Book Stamps as historical Witnesses

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Windows to a lost jewish past

The Book „Windows to a lost jewish past“ (Katz, Dovid / Windows to a lost jewish past : Vilna book stamps. Vilnius : Versus Aureus, 2008) uses library stamps to tell the story of a once lively jewish community, which was later nearly wipped out by facism.

Vilnius, the Capital of Lithuania, had once a big jewish cultural life. In 1938 about 28 percent of the population (or 55.000 people) belonged to this community. In these community all kinds of jewish life were present, from zionism to leftist groups to religous groups. In 1941 the Wehrmacht reached Vilnuis and established a ghetto which was liquidated in 1943. August 1944, after the defeat of the Wehrmacht in Vilnius, only 600 people were registered by the red army. Although a jewish community still exists today (see http://www.vilnius-jewish-public-library.org/), the „Jerusalem of the North“ was basically wipped out by the Germans (and their aides).

Windows to a lost jewish past try to tell the stroy of this community by stamps of the library books of the different libraries it (or parts of the community) maintained. The stamps are selected for their historical meaning, not because of their aesthetics. Still, it’s chilling and sad at the same time to browse througt this witnesses of an wiped out culture. Dovid Katz – a professor at the Vilnius University –, to whose collection most of the library books used for this book belong, shows each the library stamps alone, in context of a book page and tells a short story about the book or the library. It includes books from libraries of different synagogues, societies, schools, and different other organizations. It also includes books from very different streams of the jewish community. It is not the most complete book about the jewish life in Vilnius (e.g. the whole resistance in the Ghetto is not even mentioned), but it shows, that library stamps are not only aesthetical artifacts or notifications of property, there are also part of a history if you know how to read them.

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