Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Abandoned Property: Books to Remember

Abandoned Property: 
Books to Remember

Part of the research for my latest Ghostwriting project looked into the history of cultural theft and cultural preservation in periods of conflict. I found countless stories, past and present, of loss. For example, when Baghdad fell to the Mongols in 1258, the great Abbasid libraries such as the House of Wisdom were sacked and emptied into the Tigris, allegedly making the river run black with ink.

The research reminded me of a visit to the site of Bebelplatz in Berlin, Germany, last year, where a haunting monument commemorates the 20,000 library books burnt by Nazi party supporters in 1933. There is enough shelf-space in the empty chamber below the cobbled square to hold the thousands of books that were lost. 


I came across Benny Brunner's 2008 documentary, The Great Book Robbery, which tells the story of thousands of recently discovered books marked 'AP' in the vaults of the Israeli National Library. 'AP' stands for 'Abandoned Property' and marks the books taken from evacuated Palestinian homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. It is estimated that over 60,000 books were taken from homes in Jerusalem, Haifa and Jaffa. 

Brunner's documentary tells this story with eye witnesses, interviewing both the soldiers and librarians ordered to search the houses, and the Palestinians who lost their books and libraries along with their homes. In cases like these, the line between cultural preservation and cultural theft becomes disturbingly blurred. I really recommend this if you can watch sometime.

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