Tag Archives: nazis

Building the Gottmensch: The Library of Ordensburg Sonthofen

A grim symbol is stamped inside nearly 60 books at the Rubenstein Library: the eagle and swastika; symbols of the German Nazi Party. The markings also indicate that the volumes belonged to “Ordensburg Sonthofen.” What was this place, what constituted its library, and furthermore, what happened to its holdings?

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Der Wille zum Kind

In 1933, the same year Adolf Hitler’s party came to power, the Ordensburgen were built as elite training facilities for high-ranking officers in the military called Junker. The program was under the direction of Robert Ley, and the purpose of instruction was, as he stated in Der Weg zur Ordensburg, for the “spiritual and philosophical education of the NSDAP.” Qualifying candidates between the ages of 25 and 30 were sent to three facilities and spent a year at each: Vogelsang in the Eifel, Krössinsee in Pomerania, and Sonthofen in Allgäu. Each facility had its own training focus. The focus of instruction at Sonthofen, intended to be the third and final year of training, was diplomacy and administrative tasks. The libraries at each location would have facilitated such research and instruction.

Construction of the main building at Sonthofen, from Der Weg zur Ordensburg by Robert Ley, 1936
Construction of the main building at Sonthofen, from Der Weg zur Ordensburg by Robert Ley, 1936

Although the exact story of how Sonthofen’s books ended up at the Rubenstein is unknown, Nazi-related material did come to the United States through the efforts of the Library of Congress and were then distributed to institutions throughout the country, including Duke University. The program was called the “Cooperative Acquisitions Project for Wartime Publications,” and details about the program can be found in Volume 16, number 2 of the Duke University Libraries magazine. Parts of German libraries and archives, if not destroyed outright at the end of the war, were broken up and distributed. Tracking down the remainders of the collections, which can be aided by the ownership stamps, and analyzing the content, is invaluable for understanding the operations of facilities such as Sonthofen.

Rohstoffe und Kolonien
Rohstoffe und Kolonien

Analyzing the stamps and markings in the Rubenstein’s collection can help to at least partially recreate the library at Sonthofen and give insight into its functioning. Some books are marked “Hauptbücherei” (main library), while others are marked with specific group or class designations such as “Seminar Völkische Behauptung” (racial assertions). This shows, for example, that the instruction at Sonthofen was not strictly limited to understanding military strategy. Titles in the collection also indicate a variety of subjects, including Was wir vom Weltkrieg nicht wissen (What We Don’t Know About the World War), a justification of rapid militarization after World War I, and Der Wille zum Kind (The Will to Child), part of a series called “Political Biology,” which encourages procreation to build the perfect Aryan race.

The opening of Vogelsang in 2006, held until then by the Belgian military, created the opportunity to investigate the ultimate destination of its library. For example, Michael Schröder (article in German) reveals that of what is thought to be almost 70,000 items, 40,000 were probably plundered or destroyed, and the rest ultimately ended up at the University of Bonn. The opportunity is here for a similar investigation to be conducted regarding Sonthofen, also now a historical site, and its 57 books held by the Rubenstein present a window to view its history. This material is also just a small part of the rich German language holdings at the Rubenstein Library, which also include the extensive Harold Jantz collection.

Post contributed by Sarah Carrier, Research Services Coordinator

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.