The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek during National Socialism

The records of the Generaldirektion der Bayerischen Staatlichen Bibliotheken (Directorate General of the Bavarian State Libraries) as well as of the State Ministry of Education and Culture and, in particular, the numerous personal logs and private correspondence between the former employees offer deep insights into the procedures at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek between 1933 and 1945. According to this, no department remained untouched by National Socialism.

The seizure of power in 1933

The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek with swastika flagging, 1933 | © BSB/ Image Archive
The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek with swastika flagging, 1933 | © BSB/ Image Archive

As a result, the seizure of power by the National Socialists in Bavaria on 9 March 1933 soon had its effect on the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek as well: On 7 April, the government of the Reich decreed the "Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums" (law for the reconstitution of the civil service). Consequently, the academic librarian Max Stefl (1888 – 1973), the applicant for the middle grade of library service Paul Schumacher and the administrative assistant Marianne Lacher lost their jobs. They were regarded as not politically reliable, since they had made critical statements about National Socialism during political discussions among colleagues. In 1935, the managing librarian Otto Hartig (1876 – 1945) was removed for political reasons to a post at the Staatsbibliothek Bamberg (Bamberg State Library).

The dismissal of Director General Georg Reismüller

In 1935 the Director General Georg Reismüller (1882 – 1936), in office since 1929, was dismissed from his post. He fell victim to an intrigue, which was carried out among others by his deputy Georg Leidinger (1870 – 1945), who aspired to the post of director general. On 23 March, the Political Police arrested Reismüller. As of 1 July 1935, he was temporarily retired. In October, Reismüller was interrogated at the State Ministry for Education and Culture. Subsequently the ministry applied for disciplinary action at the Oberlandesgericht München (provincial high court, Munich). Reismüller was accused of having purchased and processed antinational-socialist writings as well as of having withheld texts in favour of National Socialism from library users. Reismüller fell grievously sick and died soon after in 1936.

Georg Reismüller

Chief library councillor and member of the NSDAP Rudolf Kummer (1896 – 1987) was among the driving forces behind these dismissals. Starting in 1935, he directed the department general for librarianship at the Reich Ministry of Education, Sciences and Public Instruction and managed to influence from this post the composition of staff at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

The personnel policy of the new Director General Buttmann

Rudolf Buttmann, 1936 | © BSB/ Image Archive
Rudolf Buttmann, 1936 | © BSB/ Image Archive

On 1 October 1935, Rudolf Buttmann (1885 – 1947) succeeded Reismüller in the role of director general. Buttmann was an academic librarian trained at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek as well as a long-standing politician in the service of the NSDAP with the membership card number "four". The convinced National Socialist, nonetheless, directed the library according to professional standards. The new director general appointed excellent librarians, Emil Gratzl (1877 – 1957) and Otto Handwerker (1877 – 1947), as his deputies. In the case of promotions, he usually put great store by the qualifications and the entitlement of his staff according to their seniority. In addition, however, his applications always contained statements in merit of the political preference of functionaries and employees.

Buttmann, thus, promoted Heinz Zirnbauer (b. 1902), who jointly with Rudolf Kummer had been in favour of the dismissals of Max Stefl and Georg Reismüller, to a distant post. Taking advantage of the political circumstances, he had him removed to Speyer as director of the Pfälzische Landesbibliothek (Palatinate State Library).

In 1941, Buttmann also displayed unrelenting harshness in his dealings with the unskilled labourer Wilfried Bering, who had taken part in a discussion among colleagues about his personal stance towards the NS regime and towards the progress of the Second World War. Buttmann not only fired Bering without notice but also denounced him for treason with the Geheime Staatspolizei (Secret State Police). A special court trial was convened, at the conclusion of which the Geheime Staatspolizei again arrested Bering. Bering died on 15 January 1945 at the concentration camp Dachau.

Director General Rudolf Buttmann

Use and acquisition since 1933

Adolf Hitler visits the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in 1936 | © BSB/ Image Archive
Adolf Hitler visits the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in 1936 | © BSB/ Image Archive
Annual staff outing of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 1938 | © BSB/ Image Archive
Annual staff outing of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 1938 | © BSB/ Image Archive

The NS regime did not limit its influence to matters of personnel. The terms of use and the scope of acquisitions changed as well. Not every book could be borrowed without restrictions and with the 1938 ordinance banning Jews from German universities, Jewish readers’ access to scholarly libraries was barred as well. The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, same as all other scholarly libraries, had to follow certain rules in terms of the arrangement and loaning of its books: In 1936, the Reichsschrifttumskammer (Reich Literature Chamber) issued a list of harmful and undesirable literature, which was continuously updated. The publications concerned needed to be shelved separately and were only to be presented to users able to prove their political reliability as well as the validity of their scholarly interest.

The NSDAP member and Director General Buttmann, nonetheless, continued to work according professional standards as is also evident in dealing with Jewish users: They continued to have access to the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek beyond the year 1938. After the November pogroms Jews had been denied access for several weeks, but by March 1939 Buttmann had been able to reach an agreement with the Ministry for Education and Culture so that "in principle, proof of the library users’ Aryan descent will not be required." Visitors were only to be asked if they were Jewish in case their behaviour caused offence. Any further measures were at the discretion of the administration. Starting on 15 September 1941, from which date onwards Jews had to display the Star of David, Jewish readers (with a few exceptions) were banned from using the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

Under Buttmann acquisitions continued to be made in accordance with the principles of a scholarly library. Even recent foreign literature critical of National Socialism entered the library’s collections, although these works could not be accessed by readers. When Buttmann introduced a departmental system in 1939 to his library, he also assigned subject areas such as "literature of the NSDAP" and "Jewish question".

After 1933, the library’s acquisition department admitted new booksellers whose owners were known as National Socialists to its circle of suppliers. Nonetheless, they were able to keep the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek as a long-term client only if a new subject area had to be attributed and if efficiency was assured. The acquisitions department maintained business relations with Jewish suppliers until 1936. When these companies were no longer listed in the "Adressbuch des deutschen Buchhandels" (directory of German booksellers), the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek ceased to purchase books from these suppliers.

Second World War and reconstruction

Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, war damage 1945/ 1946 | © BSB/ Image Archive
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, war damage 1945/ 1946 | © BSB/ Image Archive

The outbreak of the Second World War constituted an important watershed in the work of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. From then on, staff was mainly occupied with security measures. In 1941 search started for secure storage facilities outside Munich. In 1942, Buttmann ordered the location directory to be recorded on film and the catalogues to be moved to storage rooms considered relatively fireproof by the Munich building authority. By the time, the library building received its first heavy air-raid damage on 9/ 10 March 1943, ten thousands of manuscripts and incunabula had been moved into safety. Buttmann, however, arranged the rescue of the majority of the book collections rather late. Around one fifth of the entire collections – between 400,000 and 500,000 books – were destroyed by fire and by the firefighting operations. As the result of a second conflagration in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in April 1944, lending and reading room operations finally collapsed. Solely the acquisitions department continued to function.

In 1946 began the reconstruction of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. In 1947 the library staff started once more with the back office administration in the former NSDAP buildings in the Arcisstraße. From 1948, it became once more possible to borrow books. In 1952, the administration and main departments returned to the premises at Ludwigstraße. It took as long to bring back the collections from safe storage. The sorting and shelving was completed by January 1955 – with the exception of newspapers and maps.

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