Dr Wiener’s Library
Dr Alfred Wiener (1885-1964) was born in Potsdam near Berlin. An academic who studied Oriental languages and Arabic literature, Wiener spent time in the Middle East prior to, during and after the First World War, in which he served as a soldier in the German Army. After the war, he became concerned about the rise in antisemitism in Germany. Wiener campaigned against extreme right-wing politicians who sought to blame Germany’s defeat on the Jews.
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The Wiener Library
The Wiener Holocaust Library was founded in Amsterdam in 1934 by Dr Alfred Wiener, a German-Jewish anti-Nazi activist and campaigner against antisemitism. Wiener fled Germany shortly after the Nazi Party came to power.
In Amsterdam, Wiener’s organisation, then known as the Jewish Central Information Office, gathered evidence and information about the situation in Nazi Germany and the position of the Jewish community there.
Alfred Wiener moved his institution to London in 1939, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. It opened its doors in Manchester Square in London on 1 September 1939. During the war, the organisation became known as Dr Wiener’s Library.
Today, the Library continues to build on Alfred Wiener’s work. We hold one of the world’s largest and oldest collections of books, documents, photographs and archival material on the Nazi era, the Holocaust and antisemitism. We use our collections to educate and inform people about the Holocaust. Our archives are available to researchers, family historians, relatives of victims and survivors and all those who are interested in the study of fascism and genocide.
The Library’s Collections
Our growing collection includes an original copy of documents from the Nuremberg Trials, as well as Nazi documents, material relating to antisemitism in Germany and collections of papers of Jewish refugees who came to Britain in the 1930s and 1940s.
Our family collections build a picture of Jewish life from the mid-nineteenth-century century to the present day. The collections were donated primarily by Jewish refugees who came to Britain with their families.
This Red Cross letter was sent from Alice Fink, a Kindertransport refugee fostered in London, to her family in Germany in 1942. On the reverse is her father’s reply, the final communication she was to receive before his deportation and murder.
The Library holds over 20,000 photographs and pictures. These are an important visual resource documenting prejudice and the Holocaust as well as daily life. Over half the collection is now available in digital format.
Ludwig Neumann was photographed after his imprisonment in Dachau in 1938. Neumann was a German Jew and owner of the Neumann & Mendel clothing factory in Essen. Neumann’s business was taken away from him by the Nazis and transferred to a pro-Nazi owner.
He was imprisoned following Kristallnacht, the Nazi-orchestrated attack on the Jewish communities of Germany and Austria in 1938.
The International Tracing Service Archive
The International Tracing Service (ITS) archive at the Library is a digital collection of over 30 million documents relating to the Second World War and the Holocaust. The Library is the only point of access in the UK. Its original purpose was to help trace individual Holocaust victims who had disappeared during the war – a role it still fulfills today, as well as being a valuable scholarly resource. The Library has a dedicated team of researchers to undertake research inquiries for the public and academics.
This is a copy of the register of prisoners from the Mauthausen concentration camp. This page relates to prisoners registered in March 1945.
The Origins of the Library
After completing his First World War military service, Alfred Wiener joined the Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens (Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith) in Berlin.
The Centralverein worked to combat the idea that German Jews could never be German citizens. Its members emphasized that they were Germans irrespective of their religion, and were fully committed to the new German nation. They pointed to the large number of German Jewish volunteers for combat service during the First World War. An estimated 100,000 Jewish soldiers fought in the German Army, of whom 12,000 perished.
Post-War Antisemitism in Germany
Social and political chaos followed the German surrender of 1918. Ex-servicemen of the Freikorps and extreme right-wing German politicians regarded the Treaty of Versailles as a betrayal of the German Army. The myths that underpinned this false idea of betrayal drew heavily on antisemitic ideas of nineteenth-century German nationalism that portrayed the Jews as a foreign, malevolent influence deliberately undermining Germany.
