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German nobles return Nazi looted books to Russia

November 18, 2013, 13:45 UTC+3 BERLIN

Handover will take place at the Leipzig branch of the German National Library and will be open for the general public to witness

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BERLIN, November 18, /ITAR-TASS/. A ceremony marking the return to Russia of 125 valuable books looted by German soldiers in the Second World War takes place in Leipzig, in Germany’s Saxony, on Monday. Masterpieces going back to the Russian State Museum of Pavlovsk include works of German classics, memoirs of French statespeople and history books.

They are now in the hands of the German noble family von der Schulenburg and were presented to Werner von Schulenburg, Germany’s ambassador to the USSR, in 1934-1941, after he had returned to Germany. The diplomat had sympathised with the Nazi regime and was a member of the Nazi party. But he later changed his views and tried to persuade the Third Reich authorities not to attack the Soviet Union. He later joined the resistance movement and took part in the failed July 1944 plot against Adolf Hitler.

The books have been stored in the library of the Schulenburgs’ Falkenberg fortress in Bavaria. The family had not known the book collection’s provenance until this year and the ex-diplomat’s grandson has decided to give the books back to Pavlovsk. These were a war trophy to which they had no right of ownership, the family said.

Handover will take place at the Leipzig branch of the German National Library and will be open for the general public to witness, an official of one of the organisers and intermediaries, the Federal Cultural Foundation (FCF), told Itar-Tass. About 40 Russian guests will attend the ceremony, among them the Museum of Pavlovsk’s deputy director for research and storage, Aleksey Guzanov.

The event will be part of the 4th German-Russian library dialogue, established in 2009 and aimed to preserve, classify and digitise books moved during WWII and provide open access to them. The Schulenburgs will bring the books to Leipzig and the Russian embassy to Germany will transport them to Russia, FCF’s Britta Kaiser-Schuster explained.

“The family will hand over the total of 125 books, among them the collected works of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, published in 1717 in Berlin,” FCF’s Johannes Fehlmann said. “But the collection is mainly made up of French-language books, namely the memoirs of Queen Marie Antoinette and the general Gilbert Lafayette and several history books, including books about the discovery of America or about the Russian Empire.”

Germany was happy to return the books to Russia, FCF General Secretary Isabel Pfeiffer-Poensgen told Itar-Tass. This step showed Germany was closely co-operating with Russian counterparts in looking for lost books, paintings and other values, she said, and was a gesture of friendship to show Germany was keen to continue co-operating in this field.

The State Museum of Pavlovsk, a town south of St. Petersburg, is a palace and park complex founded in the late 18th century. Pavlovsk Palace was the imperial summer residence of Russian emperor Paul I.

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