The Book Thieves

The Book Thieves

The Nazi Looting of Europe's Libraries and the Race to Return A Literary Inheritance

Book - 2017
Average Rating:
Rate this:
By turns fascinating, harrowing, yet ultimately uplifting, this is the story of the Nazis' systematic pillaging of Europe's libraries, and the heroic efforts of the few librarians now working to return the stolen books to their owners.In the wake of one of History's most expansive cultural crimes, Anders Rydell shows just how much a single book can mean to those who own it.
Publisher: New York : Viking, [2017]
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9780735221222
Branch Call Number: 940.531 Ryd
Characteristics: xiii, 352 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Jul 16, 2018

While many are familiar with the Nazi looting of art during World War II, fewer are aware of the wholesale plundering of libraries -- national, city, and private. Although Jewish materials were given high priority, other targeted groups included non-Nazi political parties, Freemasons, Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses, and others. The spoils were fought over by two institutions, the ERR and the RSHA. The ERR was primarily interested in historically valuable works for a planned series of 10 high schools that would focus on a specific research area in the Third Reich. The RSHA was primarily interested in creating an ideology and philosophy for National Socialism that would outlive Adolf Hitler and justify the Nazis' actions to future generations. Competition between these two entities resulted in millions of books and archives being broken apart. Materials not wanted by either organization were distributed to libraries and other organizations throughout the Reich. The book alternates between the present day as librarians and other researchers try to piece together the past and the Nazi years when the destruction occurred. Henning Koch skillfully translated this book from the original German to make it a compelling story in English.

Jun 09, 2018

The image of Nazis burning books is a striking and pervasive one, because of course it is based in the truth of the pyres that were made in public squares across Germany as the Third Reich rose to power. But in The Book Thieves, Anders Rydell tackles and attempts to recontextualize that image by uncovering the extent to which the Nazis were collectors of stolen literature—not just of valuable manuscripts as you might already be familiar with from Monuments Men—but of books of all types, from all across Europe. Rydell, a Swedish journalist, follows the trail of the pillagers from Berlin to Amsterdam and Paris, and beyond to Vilnius and Thessaloniki, demonstrating the far reach of the Nazi looters. Entire libraries disappeared, sometimes untraceably, into the mists of the war. Rydell chronicles the actors who seized and dispersed the libraries, as well as the modern librarians who now face the unenviable task of uncovering and facing up to the origins of their collections.

Read my full review at Required Reading:

Apr 04, 2018

Almost overwhelming. The numbers are staggering -both in terms of the books and the people. Thoughtful and soul-piercing insights into why it was so important for The Nazi’s (and later the Russians) to collect and control the books and other printed material of the Jews. If you control the printed word, you control history. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand how fragile freedom can be. I would like to read his other book (The Looters), which is about the art which was taken by the Nazi’s, but I don’t find it in English. Apparently, there is to be a third book in this series, but I am not sure what that will be about.

Jun 05, 2017

"The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe's Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance" by Anders Rydell was an excellent history on a subject I hadn't considered before but so obviously had to have happened. It wasn't just art that the Nazi's pilfered.


Add a Quote
Jul 16, 2018

"But even the Nazis realized that if there was something that gave more power than merely destroying the word, it was owning and controlling it. There was power in books. Words could act as weapons, resounding long after the rumbling of the artillery had stopped. They are weapons not only as propaganda, but also, in the form of memories. Whoever owns the world has the power to not only interpret it, but also to write history."

Jun 09, 2018

The image of Nazis as anti-intellectual cultural vandals has been persistent, possibly to some degree because it is easy to comprehend, and possibly because we would like to see literature and the written word as fundamentally good. But even the Nazis realized that if there was something that gave more power than merely destroying the word, it was owning and controlling it. There was a power in books.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at VPL

To Top