Searching for Nazi-Looted Cultural Property: Mannheim University Library Receives Funding for Provenance Research

The University of Mannheim will receive funding of more than 75,000 euros for the project on cultural property that has been seized as a result of persecution in the collection of Mannheim University Library (“Verfolgungsbedingt entzogenes Kulturgut im Bestand der Universitätsbibliothek Mannheim“). The aim of the project is to record Nazi-looted property included in the historical book collections of the library, to make it visible and return it, if possible.

When they seized power in 1933, the National Socialists began to deprive disagreeable organizations and private individuals, in particular Jewish citizens, of their rights. The Nazi state also took the property of the people they persecuted and murdered, including their books.

In Mannheim, a public library was established as early as the end of the 19th century. The library combined parts of the Wittelsbach court library that had remained in the Electoral Palatinate and donations from private libraries and libraries of associations. In 1921, this collection was the basis for the Städtische Schlossbücherei in the Bibliotheksaal of the Schloss in Mannheim, which housed 70,000 volumes. In 1954, this public collection was transferred to the Wissenschaftliche Stadtbibliothek and in 1971, it was donated to the Mannheim University Library. At the time of this donation, the collection of the Wissenschaftliche Stadtbibliothek amounted to about 240,000 volumes.

In the project that is now starting, the Mannheim University Library is systematically analyzing the collection of the Städtischen Schlossbücherei for cultural property confiscated from Jewish citizens during the Nazi era. Suspected cases should be recorded, made visible and, if possible, returned.

The project is a collaboration between the University Library and Dr. Sandra Eichfelder from the University of Mannheim Archive. Professor Dr. Hiram Kümper from the Department of History at the University of Mannheim supports the project from an academic perspective. Viktor Boecking heads the project on the part of the University Library.

The project is funded by the German Lost Art Foundation, based in Magdeburg. In the second funding round in 2023, approximately 1.9 million euros for provenance research on cultural property that has been seized during Nazi persecution have been awarded. The foundation offers financial support for institutions so that museum or library collections can be searched for Nazi-looted property or lost collections of persecuted Jewish citizens can be reconstructed and returned. The project of Mannheim University Library is one of 18 research projects to be funded.