Inside The Wiener Library’s New Home & Exhibition Space

In anticipation of Holocaust Memorial Day on Friday 27 January, we went to visit the new home of the Wiener Library, the world’s oldest Holocaust Memorial Institution, in Russell Square.

The library first made a home in London in 1939. It lived in Manchester Square until the 1950 when it moved to Devonshire Street. The new building at 29 Russell Square opened to the public on 1 December 2011, with storage space in the basement, an elegant reading room on the first floor and — for the first time in its history — an exhibition space on the ground floor.

The library’s first public display, ‘A is for Adolf: Teaching German Children Nazi Values’ is fascinating and disturbing. It comprises a collection of children’s books, games and toys covered in swastikas, perpetuating the Aryan racial ideal, demonising Jews and celebrating the Führer. The board game, ‘Juden Raus’ (Jew’s Out), illustrated above, is a prime — and rare — example.

Once you’re seen the exhibition, you’ll want to visit the Wolfson Reading Room. Around 6,500 books are available to peruse from the shelf as well as the full library catalogue. The library is used a great deal by students, researchers and historians but also by people trying to trace members of their family.

The Wiener Library collection is extensive and still being added to. Treated to a tour of the basement stores, Development Director Bridget McGing showed us a copy of Mein Kampf signed in pencil by Hitler. A black and white snapshot above the autograph indicates ‘Hitler’ and ‘Karen’, an English tourist getting her book signed. A handwritten note explains that the event happened a day before Karen and her husband were evacuated from Germany as war broke out. From the periodicals we were gobsmacked by a glossy magazine for SS ‘old boys’, the latest edition from 2011.

In the document archive, the beautifully written notebooks of Philipp Manes (pictured) fill one box of hundreds, all stuffed with relics and memoirs of time spent in concentration camps or in exile. A dip into the photo archives reveal some beautiful images of the ‘Bulldogs Bank’ children – orphan survivors of the Holocaust brought to Britain after the war — used to raise funds for their care. Some still bear handwritten captions, carefully constructed to persuade you part with with your money.

There’s a real possibility that a brief, curious drop-in to the Wiener Library may lead you to spending many hours investigating these incredible, sobering, moving and important collections.

The library runs a programme of public events. These are coming up in the next few days:

Speak Up, Speak Out: The 1942 UN Declaration on the Persecution of the Jews – A Special Lecture by Dr Dan Plesch to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on Thursday 26 January 2012 at 6.30pm (free).

The Unspeakable Past? West German Conversations about Nazi War Crimes since 1945 – A lunchtime talk by Dr Caroline Sharples to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2012 on Friday 27 January 2012 at 1pm (free).

Open Day: Welcome to the New Home of The Wiener Library on Sunday 29 January from 12-4pm (free but please reserve a place).

‘A is for Adolf’ is a free exhibition, open Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm, Tuesday, 10am to 7.30pm until 6 March. Ring the buzzer for access – don’t be put off by the closed doors!

Access to the reading room is free and open to all (although on first visit ID is required) and the reading room is open on weekdays from 10am to 5pm, and till 7.30pm on Tuesdays. If you wish to borrow books you must become a member.

Visit Trafalgar Square today until 7pm to sign the Speak Up, Speak Out Pledge for HMD 2012 on a series of newly created pledge pillars, you – the general public – will be committing to challenging the language of hatred.

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Article by Lindsey Clarke | 3,259 Articles | View Profile