Wiener Library and Archive-in the United Kingdom, is World's Oldest Holocaust Archive Still Collecting Materials #holocaust #records
Jan Meisels Allen
The Wiener Holocaust Library in London, England, United Kingdom, is the world’s oldest Holocaust archive collecting materials since the Library’s founder gathered evidence of German antisemitism from the 1920s—before Hitler came to power. The Archive has over one million documents.
Founded as the Jewish Central Information Office in 1933, which itself grew out of an earlier bureau that Alfred Wiener had operated in 1920s Berlin, the institute was established to monitor German antisemitism. Much of the collection was gathered before and during the Holocaust.
Wiener, a trained Arabist and decorated World War I veteran, had become concerned at the antisemitic conspiracies that were swirling around post-WWI Germany and threw himself into efforts to monitor and combat Germany’s far-right underground.
He began collecting pamphlets, books, and leaflets in an effort to track German ultranationalists and opened an office under the main representative body of German Jews. By the mid-1920s, he was publicly debating German nationalists — both in print and in public debates — and in 1925 authored a critique of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”
By the time Hitler came to power in 1933, it was not safe for Wiener to remain in Germany. He moved his operations to Amsterdam, from where his staff established a network that could provide information on Jewish life across the Third Reich.
Kristallnacht was a turning point, and eyewitness accounts poured into Wiener’s Amsterdam office from Jews across Germany and Austria. Researchers, many of whom had fled with Wiener in 1933, began collecting testimonies — 305 of which remain in the museum’s collection — that were stored and fed into urgent reports that were sent to politicians and newspapers around the world.
In 1939, Wiener moved the archive to London where he had built close ties to the British Jewish community. Throughout the war, Wiener and his colleagues forensically gathered information from Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe. They published a fortnightly digest of information picked up from trusted informants, escapees and newspapers across Europe, which began to piece together the systematic destruction of Europe’s Jewish communities.
The information gathered by Wiener and his associates before and during World War II formed part of the evidence that was submitted at postwar trials, including Nuremberg and Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in 1961.
Increasingly, however, the library has sought to become a center for both educating about the Holocaust and warning about antisemitism, genocide and fascism.
An affiliate website, The Holocaust Explained, (https://www.theholocaustexplained.org/) received over 2 million unique views from 200 countries across the world in 2021, making it one of the most popular Holocaust education websites globally.
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Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee