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21 May 2019

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research I - The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries

Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi regime was responsible for the confiscation, destruction, looting, and coerced sale of hundreds of millions of art objects and other items of cultural, historical and religious significance from public and private collections throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.  While stories of paintings and art collections have received academic, institutional and public attention, the history of the Nazi looting of books, manuscripts, and other printed material, from public and private collections, is lesser known.

The exact numbers accounting for total loss and destruction can only be estimated, due to the widespread nature, and sheer volume of the plunder and destruction.  Recent studies, however, have indicated that 22 million volumes from 37 libraries, not including private libraries, were affected.  While many volumes were either burned, or sent to paper mills and re-purposed, others were retained for study, or sold to profit the Third Reich.  Likewise, numerous private collectors as well as book-dealers and antiquarian businesses were forced to liquidate their collections and either abandon their stock or sell them for below market value.

ElligenAn American soldier amongst cultural property looted by the Nazis and stored in a church at Elligen, Germany in 1945.
Credit: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD

At the end of the war, the western allies came across numerous repositories throughout Germany, and recently liberated territories within Europe, filled with the cultural property the Nazis had systematically plundered.  Specialist units of the armed forces were tasked with sorting and classifying the material, and where original owners could be identified, restituting the items, or returning them to their country of origin.  The post-war restitution and repatriations were not always comprehensive, however, nor were original owners able to be identified.  Likewise items that were sold on the market or changed hands between 1933 and 1945 have continued to circulate, ending up in public or private collections, or on the market, necessitating further research.

In 1998, the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art developed a consensus of non-binding principles to which forty nations signed on in a pledge to research Nazi confiscated cultural property, and achieve just and fair solutions for object restitutions.  With the UK as a signatory, and as a national institution, the British Library take its duties seriously to identify collection items that might have been confiscated, lost, sold under duress, or otherwise displaced, between the period 1933-1945.

Most recently, investigations have focused on the Henry Davis Collection of Bookbindings: an encyclopaedic collection of cloth, panel, painted, paper, embroidered, and leather-bound bindings spanning from the 12th through 20th century, made across the globe, and acquired from dealers and at auction between the 1930s and 1970s.  Gifted by Henry Davis, O.B.E, (1897-1977) to the British Museum in 1968, the collection came to the British Library in 1972.

The present blog post is the first in a series of five to highlight these investigations, share our most recent findings, and to illustrate provenance research methodology that is conducted on a daily basis within the library.

Antonia Bartoli
Spoliation Curator, British Library Printed Heritage Projects

Further information:
The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries public lecture given by Antonia Bartoli.

 

16 May 2019

Celebrating King Edward VIII’s Birthday at the Bahrain Political Agency

On 23 June 1936 the Bahrain Political Agency held an official ceremony in celebration of King Edward VIII’s birthday. Announcing it as an official holiday, the Agency made a series of arrangements to mark the occasion. It is clear that the Agency was keen to make the occasion as inclusive and organised as it could be. Arabic invitation cards were ordered from the Times Press Limited at Baghdad and Basra.

Bahrain - Edward VIII birthday 1IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 30

Bahrain - Edward VIII birthday 2IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 32

The Agency sent personal invitations to members of the Bahrain Government including Shaikhs ‘Abdullah bin ‘Isa and Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa.

Bahrain - Edward VIII birthday 3IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 37

Messrs Jashanmal (now Jashanmal Department Stores, Bahrain) supplied the Agency with refreshments including Nice biscuits, sherbet, chocolate, crystallised cherries, and Mackintosh toffees. Whereas Messrs Ashraf Brothers (now Ashrafs W.L.L.) supplied coffee, rose water, nuts and plates.

Bahrain - Edward VIII birthday 4IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 43 
 

Bahrain - Edward VIII birthday 5IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 44

To ensure everyone’s loyalty to the British Crown, the Agency invited representatives of various ethnic and religious communities living in Bahrain including Arabs, Persians, Hindu and Jewish. Indeed this could also display a British attempt to show an inclusive policy towards everyone in Bahrain.

Bahrain - Edward VIII birthday 6IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 60

A list of names was circulated among the invitees. In turn, each invitee left a note near his name either to confirm or apologise. In some cases, certain individuals sent letters of apology, like the one sent by Mr ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Qusaibi.

Bahrain - Edward VIII birthday 7IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 48

Bahrain - Edward VIII birthday 8IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 45

On the day, the Agency received its special guests by placing a guard of honour to wait for them at the door. After serving coffee and other refreshments, a number of invitees read out their letters of congratulation. The assistants of the heads of the Manama and Muharraq Municipalities read out the letters on behalf of their municipalities.

Bahrain - Edward VIII birthday 9IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 54

Bahrain - Edward VIII birthday 10IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 55

Others read out their letters on behalf of their companies or communities. These include Mullah Hasan bin al-Shaikh al-Majed, representing the Arab Bahrainis; Ghanshamdas Dhamanmal Isardas, representing the Hindu; and Mir Daoud Rouben, representing the Jewish community in Bahrain.
 

