Posts Tagged ‘holocaust’

Here is a link to previous Interludes in our walk though history with Mr. Horne.


Walter Ings Farmer, Director, Wiesbaden Collecting Point

Walter Farmer, Director, Wiesbaden Collecting Point

In his book, The Safekeepers: Memoir of the Arts at the End of World War II (2000), Walter Ings Farmer writes that “The story of the Offenbach Archival Depot has never received the attention given to restoration of monuments … Nevertheless an account of MFA&A activities in the Frankfurt area would be incomplete without a description of the rescue of the literary and scriptural treasures that the Nazis had looted with the same nefarious purposes they applied to art collections. … Looting of libraries became as integral to the Nazis plan for cultural domination as the looting of art collections.

1933 Berlin Book Burning

1933 Berlin Book Burning

He describes how Nazi actions escalated from the 1930s public burnings of the authors they wanted to discredit to “a program of search and seizure among the libraries and archives of the nations that they sought to conquer. … These activities established a pattern which resulted in the eventual accumulation in Germany of storehouses full of other nation’s libraries.

Millions of books would be accumulated, along with a stunning amount of other cultural and religious items collected from across Europe.  Farmer writes of being introduced to Offenbach by “his boss” Captain James Rorimer in the fall of 1945.

James Rorimer

James Rorimer

He took me with him to inspect an abandoned warehouse within the I.G. Farben plant at Offenbach,” remembers Farmer. “This building was under consideration to become to repository primarily for Jewish libraries, archives and the Torahs.” Prior to the warehouse in Offenbach being established as a collecting point, library collections were being stored at the Rothschild Library in Frankfurt. Over time it was clear that infrastructure at the Rothschild Library was inadequate.

Based on his and others assessment of the situation, librarian and MFA&A officer Lt. Leslie Poste suggested that detailed cataloging of the items be stopped at Rothschild and that operations be relocated across the river to the I.G. Farben plant, the site of a five-story, reinforced concrete loft building.

Seymour Pomrenze (center)

Seymour Pomrenze (center)

Pomrenze put into place necessary administrative, transportation, cataloging and storage systems enabling the depot to operate much more effectively.  Professional conservation and preservation labs, a photographic studio and other needed infrastructure was created.  His successor, Captain Isaac Bencowitz, refined a system for photographing ex-libris and library markings found in books.

Isaac Bencowitz

Isaac Bencowitz

The resulting cataloging system would significantly increase staff ability to identify and sort items, identifying country of origin and other markers of ownership .  In the end Bencowitz and his team would complete “two volumes with reproductions of library markings belonging to 4,105 libraries of individuals and institutions in Western and Eastern Europe

and two volumes with more than 1,300 bookplates or ex-libris, including 1,200 German-Jewish, German-Masonic and probably German non-Jewish plates as well as over 100 mostly Dutch-Jewish bookplates.” (F. J. Hoogewoud)

As requests were submitted by individuals, families and nation states seeking missing items, MFA&A staff were able to use the catalogs to help them search through the millions of books and cultural items that would eventually be stored at Offenbach.

Bencowitz, during his tenure as director, used photography to document the operations of the depot and its staff and volunteers.

Staffing the depot was a mix of U.S. military, Allied and civilian personnel, as well as German civilians, and scholars from around the world. In October 1946, Bencowitz received orders for redeployment.  The imminent nature of his departure and shifting priorities in the region for policy and decision-making made selecting a new director difficult.  As an “emergency measure,” archivist Major Lester K. Born and his assistant, Joseph A. Horne, were sent to Offenbach for temporary duty.  Born was to develop an interim plan for continued operation of the depot, a plan that Mr. Horne was to implement.  In short, a plan was finally developed and by January 1947, Horne became the third director of the Offenbach Archival Depot.

