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Dresden - After 77 years, 23 books confiscated by the National Socialists return to HohenEichen.

"In February of this year I received an e-mail with the subject 'NS-Raubgut'", says Wilfried Dettling SJ, director of the retreat house HohenEichen. He almost deleted the message. Nadine Kulbe of the Saxon State Library - Dresden State and University Library (SLUB) informed him that the SLUB was in possession of books which had been stolen by the National Socialists and which could clearly be assigned to the House of HohenEichen as the owner. These 23 books were now to be "restituted" to the Jesuits.

What is Nazi looting?

For the legal concept of "cultural assets seized due to Nazi persecution" the term "(NS)-robbery" has established itself. In addition to art collections, books were also affected whose robbery was frighteningly perfectly organized from the very beginning, as recent research has shown. The search for books is difficult: individual collections were often torn apart and distributed to different libraries, where they were incorporated into the holdings without any indication of their origin. Today, the traces in the books themselves are often the only indications of their previous owners, of their "provenance", for example through seals and stamps.

There is no legal obligation to conduct research into the loot of public institutions in Germany. However, institutions such as the SLUB have made it their task to check their holdings for loot on the basis of various declarations. These include the "Washington Principles" of 1998 (principles of the Washington Conference with regard to works of art confiscated by the National Socialists) and the "Joint Declaration" of 1999 (Joint Declaration - Declaration of the Federal Government, the Länder and the central communal associations on the discovery and return of cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution, in particular from Jewish property).

Provenance research at the SLUB

Since September 2017, the SLUB has been carrying out a project to identify Nazi loot, sponsored by the Stiftung Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste (German Centre for the Loss of Cultural Property). Nadine Kulbe is one of the project staff members and succeeded in identifying the books from the HohenEichen library, as she explained at a press conference on the occasion of the "Restitution", the return of the 23 books. The books bear a stamp with the inscription "Xaveriushaus Hosterwitz", after the co-founder of the Jesuit Order, St. Franz Xaver, patron saint of Haus HohenEichen. The SLUB does not regard itself as the owner of the objects in its inventory in the case of proven Nazi looting and endeavours to return them to the owners.

From HohenEichen to the SLUB and back again

Since 1940 the Secret State Police (Gestapo) observed the Jesuit retreat house on the Elbe slope in Hosterwitz. In May 1941 the Gestapo confiscated the house and the Jesuits had to leave HohenEichen. House and property were expropriated in January 1942 as "property of enemies of the Reich" and HohenEichen served afterwards as home school of the Hitler youth. A quantity of books from the library of Haus HohenEichen, which can no longer be precisely quantified today, was given to the Saxon State Library by the Gestapo in 1942 as a gift. Of these, only 23 survived the bombing of Dresden in February 1945; the remainder were burnt in the Japanese Palais, the former seat of the State Library. After the end of the Second World War, the Jesuit Order received back the expropriated real estate in Dresden-Hosterwitz and since then has run the house again as a retreat house. But the books remained in the possession of the Saxon State Library (now SLUB) - until they could be identified in 2019 within the framework of provenance research and handed over as a "beautiful conclusion" to an elaborate work in HohenEichen. The return of the books is a "great pleasure" for the SLUB, according to Nadine Kulbe.

The majority of the books are from the 18th century, the oldest being dated 1616. Even though their material value is low, they are still of great non-material value. They are spiritual books, but also travelogues are included - and a copy of the holy legend book, in which Ignatius of Loyola read on his sickbed.

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