Holdings Evacuated to Poland

Some of the holdings of the Prussian collections were evacuated during the Second World War to German areas that now belong to Poland. The Foundation still claims ownership of these cultural assets.

Historical photograph of books being relocated from the Staatsbibliothek

From the beginning of the Second World War, the holdings of the Staatsbibliothek were relocated to various sites in the German Reich for their protection. Photograph from 1943. © bpk / Regina Nowak

Evacuations to Protect against Wartime Damage

During the Second World War, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) and the Preussische Staatsbibliothek (Prussian State Library) evacuated many of their holdings to sites outside Berlin. This was to protect them from Allied air raids. Numerous evacuation sites in the eastern parts of what was then Germany became part of Poland after the war had ended. Hence some of the evacuated collections ended up in Poland’s possession.

Different Legal Viewpoints on Ownership

The Polish side takes the view that the transfer of sovereignty over the territory made all of the cultural assets stored there Polish property. According to the German view of the law, these holdings still belong to the institutions that evacuated them. Both countries have been negotiating the issue of return on the government level since 1991.

Return of Individual Holdings and Objects by Both Sides

A number of objects have already been returned to Germany. Based on an agreement with the GDR, Poland returned around 127,000 books on a variety of subjects to German libraries in 1965. Nearly 92,000 of these volumes were from the Staatsbibliothek. Various individual volumes were returned later. In 1977 the Polish head of state handed over six valuable autograph manuscripts to the government of the GDR. In 2000 a sixteenth-century Luther edition was returned to Berlin. For its part, the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) returned the so-called Gold Treasure of Poznań to the Archaeological Museum in Poznań in 1992.

The Berlinka Collection in Kraków

Numerous Polish libraries, among them the university libraries in Łódź, Lublin, and Poznań, still hold printed works form the former Preussische Staatsbibliothek. An extensive collection of particularly valuable autograph manuscripts and other works from the Staatsbibliothek is located in the university library of Kraków, the Biblioteka Jagiellońska. It was once thought lost. Only in the late 1970s did its whereabouts in Kraków become known. Since then it has been known as the Berlinka Collection. Its ownership continues to be debated.

German-Polish Professional Contacts and Projects

As a result of the wartime evacuation and only partial return of holdings, collections that evolved through history have been torn apart. Researching them is only possible with great effort. Making this easier is an important concern of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz. It maintains good professional contacts with Polish cultural institutions that hold displaced cultural assets. The aim is to make these holdings accessible to scholars and the general public. In a joint project, for example, German and Polish professionals produced a catalog of the collection of autograph manuscripts, most of which are in Kraków (the Berlinka Collection).