Exactly what Horne was doing prior to assuming his new role remains opaque without futher research.  Archival records show him often assisting MFA&A colleagues like Gordon Gilkey, Leslie Post, Lester Born and Paul Vanderbilt with the acquisition of information about available artwork and cultural items.  His fluency in German, facility with “dead languages,” appreciation and knowledge of the arts, and photographic skills would have made him invaluable in the field.  He produced numerous reports about his trips across Germany about what he was seeing and hearing from locals. People were often very open with him.  Following is an excerpt from a field report after visiting libraries in over a dozen landkreise or rural districts:

By 1947, relations with the Russians had deteriorated significantly, adversely affecting the restitution of items to individuals and institutions in Russian-controlled territories, and the exchange of items between the Russian Zone and other Allied Zones.  With plans well underway to revitalize German economy and culture (including denazification), military and intelligence priorities shifted to stopping the Russians.  And so Horne like many within the MFA&A unit followed orders as high level officials made clear that those in the U.S. intelligence sector had full access to depot materials and freedom to act as they deemed necessary.

In February 1947, one month after Horne became director of Offenbach, Lucy Schildkret arrived.  She would later write, “his friends called him Tony. Before the war, he’d been on the staff of the Library of Congress’s photographic division.  Transferred from the MFA&A in Berlin, he was then new to the Depot, having taken over his duties barely two weeks before my visit.  About thirty, very tall, thin, lanky, and blond, he was the only American there.  He was in charge of a staff of some forty Germans.”

In her memoir, From That Place and Time, Lucy Schildkret describes her encounter with Horne as she works to sort, identify and return the YIVO library of Vilna, Poland.  The Yiddish Scientific Institute (YIVO) was founded in 1925 for the scientific study of Jewish life.  Headquartered in Vilna, the institute had branches around the world including the United States. At the start of the war its headquarters were transferred to New York City.

In late 1945, when the YIVO library was identified as being in Frankfurt, visiting Jewish scholar, Prof. Koppel S. Pinson sought permission from the YIVO leadership in New York to distribute, like a lending library, some of the unidentifiable books to Jews living in the Displacement Camps.  It would take time but he would be granted such authority.

A year later, Lucy Schildkret would also be granted authority to work with the books.

The complexities of sorting, identifying and returning books at the scale demanded of the Offenbach Archival Depot become clearer when reading through the declassified documents relating to what happened with just the YIVO library.  For instance, YIVO like many libraries of its size and mission had been the repository of family libraries.  Books at Offenbach were being identified by ex-libris and other markings as belonging to individuals and/or their families but they had in fact been donated to YIVO (or other institutions) by family members.  There are numerous letters between YIVO administrators with U.S. military officials trying to prove the ownership of items.

Though correspondence about the YIVO library begins in 1945, by early 1947 the vast library had yet to be shipped to YIVO in New York.  The reasons include continual reduction in manpower, both skilled and unskilled, at the depot and complex, bureaucratic chains of command within the U.S. military, between the Allied zones and even within the YIVO organization.  In a March 1947 document, Horne reports to his superiors that Miss Schildkret has been unable to examine several hundred thousand unidentified books because she had yet to receive authorization.

Vilna Library During German Occupation, in the files of the Offenbach Archival Depot

Vilna Library During German Occupation, in the files of the Offenbach Archival Depot

In 1938, Lucy Schildkret had studied in Vilna and worked at the YIVO.  Prior to the war, she would return to the U.S. and work as assistant to the research director at the YIVO headquarters in New York.  In 1946 she journeyed to Europe as an educational worker with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC), the largest Jewish relief organization in America. Through this organization she was able to work with displaced persons in the camps.  With her skills in Yiddish and time at YIVO, she was able to discern that books that had been labeled as unidentifiable were indeed identifiable.  But even as she acquired the authority to help identify the YIVO library, she maintained her focus of serving the people housed in the displacement camps, and she would do so with a tenacity that would characterize her career for decades to come.

Schildkret responds two weeks later with a letter that concludes:

Her memoir presents a powerful account of the emotions stirred by working with the contents of the library from a place that she had called home and knowing what had happened to the people she’d called friends as the Nazis destroyed the city.

