Natan Sznaider

Retelling the Book of Lamentations

Review essay on: Dov Schidorsky, Burning Scrolls and Flying Letters: A History of Book Collection and Libraries in Mandatory Palestine and of Book Salvaging Efforts in Europe after the Holocaust.  Jerusalem: The Hebrew University Magnes Press, 2008 (Hebrew), 552 pages. 

This book deals with the formative role that libraries and books exerted in the shaping of Israel’s nationhood. In this historical work, libraries in cities, towns, and rural settlements and the books they contained become heroes in an almost epic saga of how an ancient culture re-created itself in its own land. It is the story of the public libraries and workers’ libraries that were established in Tel Aviv and Haifa in the 1920s and 1930s even before the founding of state. Schidorsky, emeritus director of the School of Library, Archives, and Information Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, links books to the land and libraries with the creation of the state. He meticulously researched the fate of Jewish books during the Holocaust, in their darkest hours of looting, confiscations, and arbitrary destruction. But the bulk of the book, however, is devoted to the reconstruction of the Jewish corpus, including the rivalry between North American Jewry and Israel for rights to unclaimed books, and the work of the Jewish National and University Library (JNUL) in Jerusalem in reclaiming heirless and ownerless books after the war.