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.

Tauchnitz 3292 and 3293

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.

Tauchnitz 3293 Title page

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’.

Israel_Zangwill (2)
Israel Zangwill

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’.

Tauchnitz 3293 Bookplate Landauer

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.

Tauchnitz 3293 Owners stamp

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.

Tauchnitz 3293 Library Stamp

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.  Dr. Landuaer had died in 1943 in Tunbridge Wells in Kent, but according to information from the Antiquariat Peter Ibbetsen, the 5000 or so books in his collection were partially restituted to his son, Dr. Adolf Landauer, and then sold to the antiquarian book trade.

One way or another this book and various others ended up in the care of a British bookdealer, from whom I bought them a few years ago.  Another phase in its life has begun. Who knows what other adventures may lie ahead of it?

Posted on January 21, 2016, in Books and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. This article says that Georg Landauer had died in 1943 in Tunbridge Wells in Kent.

    However this other article, and a number of other internet refs, all say that he died in 1954, apparently in the United States.

  2. Hi Ken,

    This confused me for a long time. There are two people called Georg Landauer, both Jewish, both well-known in their time, and both had to emigrate in the 1930s.

    The first of these, the one you have identified, was German (born 1895 in Cologne, died 1954 in New York). He lived in Berlin, where he was prominent in the movement to resettle German Jews to Palestine. He emigrated himself to Palestine in 1934 and later to the United States. At first I thought this was the previous owner of the books I have. But it didn’t quite fit. The address in the books is in Vienna and I couldn’t find any evidence of this Georg Landauer having lived in Vienna. Also he seemed quite young to be the owner of a book that came out in 1898.

    I eventually found the other Georg Landauer, who was Austrian (born 1863 in Baden, near Vienna, died 1943 in Tunbridge Wells). Most of the information I found on him is in a book called ‘Traumzeit für Millionäre’ by Roman Sandgruber. He fits much better. The book even confirms his address in Schwarzenbergplatz in Vienna, so I’m satisfied this is the right person. It makes much more sense that when he had to emigrate to England in 1938, his books were acquired by the library in Linz.

  3. Thanks for that information!

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