Tag Archives: german judaica

Dispatches from the German Judaica Project

Usually catalogers spend most of our time thinking about appropriate subject headings, title added entries, transcription of titles and other useful information. We have developed efficient ways to do this quickly and accurately and aren’t often conscious of our role in preserving a book because it is an historical object. Sometimes, however, there is something about a book that brings the cataloging process to a temporary standstill.

lois blog post fullA book that was acquired recently as part of the German Judaica Project suddenly made me stop and think about the history of Europe during the Nazi period. The particular title in question is Jad hachasakah, oder Mischna Thorah, 1. Buch. Maddah, published in 1846 by E.J. Dalkowski in Königsberg (once the capital of Prussia, now known as Kaliningrad). It was edited by Elias Soloweiczyk “aus Slutzk in Russland.” (Slutzk, or Slutsk, is a town near St. Petersburg.) There are hundreds of editions and commentaries of Moses Maimonides works, edited by a wide variety of authors and there isn’t anything too unusual about the text of the book. It isn’t even extremely rare, as there is at least one other copy in the United States. What is very interesting is that, clearly stamped on the title page, is the ownership mark of one of the libraries of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter-Partei Schutzstaffel or “SS.” It’s unfortunate that the identity of the specific library is not quite clear, but the central symbol is distinctive.


So many questions came to my mind as I cataloged: How did this little volume manage to survive the war at all, since Jewish libraries were systematically destroyed? How did it arrive in the hands of the SS, who were definitely part of the destruction? Why did they save it? Did it possibly serve a purpose in the officer training schools as an example of why Judaism should be destroyed? How did this it survive the destruction of the SS libraries after the war and find its way first to the United States and finally to Duke?

This little ownership stamp also reminded me of a cataloging project that I completed in the 1980s. It was a large collection of pamphlets that was given to the library following World War II. They were materials literally picked up from the streets or plucked from the waste bins as the libraries belonging to the Nazis were dismantled. They remain a treasure-trove of everything from official Nazi propaganda on race to manuals for pistols. Many of the items had ownership stamps similar to the one in the Maimonides work described above. In order to more easily locate these resources, we devised two categories of locally developed subject headings: Nazi period (further subdivided by place of publication and date) and Provenance (followed by the former owner).

It seems serendipitous that I would catalog the new title because I am probably the only cataloger who would realize the philosophical connection to the earlier project and create the same type of subject added entries.

Post contributed by Lois Schultz, Catalog Librarian for Monographic Resources in Perkins Technical Services.

Fun Finds from the German Judaica Project

As the German Judaica Intern for the Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of rare and interesting materials. I am currently processing a collection of German Judaica books dating from the late eighteenth century through the twentieth century. These materials represent a range of topics, including prayer books, histories of the Jewish people, commentary in German on Jewish religious texts, Zionism, and works on the “Jewish question.” My job is to catalog these books so that they can be made available to the public. Over the course of this project several books have piqued my interest, and I would like to share them with you.

The first are two pictures from the book Die Israelitische Bibel, a mid-nineteenth century illustrated Hebrew and German Bible with annotations by Ludwig Philippson.

Die Israelitische Bibel

The second book is titled Das Judische ABC. It is a dictionary of sorts about key figures and events in Jewish history, covering topics such ranging from the patriarch Abraham to authors such as Martin Buber.

Das Judische ABC, with entries from the letter “H.”

The final book I would like to highlight is a prayerbook. A number of these types of books have been cataloged, including holiday prayer books and daily prayer books. Many of them are in Hebrew, and have elegant covers and pages lined in gold leaf.

Prayerbook from the collection.

The collection as a whole is extensive and an excellent addition to the Duke Library. My hope is that through cataloging these materials, more people can have access and utilize them in their research.

Post contributed by Crystal Reinhardt, intern for the German Judaica Project in Rubenstein Technical Services.


Reminder: The Rubenstein Library is closed until Jan. 7!

Dispatches from the German Judaica Project

Solving Cataloging Puzzles, or, How Digitization and the Web Makes Our Work More Accurate and Efficient

Difficult cataloging puzzles occur when a volume’s title page is missing. Sometimes information written into the book by a previous owner is correct, sometimes it is not. When I first began cataloging, the only resources were printed bibliographies, printed catalogs, the famous National Union Catalog (NUC), British Library catalog and other specialized catalogs. Unless you could correctly “guess” the title, it was difficult to positively identify such works. Now that Google Books has put so many up for view, the cataloger now has more “tricks” available to solve problems.

An example of this is a volume that is missing the title page and begins with the Preface, table of contents, and has 246 pages (apparently complete). On the front flyleaf is a penciled note: Verhandlungen der ersten israelitischen Synode in Leipzig vom 29. Juni bis 4. Juli 1869 (Enthaltend: Protokolle, Stenograph. Niederschrift etc.) Berlin 1869. Such a book does exist in OCLC, but it is described as vi, 260 p. Searching for the title in Google Books brings up the following:

Clearly this is not the book in hand, because, not only is the pagination different, but the content is entirely different. Back to the puzzle.

Fortunately, search engines index more than just the title page information. I then search Google Books for significant words from one of the articles (2nd one): referat orgelspiel Sabbath wiener. The resulting “hit” reveals the correct title with matching contents. Once I know the correct title, I can search OCLC and find a good cataloging record.

Google Books solves the puzzle!

You can find the final catalog record for the book here.

Post contributed by Lois Schultz, Catalog Librarian for Monographic Resources in Perkins Technical Services.

Dispatches from the German Judaica Project

A cataloger with a photographic  memory could be a source of endless fragments of information. We have only a few minutes with each of the thousands of books that pass through our hands, and much of that time is taking up with verification of details of the title, the imprint, the author’s authorized heading, etc. Subject analysis is often a quick selection from an endless list of dry headings and academic buzzwords—Economic development, Queer theory, Postcolonialism, Lie groups, Wachiperi language—and their associated classification. Some subjects appear over and over. The catalog has 179 entries under “Egypt—History—Protests, 2011-” and more under that heading with subdivisions. In other cases, the cataloger is amazed that even one book has been written on the topic.  The author of a slim volume on Hedjhotep, the Egyptian god of weaving, admitted that this deity is “little known, even among Egyptologists.”

As my memory is far from photographic, sometimes at the end of the day I am hard pressed to remember what parts of the river of human knowledge I have seen flow by. Determining what a book is about, though a fascinating process, gives just a snapshot of the content, and varied snapshots blur together in my mind. After more than thirty years of cataloging as a generalist, I have been exposed to bits and pieces of a wide range of subjects, but questions about any detail send me to Google.

A selection of Jewish prayer books, one for each holiday.

Recently, the library acquired a Judaica collection of more than 6000 late 18th century to early 20th century books. Most are in German, with some Hebrew and Yiddish. As part of a team of catalogers working with this material, I have been able to spend days on end with interrelated books. Questions about the context of a work or an author’s identity send me to Wikipedia, and what I learn there brings more life to the books, which creep into corners of my consciousness not inhabited by my usual work. Opening one dusty anti-Semitic tract after another can be as bone-chilling as the movie Schindler’s List. After cataloging dozens of editions of the Siddur (Jewish daily prayers) I somehow feel that I could step into a German synagogue and pick up a worn black prayer book, and be part of the recitation of words that have comforted so many generations.

This prayer book for Yom Kippur has a title page in both Hebrew and German.

Post contributed by Amy Turner, Original Cataloger in the Cataloging and Metadata Services Dept.