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The Jewish library of Rome: looted and vanished forever?


NEW YORK, NY – January 18, 2015 – On February 9 at 6:00 pm, Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò, 24 West 12th Street, NYC, free admission, Centro Primo Levi with NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in collaboration with the Jewish Museum of Rome and the Consulate General of Italy present “Unrecovered Memory: The Jewish Communal Library of Rome” a panel discussion on the story of one of the oldest and most precious Jewish libraries in Europe, which was looted by the Nazis in 1943 and disappeared without leaving any trace.

Speakers: Serena Di Nepi, University of Rome La Sapienza and Jewish Museum of Rome, Agnes Peresztegi, Commission for Art Recovery, Alex Karn, Colgate University. Moderated by Natalia Indrimi, Centro Primo Levi.

On September 30th and October 1st 1943, two German officers visited the building of the Jewish Community of Rome. They headed to the third floor where the libraries of the rabbinical academy and that of the Jewish community were held. Both collections were invaluable, the latter being one of the most comprehensive pre-modern Jewish libraries in the world. The communal library was created at the beginning of the 20th century gathering the book collections of various pre-unification Jewish institutions. It contained about 5,000 volumes including incunabula and cinquecentine. The only existing catalogue had been compiled in 1934 by Isaia Sonne and is today the base to reconstruct the history of the library and the profound degree to which it reflected the profile, life, exchanges and practices of the Roman Jewish Community.

For the first time since the early investigations, this panel will inaugurate the study of the content and history of the library, as it emerges through the registers of Inquisition censorship, community chronicles and other historical sources dating back to the 15th century.

The officers examined the books. On October 11th they returned to announce that the libraries would be seized. Two days later the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, the German agency in charge of seizing Jewish books and art, sacked the building and took both libraries. The two libraries were allegedly transferred to Germany aboard three trains: two in October and a third one in December.

In 1946, the Allies located the Rabbinical library near Frankfurt and facilitated its return to Rome in 1950. No trace was ever found of the Jewish communal library of Rome. Although various investigations were conducted, the last as part of the Anselmi Commission on the confiscation of Jewish assets in 1999-2001, its fate remains obscure. Over the years, hypotheses multiplied and at least few volumes emerged in Holland and at the JTS library in New York. Information and testimonies concerning its departure remain vague, research incomplete and many questions are still open. A panel of experts will analyze the history of the investigations and discuss future efforts to recover this treasure.

About the speakers:
Agnes Peresztegi is the Executive Director for the Commission for Art Recovery, Europe (“Commission”) since 2001 and a member of the Advisory Council on Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Cultural Property of the European Shoah Legacy Institute (“ESLI”), and she has been a legal instructor at the Provenance Research Training Program of ESLI, and at the Israeli Forum 2014 of Hashava. Peresztegi is also a member of the “Schwabing Art Trove” Task Force, established to review the artworks found in Cornelius Gurlitt’s home, which may have been confiscated by the Nazis from their owners.

Serena Di Nepi (University of Rome La Sapienza) focuses on social attitudes and religious minorities. She holds a doctorate in early modern history and has published extensively on the cultural and social history of Jews in modern and early modern Italy. Her recent book “Surviving the Ghetto” (Viella, 2013) explores the history and developments of Roman Jewish institutions and society during the ghetto era. Di Nepi also received a degree in archival science and digital preservation. She is part of the editorial board of the “Giornale di storia moderna e contemporanea” ( and of the scientific committee of the National Jewish Museum of Ferrara. Di Nepi is the principal investigator of the University of Rome La Sapienza’s project “Beyond Religious Wars” focusing on the history mediations, transmission and conversions between the Christian and Islamic worlds (15th-19th centuries) and the principal investigator for PSEUDOT (Prejudice and Stereotype European Digital Observatory and Thesaurus).

Alexander Karn is assistant professor of history and a faculty member in the peace and conflict studies program at Colgate University (NY, USA). He is the author of Amending the Past: Europe’s Holocaust Commissions and the Legacies of World War Two (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015). He is also co-editor (with Elazar Barkan) of Taking Wrongs Seriously: Apologies and Reconciliation (Stanford University Press, 2006). His writing has appeared in the Journal of International Affairs, The History Teacher, Law and History Review, and the Austrian History Yearbook. His current work focuses of the use of historical dialogue to promote reconciliation and the emergent right to history.

Centro Primo Levi is the recipient of an endowment of the Viterbi Family Foundation in memory of Achille and Maria Viterbi. Programs are made possible through the generous support of the Cahnman Foundation and Claude Ghez.

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