Vor Pogromen? was Dr Alfred Wiener’s first publication. He wrote this pamphlet just a year after returning to Germany after serving in the First World War.
His perception of the dangers inherent in the situation in post-war Germany was acute and his opening words “a mighty antisemitic flood has broken over our heads…” are chilling.
Alfred Wiener Against the Rise of the Nazis
In early 1919 in Munich, a new political party was founded, the German Workers Party. It was later named the National Socialist German Workers Party – NSDAP – and became known as the Nazi Party.
The party was nationalistic and antisemitic and opposed to the peace settlement imposed on Germany after the First World War. Under Adolf Hitler’s leadership from 1921, the party sought to overturn democracy in Germany and expand Germany’s borders.
In 1923, the Party launched a failed attempt to seize power in Germany during the Munich Putsch. In the mid-1920s, the Party had very little public support.
Increased political and financial stability and economic growth from 1924 reduced the appeal of extremism among the German electorate, but the threat of antisemitism remained. In 1928, the Centralverein, at the urging of Alfred Wiener, set up an organisation, Büro Wilhelmstrasse, to document Nazi-antisemitic activities and publish anti-Nazi material.
Wiener’s activities within the Büro became ever more urgent as the impact of the Great Depression hit Germany from 1929. Weimer Germany’s fragile democracy came under increasing strain in the face of mass unemployment and a 40% reduction in the size of the economy. In this context, the Nazis were able to capitalise on people’s discontentment with the economic and political situation. The Party grew into a mass movement, and by 1932, was the largest party in the Reichstag, the German parliament.
Alfred Wiener’s Work in the 1930s
In March 1933, immediately after Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany, the Nazis raided the offices of the Centralverein. This marked the beginning of a concerted campaign against the organisation, which resulted in the intimidation, and imprisonment of numerous members. Realizing this his position, as a prominent Jewish critic of the new regime was untenable, Wiener immigrated to Holland, founding the Jewish Central Information Office (JCIO) in Amsterdam in 1934.
While in Amsterdam, Alfred Wiener and the JCIO attempted to draw attention to the increasing persecution of Jews under the Nazis.
The Nuremberg Laws
Enacted on 15 September 1935, the Nuremberg Laws directly targeted the citizenship rights of German Jews and Roma.
It was formed of two pieces of legislation: the ‘Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour’ banned marriage and physical relations between ‘Aryan’ and Jewish Germans, and the ‘Reich Citizenship Law’ which removed citizenship from German Jews, Roma and other minorities, including Black people.
The 1936 Berlin Olympic Games
The 1936 Olympics brought a temporary halt to the most overt antisemitism in Germany. With the eyes of the world on Germany, the Nazis sought to avoid strong international condemnation by pausing public persecution and relaxing some of the nation’s antisemitic laws.
After the Olympics, the persecution of Jews and Roma restarted.
The 9 and 10 November 1938, saw a significant escalation of the Nazi Party’s persecution of Jews during a nationwide orchestrated attack on the Jewish communities of Germany and Austria during Kristallnacht. More than 200 synagogues were destroyed, Jewish homes and businesses were attacked and thousands of Jews were assaulted on the streets. Around 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps, and hundreds of people were murdered.
Alfred Wiener and the JCIO immediately began gathering as many first-hand testimonies as they could to build up a body of evidence about this crime. The JCIO began to publish this material, and this added to the growing awareness internationally of the Nazis’ persecution of Jews.
The Library has made hundreds of these early eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust available via the Pogrom: November 1938. Testimonies from Kristallnacht digital resource.
Dr Wiener’s Library and the Holocaust
The German invasion of Poland in August 1939 saw the intensification of the Nazi Party’s policies of persecution. Jews and Roma faced increasing restrictions and were forced to live in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.
The Nazis’ extended their camp system throughout occupied Poland and elsewhere. During the German invasion of the Soviet Union from June 1941, special SS detachments – Einsatzgruppen – carried out the mass murder of Jews and others in these areas. The first purpose-built extermination camp, Chełmno, was opened in December 1941.