Bahrain - Edward VIII birthday 11IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 58

Bahrain - Edward VIII birthday 12IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 59

Further, both Haji Abdun Nabi Bushehri, representing the Iranian Shi‘a community; and Haji Muhammad Tayeb Khunji, representing the Iranian Sunni community read out their tabriknameh [congratulation letters] in Persian.

Bahrain - Edward VIII birthday 13IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 56

Bahrain - Edward VIII birthday 14IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 57

The language used in these letters reflected the purpose of the invitation in the first place. The letters were in praise of the British Empire, and all wishing King Edward VIII to live long and be prosperous. The similarity of their wordings display nothing but loyalty to the British Crown. Ironically, only six months after the occasion, Edward VIII abdicated on 11 December 1936 and soon his loyalty to the British Crown became a matter of dispute among many.

Ula Zeir
Content Specialist/ Arabic Language
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading
IOR/R/15/2/1663 'File 20/1- Vol: III Ceremonial and Celebrations: New Year's and King's Birthday's Celebrations.'
Edward VIII

14 May 2019

Henry Stubbe: Islam and religious toleration in Restoration England

Stephen Noble examines the life of Henry Stubbe (1632-1676), physician and writer, and his manuscripts concerning Islam in the Harley Collection.

Henry Stubbe was financially assisted through his education by Henry Vane the Younger, Puritan and Parliamentarian, and after taking his M.A. from Christ Church, Oxford in 1656, Stubbe wrote many texts in support of Vane’s ideas. However, come the Restoration, Vane was arrested and eventually beheaded for his role in the execution of Charles I, and Stubbe left Oxford for Stratford-upon-Avon, establishing himself as a physician.

Henry Stubbe Image 1
'The Rise and Progress of Mahometanism', by Henry Stubbe, Harley MS 6189, f. 1.

This did not deter Stubbe from his writing. He had a wide range of interests and after 1660 he started to write on more diverse topics, including a discourse concerning chocolate published in 1662. His abilities were highly regarded in his time. He was described by the antiquary Anthony Wood in Athenae Oxonienses as ‘the most noted Latinist and Grecian’, and ‘thoroughly read in all political matters’.

Henry Stubbe Image 2
Henry Stubbe, The Indian Nectar, or a Discourse Concerning Chocolata (London, 1662), 1651/1620.

Perhaps Stubbe’s most radical piece of work is a text on the Life of Muhammad and a defence of Islam, usually known as Account of the rise and progress of Mahometanism. Four complete manuscript versions of this text are known to exist today, two of which are found within the collections of Robert and Edward Harley, and have recently been added to our online catalogue (Harley MS 1876 and Harley MS 6189).

English intellectual engagement with Islam grew in the 17th century as trade with the Ottoman Empire increased and more manuscript sources became available. Stubbe’s text, written around 1671, is one of the earliest English works to portray Islam sympathetically. Stubbe researched his topic extensively, as shown by the number of references found in the margins of the manuscripts, and presents a history of Islam and the life of Muhammad which is surprisingly free of bias.

Henry Stubbe Image 3
'An account of the Life of Mahomet', by Henry Stubbe, Harley MS 1876, f. 13

In the text, Stubbe highlights the tolerance shown towards Christians living in Muslim domains, and uses this to comment on English attitudes to other religions. Toleration was a contentious issue in England at this time. The probability of a Catholic King (James Stuart, brother of Charles II), growing numbers of Protestant dissenters, including Unitarians, and the resettlement of Jews in England by Oliver Cromwell, had led to discussions on the possibility of accepting other religions worshiping openly. Thinkers like John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, both contemporaries of Stubbe, wrote on the subject, as had Stubbe himself in An Essay in Defence of the good old Cause (1659), where he urges ‘an Universal Toleration’.

Henry Stubbe Image 4
Letter from Henry Stubbe to Thomas Hobbes, 25 October 1656, Add MS 32553, f. 9

Stubbe argues that Muhammad was a wise leader, and draws parallels between Islam and Early Christianity. Stubbe believed that the Christian church had drifted too far from the Early Christian teachings found in the Gospels, thanks to the introduction of doctrines such as Trinitarianism. Stubbe rejected these doctrines and, in Islam, he found a model for a radical civil religion, tolerant of dissenters.

Stubbe does not appear to have tried to publish this work in his lifetime and it remained unpublished until 1911, around 240 years after it was written.

Stephen Noble
Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Follow us on Twitter @BL_ModernMSS

Further Reading:

Henry Stubbe, An account of the rise and progress of Mahometanism, ed. by Hafiz Mahmud Khan Shairani (London: Luzac & Co., 1911)

Henry Stubbe, Henry Stubbe and the Beginnings of Islam: The Originall & Progress of Mahometanism, ed. by Nabil Matar (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014)

P. M. Holt, A Seventeenth-Century Defender of Islam: Henry Stubbe (1632-76) and his Book (London: Dr. Williams’s Trust, 1972)

James R. Jacob, Henry Stubbe, radical Protestantism and the early Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983)