The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek has been searching its holdings for Nazi loot since 2003. The former owners had been bereft of their property due to the persecution by the National Socialists or had to leave it upon deportation, flight or emigration or sell it far below its actual value.
In a first project, the acquisitions between 1933 and 1945 were examined. During this period, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek increased its holdings by more than 65,000 books. Since the acquisition registers were destroyed by fire in a bombing raid, the books themselves need to be searched for indications of possible previous owners. Such clues can be handwritten ownership entries, exlibris, stamps or entries by librarians.
Stolen books came to the library also after the end of the war, for example through purchase from antiquarian book traders, donations or swap transactions. In 1948, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek had been given around 36,000 titles from the library of the former NS education center Sonthofen.
When the suspicion of a persecution-related dispossession has been confirmed and the heirs could be identified, the books are returned with as little red tape as possible. Since 2006 a total of 574 volumes could be restituted to 21 persons or institutions. The works were digitized, with their entries in the library catalogue being retained and complemented by information about the books’ history, also serving as reminders of the injustice committed.
The virtual exhibition presents information about the working methods of provenance research and about the research projects. Moreover, the short film "The case of Alexander Dünkelsbühler" integrated into the exhibition retraces the individual steps of a restitution – from finding the book to the search for the heir(s) and up to the book's restoration.
The search projects for Nazi loot at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek have been funded by the German Lost Art Foundation since 2013.