Ultimately, between 1941 and 1945, the Nazis and their collaborators in targeted campaigns of genocide murdered around six million Jews and as many as 500,000 Roma and Sinti.
From autumn 1941, the Nazis established a network of extermination camps across the occupied territories, centred largely in occupied Poland. Some camps, such as the huge complex at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where over 1.1 million prisoners were killed, combined facilities for mass murder with a forced labour camp.
2.7 million people were murdered in the dedicated extermination camps of Auschwitz II Birkenau, Belzec, Chełmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka. In Chełmno, up to 200,000 people were murdered with only seven known survivors.
Dr Wiener’s Library in London
During the war, the JCIO, now in London was increasingly referred to as Dr Wiener’s Library and was funded by the British government.
The organisation worked to gather evidence about the persecution, and later mass murder, of Jews in Nazi Germany and German-occupied Europe.
The Wiener Family
The genocide directly affected the Library: a number of JCIO staff members were killed during the Holocaust, and Alfred Wiener’s wife and daughters remained in the Netherlands from where they were eventually deported to concentration camps.
When deportations of Dutch Jews began in July 1942, Ruth Wiener, along with her younger sisters and mother, attempted to go into hiding. They were eventually discovered and deported to Westerbork transit camp. Ruth and her sisters survived the war, being liberated in a rare prisoner exchange from Bergen-Belsen in January 1945, but Margarethe, Alfred Wiener’s wife, died one day after her liberation.
In 2019, the Library’s The Holocaust Explained Project Coordinator wrote a blog detailing Ruth Wiener’s experiences during the Holocaust based on the family’s collections in our archive.
The Wiener Library after the Second World War
In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, The Wiener Library was closely involved in gathering evidence about the Holocaust and assisted with the prosecution of German war criminals.
The Library contributed significantly to the study of the Holocaust. The Wiener Library Bulletin, first published in 1946, was one of the earliest publications to bring Holocaust studies into the academic sphere. The Library supported the writing and publication of early seminal research into the Holocaust and the Nazis, including the Library’s Head of Research Eva Reichmann’s study of Nazi ideology, Hostages of Civilisation (1950).
Eyewitness Accounts of the Holocaust
Among the most remarkable of the Library’s research projects was the collection of eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust from witnesses and survivors across Europe.
From the first testimony issued in May 1945, that of a man who had been liberated from Auschwitz, the project ran officially until the mid-1960s and gathered over 1,200 individual accounts.
In 2021, the Library launched Testifying to the Truth, a digital resource that allows users to explore some of these accounts. This marks the first time these testimonies have been translated and made accessible online.
The Library’s collections continued to grow, most recently with the acquisition of substantial collections of material on Jewish refugees from Nazism who came to Britain and documentary evidence of other genocides, such as in Darfur.
The Wiener Holocaust Library Today
The Wiener Holocaust Library continues to be Britain’s foremost centre for the study of the Holocaust and genocide, and one of the world’s leading collections of material relating to the Nazi era. The Library’s collections are continually growing.
The Wiener Holocaust Library Today
The Library continues to collect documents and books relating to the Nazi era and the Holocaust. Every year, we receive many collections of papers of Jewish refugees who came to Britain in the 1930s and 1940s. Our ongoing mission is to make these collections as accessible as possible for academic and family research, to engage future generations in the study of the Holocaust and to serve as a living memorial to the evils of the past.
Thinking of donating family papers?
If you are looking for a permanent home for original family papers and photographs documenting the experiences of refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe, consider entrusting them to us. We are still actively collecting documents, correspondence, photographs and ephemera (contemporary leaflets, programmes, publications etc), not only from the Nazi period but also from earlier eras before the persecution.
We can offer a safe and secure environment, archive conservation, cataloguing, and an invigilated reading room for our visitors to consult the material. Find out more.
Dr Wiener’s Library
Exhibition Type: Online Exhibition