1999
The Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw and the
Institute of Contemporary History and Wiener Library
for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide, London

With a clarity of vision [they have] preserved and disseminated the unique historical materials documenting the centuries of vibrant Jewish life in Germany and Poland and the destruction of European Jewry during the Shoah.


 Alfred Wiener at his desk at the Library in Manchester Square, London, UK, in 1953.

Alfred Wiener at his desk at the Library in Manchester Square, London, UK, in 1953.

 Emanuel Ringelblum.   

Emanuel Ringelblum.

 

The Holocaust saw the murder of nearly six million Jews throughout Europe. During that time of war and beyond, two organizations were created to collect information, documents, photographs—anything that contributed to telling the stories and history of European Jewry. The Institute of Contemporary History and Weiner Library and the Jewish Historical Institute are dedicated to preserving their collections and making them available to the public. 

In 1933, Alfred Wiener left Germany for Amsterdam to escape the Nazis. There he formed the Jewish Central Information Office to gather and distribute information about Nazi activity in Germany. Wiener moved the collection to Manchester Square in London in 1939, allowing his holdings to be utilized by the British government as a source of intelligence on the German situation. The collection grew and became known as “Dr. Wiener’s Library;” it also evolved after the Second World War into a place for academic study of the Holocaust. The Library later provided documents to help the United Nations War Crimes Commission prosecute war criminals, published a bulletin on a range of topics, and began to collect eyewitness accounts of the Second World War to add to the collection. As funding was always an issue, it was agreed that the Wiener Library would move to Tel Aviv, but when money came through to transfer materials to microfilm, most of the holdings stayed in London, with the books going to Israel. Today, housing over a million items such as newspaper clippings, photos, and written works both published and unpublished, the Wiener Library is a leading institution for both scholars and the general public seeking information on the Nazis and the Holocaust. There is a branch of the library in the Jewish Museum in Berlin with duplicate copies of some of the microfilm collection in London. 

While the Wiener Library covers a wider scope of the Nazis, the Second World War, and the Holocaust, the Jewish Historical Institute focuses on the Jewish population and history in Poland. Its own history goes back to 1929, when the Jewish Historical Commission in Warsaw was established. Emanuel Ringelblum (in whose memory the Jewish Historical Institute is officially named) was instrumental in its creation, which included amassing an important collection of documents from the Warsaw Ghetto that were hidden in milkcans and retrieved after the war, now known as the Ringelblum Archive. In 1944, the Historical Commission became the Central Jewish Historical Commission, which in turn became the Jewish Historical Institute in 1947. It is a research institute for academic study and distribution of information about Polish Jewry.

The Jewish Historical Institute focuses on the whole of Jewish life, history, and culture in Poland. Its collections include photographs, art works, books, and journals, as well as an extensive collection of materials, reports, memoirs, and personal accounts of the Holocaust from survivors, as well as the Ringelblum Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto, to document the Second World War era. 

Together, the Wiener Library and the Jewish Historical Institute serve to keep alive the memories of Jewish history and culture in Europe. They each provide a place for all to visit and study the heritage of European Jewry, and the destruction caused by the Holocaust. Their collections are always growing to provide as much information as possible to all who wish to learn about that tragic era. 

 


1999 Roger E. Joseph Prize acceptance speech
by Professor David Cesarani, then Director of the Wiener Library, London

 Professor David Cesarani OBE is an English historian who specialises in Jewish history, especially the Holocaust. He holds the  Research Chair in History at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Professor David Cesarani OBE is an English historian who specialises in Jewish history, especially the Holocaust. He holds the Research Chair in History at Royal Holloway, University of London.

 

 

 

It is with enormous pride and honour that I accept the Roger E Joseph Prize on behalf of the Institute of Contemporary History and Wiener Library. How fitting that this mark of international recognition should be bestowed upon the Library in the very year that marks the 60th anniversary of its foundation in London.

The prize established by Burton Joseph and Betty Greenberg is intended to honour both individuals and organisations who have fought to improve the moral and civic environment: and in this case it honours both. I stand here as a representative of the Library and the third director in line from Dr. Wiener himself. I feel humbled accepting a prize which celebrates 60 years of unique work in bringing the past to the service of the future.

For that is the remit of the Library. To collect documents, testimony, photographs and scholarly works that chronicle the Nazi years and the Jewish civilisation in Central Europe which the Nazis destroyed. But the Library's mission is not to acquire for the sake of preservation and conservation alone, although that is crucial at a time when memories and artefacts are becoming increasingly fragile. The Library, through the Institute, also pursues an active educational and outreach programme. The collection services students, researchers, scholars, journalists, film makers and exhibition curators who are inquiring into or documenting the Jewish experience and the Holocaust.

Nor does its work stop with the end of Nazism. Sadly the forces that produced Nazism did not perish on 30 April 1945 in the bunker with Hitler.

For more than five decades the Wiener Library has monitored and charted the far right in Europe, the currents of racism and political intolerance that have ebbed and flowed in one country after another. It has amassed an arsenal of information on neo- Nazis, neo-Fascists, white supremacists, and anti-semites that is used daily by legal agencies and the media.