Eventually, with the combined effort of many individuals in several countries, over 90,000 items would be returned to the YIVO.  Seymour Pomrenze who had been pivotal in streamlining systems at the depot would be brought back to help shepherd the return of these items.  In 1998, Pomrenze shared his personal reminiscences of his experience with the Offenbach Archival Depot and the depot’s considerable achievements restituting and distributing millions of Nazi-looted materials including the YIVO library.

Mr. Horne, the person with whom we are taking this walk through history, would wrap up his tenure at Offenbach in 1948 though files show that he continued to support depot activities until its closure.  In the Cold War world, he would, strangely enough, continue to work with books and even return to his earlier interests in music and photography as he embarked upon a new journey.  One world war had ended. A new type of world war had begun. A new weapon in that war was the exchange of culture and what better place to share all that made up culture — from art to music to literature — than in a library.

More to follow …

Sources and Additional Readings

Cultural Plunder by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR)

What Became of the Jewish Books? (New Yorker, February 2014)

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum — Offenbach Archival Depot

Pomrenze Personal Reminiscence about Offenbach

Mapping the Offenbach Archival Depot

Returning Looted European Library Collections

YIVO Digital Archive on Jewish Life in Poland

YIVO Institute

From That Place and Time: A Memoir, 1938-1947 by Lucy S. Davidowicz and Professor Nancy Sinkoff

Article – Dutch Jewish Ex-Libris Found among Looted Books in the Offenbach Archival Depot (1946) by F. J. Hoogewoud

1939 Photo of Lucy Schildkret in Vilna



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Read previous Interludes here.

WWII: Europe: France; “Into the Jaws of Death — U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire”, circa 1944-06-06, by Robert F. Sargent

WWII: Europe: France; “Into the Jaws of Death — U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire”, circa 1944-06-06, by Robert F. Sargent

On June 6, 1944, the Western Allies launched the invasion of Normandy.  It would prove to be a pivotal point in the course of the war as soldiers, by air, land and sea, fought to liberate France from Germany.  Troops landed at beaches all along the northern coast.  As part of the larger strategy, four port cities were identified for capture to facilitate future entrance of Allied troops.  One of these port cities was Le Havre.  Secured in September 1944, the city would then be turned into a major entry and exit point for military personnel and equipment needed at the front.

[Abandoned boy holding a stuffed toy animal amid ruins following German aerial bombing of London, by Toni Frissell, 1945

Abandoned boy holding a stuffed toy animal amid ruins following German aerial bombing of London, by Toni Frissell, 1945

By the end of 1944, the Germans were in retreat.  While an Allied victory was in sight, much of Europe lay in waste.

Polish kid in the ruins of Warsaw, September 1939, by Julien Bryan

Polish kid in the ruins of Warsaw, by Julien Bryan

Caen, 1944

Caen, France

As a new year dawned, the Allies were pressing hard and in great need of reinforcements. Fresh troops were crossing the English Channel into Le Havre.

40 and 8 Boxcar

40 and 8 Boxcar (in this image from World War I)

There they could be transported inland, either by rail or by road, to staging camps where men and machines were made ready for action at the front. On January 17, 1945, in Le Havre, Joseph A. Horne, with the men of the 929th Heavy Automotive Maintenance Company, was supposed to board troop train 2980.  The train was to make its way to a French village bordering one of the largest of the military staging areas, Camp Lucky Strike.  Indeed, the train’s 45 wooden cars, called Forty and Eights, were filled with U.S. personnel including men from the 553rd Ambulance Company, 656th Quarterhead Railway Company, 4th Squad of the 2nd Maintenance Platoon and 1471st Engineers.  And, indeed, the train did depart.  What happened next has been called an avoidable tragedy.

