The history of a book
Books have a history that can sometimes be very strange. It’s bound up with the history of their owners, their authors and their publishers and of course with the history of their times. But they don’t always give it up easily. This is part of the story of one book that lived through some of the most turbulent times of recent history – a time when books were banned and burned, but also a time when books were part of a great war of ideas.
At first sight the book is rather drab and uninspiring – a two volume edition of ‘Dreamers of the ghetto’ by Israel Zangwill, bound in a dark cloth binding with plain boards and just the title in gilt on the spine. It’s an edition from 1898 published by Bernhard Tauchnitz in Leipzig, over 100 years old but showing little sign of its age. The volumes would originally have been sold as paperbacks and then privately bound. Tauchnitz editions, in both paperback and bound copies were a common sight in continental Europe over a period of 100 years, roughly from 1840 to 1940.
Israel Zangwill, a British Jew, had made his name as an author a few years earlier with the publication of ‘Children of the ghetto’ in 1892. That had been an instant success in Britain and in the US, although unusually it didn’t appear in a Tauchnitz Edition. So ‘Dreamers of the ghetto’ was the first of Zangwill’s works to be published by Tauchnitz, followed later by ‘Ghetto comedies’ in 1907 and ‘Ghetto tragedies’ in 1908.
Zangwill was a political activist and initially an advocate of Zionism, although he later became one of the main supporters of territorialism, the movement that called for a Jewish territory that was not necessarily in Palestine. He was also a supporter of cultural integration and popularised, if not invented, the phrase ‘The melting pot’, when he wrote a play with that name about the absorption of immigrants into American culture. According to his entry on the Jewish Virtual Library, he was ‘probably the best known Jew in the English-speaking world at the start of the twentieth century’.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that the Tauchnitz Edition of ‘Dreamers of the ghetto’ should have been bought by Dr. Georg Landauer (1863 – 1943), who came from a wealthy Jewish banking family in Vienna. It has his bookplate on the front pastedown, with a rather cute picture of a cat and the motto ‘Ganz oder gar nicht’, which roughly translates as ‘All, or nothing at all’.
Vienna at this time was one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, under the Emperor Franz Josef. Dr. Landauer appears in a list of the 929 richest people in Vienna in 1910, published in a recent book, ‘Traumzeit für Millionäre’. But the good times were not to last. The first world war led to the break-up of the empire and there were other clouds on the horizon for Jewish families. Dr. Landauer converted to Catholicism in 1920, but it was not enough to save him. After the Anschluss in 1938 he was arrested and his property confiscated under the Aryanisation programme. He was held for two days before being allowed to emigrate to Britain, but he had to leave his books and other property behind.
The next evidence of ownership is a stamp on the reverse of the title page in each volume for the Studienbibliothek Linz, showing the eagle emblem used by the Nazi party. After the Anschluss, the National Socialist Walter Luegmayer was appointed as Director of the Linz Library and it’s known that many collections of books were forcibly acquired.
Perhaps more puzzling is why a book like this, essentially celebrating Jewish culture, should have been preserved in a library under Nazi control. This was the era of banned lists, banned authors and book burnings. Did it survive simply because the library didn’t realise what it was about, perhaps because they couldn’t read English and had never heard of Israel Zangwill (‘probably the best known Jew in the English-speaking world at the start of the twentieth century’ – see above!). Or was it perhaps saved by a subversive librarian, whose respect for books was greater than for his or her political masters?
After the war the Annual Report of the library refers to the gradual return of many foreign book collections that had been acquired by confiscation. Was this book returned, and if so to whom? Landuaer had died in 1943 in Tunbridge Wells in Kent. Was it returned to someone else in the family or did it remain in the library? There is no cancellation stamp to show it was sold from the library’s collection, so it may well have been returned.
One way or another it eventually ended up in the care of a British bookdealer, from whom I bought it a few years ago. What happened to it in the meantime we can probably never know, although if any member of the Landauer family feels they may still have a claim to it, I’d be happy to hear from them.