The Library has also played a part in the investigation and prosecution of Nazi-era war criminals who found refuge in Britain. This kind of activity will soon end, but the other work of the Library remains as pressing as ever. In fact it has never been more necessary. Imagine a nail bomb going off in Harlem on a busy Saturday at lunchtime.

Imagine a group of white supremacists calling the police to claim the 'credit' for this vicious attack. Imagine that a week later a similar bomb goes off in Chinatown, followed by another claim of responsibility by a group dedicated to driving Chinese and Koreans out of the USA. Imagine that, amid increasing public jumpiness, a third bomb explodes in a gay bar on Christopher Street killing three people and injuring dozens. This is what happened in London last month.

The first nail bomb was targeted at the Afro-Caribbean community in Brixton. It was followed by a detonation in Brick Lane, heartland of London's Bangladeshi population and, not incidentally, the historic matrix of London's Jewish community. Finally, a third explosion tore apart a pub in Soho, Central London, patronised by the gay community and packed with people—straight and gay—enjoying a Friday afternoon drink on the eve of a holiday weekend.

Thanks to outstanding detective work by the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorism Unit a suspect was arrested a few days later and the bombings have mercifully ceased. The police claim that the arrested man, an engineer aged 22, has no links to organized far-right groups. But was it just coincidence that he attacked Blacks, Asians and Gays? Even if he was acting alone, is it conceivable that he developed this homicidal hate-list from out of thin air? Or was he influenced bv white cower web sites. racist hate literature distributed by mail and on the streets? Was he a member of an, as yet, undisclosed far right group?

My hunch is that he was networked in some way and that he represents the future of the far right much more accurately than the image of the mindless thug giving Nazi salutes during a parade on Hitler's birthday. In most of Europe the far right knows it can never win power by the ballot box. Even in France the once vaunted Front National of Jean Marie Le Pen has collapsed. Will Jorg Hajdar's Freedom Party in Austria last much longer?

Racists know that societies all over the world are embracing multi-culturalism and pluralism with unbounded relish. One result of globalisation is the unparalleled access to the cultures and cuisine's of civilisations from around the world. Diversity has become irresistible.

The men and women who hate difference, for whom Otherness is a source of phobia, cannot stem the tide. But they can hit back. They can wound societies revelling in diversity. They can exact a price on those who respect difference and celebrate the Other. Their desperation and the modern technology of urban warfare make them even more dangerous than old-style Fascists. So how do we stop them?

At one level only police measures and public vigilance can succeed. But at another level education and information are the greatest defense we command. We need to teach young people to respect human and civil rights; to honour that which is distinct in the creed or tradition or culture of other communities; to see Otherness as a source of fascination rather than peril; to develop a curiosity about that which is different and the confidence to explore it; to share common humanity and feel relaxed with particularity.

We can do that through teaching about other countries and religions. We can explain how immigrants helped to build our nations. We can instil in the young an understanding of democracy.

But we can also show where chauvinism, xenophobia, racism, intolerance, and totalitarianism have led in the past.

As the Nazi era recedes and as memories of the Cold War fade, it will become increasingly easy to accept liberal democracy as the norm. There is little danger that far right mass movements or Nazi-style racism will return, but other sorts of intolerance, sometimes clad in the garb of religious fundamentalism, are waxing.

The Wiener Library exists to remind people how democracy falters and how civil society can descend into barbarism. The shocking material which we harbour is one of the strongest antidotes to intolerance which can be administered to those who have never themselves experienced it or been prone to it, but who might one day become its victims or perpetrators.

Today you have honoured an institution - along with its staff, volunteer workers and lay leaders, past and present—which has become a cornerstone of historical research and civic education in Britain. Just as importantly, through the generosity of the Joseph family, you have strengthened this resource for the defence of freedom and tolerance.

The Wiener Library stands as a memorial to the Jews of Central Europe whose lives were disrupted or destroyed by Nazism. Thanks to the wisdom of its founder and his successors it has turned memory into a powerful force for good. As we bid farewell to a century of war and genocide it is tempting to think that such things will never recur. Of course, the ghastly events in the former Yugoslavia show that they can. But there is a difference.

When the Jews were driven from their homes and massacred the free world did precious little, and what it did do was too small in measure and too late in the day. The world leaders who have sent military forces to counter and we hope reverse the 'ethnic cleansing' in Kosovo are acting, I think, with the example of history before them. They are Schindler's children. One may question the strategy and the tactics of NATO, but the motives for this war are unimpeachable. NATO is giving muscle to the rhetoric 'Nie Wieder'.

For the slogan 'Never Again' to have force people must know what it was that happened that cannot be allowed to happen again, or why what is happening is an abomination and not an aberration that can be tolerated in a far away place about which we know little. This is the mission of the Wiener Library. This is what you have recognised today and in so doing you have strengthened our hand to carry it out. Thank you.


LINKS

The Wiener Library, London
The Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw
An account of Ringelblum and his clandestine organization Oyneg Shabes in Warsaw's Jewish ghetto is given in Samuel. D. Kassow's book Who Will Write Our History?: Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto, published in 2007.