For much of its journey, the train crawled along, sometimes at 10 miles per hour, en route to the train station in St. Valery-en-Caux.  But then something happened. The train picked up speed.  With worn out brakes and no speedometer, there was little the engineer could do.  Packed tight into the cars and unaware of events, the military personnel were at first overjoyed to be moving faster.  They did not know the brakes had failed. The train crashed into the St. Valery railway station. Cars crumpled, piling mountain high.  The reports of the carnage were gruesome. At least 87 people were killed and 150 injured.

Horne and the men of the 929th were not on the train due to “some error on the part of an officer, as a result we rode the 40 miles from Le Havre to Lucky Strike in open trucks.”  Later Horne would take photos of the wreckage.  How do we know that? Because he says so in the caption notes he wrote that accompany the roughly 200 photos he took between 1945-1946 as he served in Germany and France.

His detailed notes, along with prints and negatives, are in a box in the Library of Congress.  They have yet to be digitized. Why he was taking photos with the 929th remains unclear.  Further research is needed.  After having worked as a photographer with the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, perhaps the military or some other arm of the federal government was continuing to utilize his photographic skill.

In any case, photocopies of at least 80 of the photos he took show images taken from January through at least June 1945 of the men of 929th at work, at play, and interacting with locals in France and Germany and of refugees, or “displaced persons”, from several other countries.  They show a war-ravaged European landscape, and they also capture the persevering spirit of people in the midst of war.

Russian girls who work in the kitchen of the 929th, by J. A. Horne

Russian girls who work in the kitchen of the 929th, by J. A. Horne

Former officer in the Russian army, captured by the Germans, and now attached to the Displaced Persons Unit of the 929th, by J.A. Honre

Former officer in the Russian army, captured by the Germans, and now attached to the Displaced Persons Unit of the 929th, by J.A. Horne

Frankfurt Vicinity, Germany. French family on Highway 8 returning home, by J. A. Horne

Frankfurt Vicinity, Germany. French family on Highway 8 returning home, by J. A. Horne

In his notes he describes taking photos from a moving train as the 929th travelled from Camp Lucky Strike to Verdun.  He describes holes in the sheet metal roof of a 929th shop caused by an air attack, and burned out tanks lined up to be salvaged near the shop area.  He describes a local elder, or burgermeister, in a German town pointing out the architectural highlights and history of his home.   The man refused to be photographed but he guided Horne around his city directing his photography.  Horne’s  caption notes, which are quite extensive, end with this statement:  “Other captions on back of prints.  Sorry I can’t do a good job on these captions.  There just isn’t time.”  The notes end around May 1945.

Around this time, the war is effectively ending in Europe.  The final battles are taking place, and soon Germany will surrender to the Western Allies and the Soviet Union.  And as German labor camps are secured, the full horror of the war comes to light.

Buchenwald Corpses, 1945

Buchenwald Corpses, 1945

What happens to Horne over the next six to twelve months is unclear.  He later summarizes that period of his enlistment as serving as an education officer.  Somehow, at some point, he comes into contact with the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Unit, the men and women tasked with recovering, preserving and eventually restituting the world’s great art, including the paintings, books and spiritual items that had belonged to the Jewish families of Europe.  By June 1946, he would no longer be enlisted in the Army but be employed with the MFA&A as a civilian.

U.S. soldier in a bombed church, by Toni Frissell

U.S. soldier in a bombed church, by Toni Frissell

He would be reunited with some of the same colleagues with whom he’d worked at the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information.  He would be called upon to utilize his skills with language, especially German, his understanding of photography, and his experience in engaging with other cultures.  And, as he would later describe to his son, there would be the adventures to be had as former allies became enemies.

Stay tuned for further Interludes in June.


Sources/Further Reading …

About Cigarette Camps

Russell C. Eustice Recalls the Troop Train 2980 Tragedy at St. Valery-en-Caux During World War II

The WWII 300th Combat Engineers  553rd Ambulance Company

Area Soldier Survived World War II Train Disaster

More about the picture of the Polish boy in the Warsaw Ruins 

More about photographer Toni Frissell and Women at the Front

More about the Monuments Men

Introduction to the Holocaust

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