemitic conspiracies that were swirling around post-WWI Germany and threw himself into efforts to monitor and combat Germany’s far-right........

© The Times of Israel

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