Exhibition of unique books returned from Germany in the 17th – early 20th centuries. opened in the main building of Voronezh State University on Tuesday, October 19, as part of the international forum “People’s Diplomacy in the dialogue between Russia and the EU.” Most of these rare editions are book monuments that do not have second copies.
This exhibition is a big event for German and Russian diplomacy. Before the Great Patriotic War, antique tomes were part of the fund of rare books of the VSU library. But in the summer of 1942, during the Nazi occupation of Voronezh, they found themselves in Germany. Thanks to whom the values returned to the historical homeland – in the material of RIA “Voronezh”.
The hunt for books
Before the war, the scientific library of Voronezh State University was famous for its funds – it was the richest in the country. When Nazi troops approached Voronezh, the books were put in carriages and prepared for evacuation, but they did not have time to leave the city. Some of them died in the bombing. The surviving valuables were taken out by the Nazis.
According to Arkady Minakov, director of the VSU zonal scientific library, Nazi leaders were well aware of the importance of the university’s library collection. In the summer of 1942, by order of the Minister of the Occupied Territories, Alfred Rosenberg, a special library sounding team was sent here, headed by the bibliophile Gottlieb Ney.
– The core of the library fund was selected and sent to Germany in just a few days, – said Arkady Minakov.
The Nazis took the books to Kursk. Here the publications were sorted: some went to Kyiv, others to Tartu, and still others to Berlin.
Fortunately, some of the books from the pre-war fund of VSU survived – Soviet troops found them in the liberated Kursk. The stolen tomes were returned to Voronezh thanks to the director of the university library, Sofia Onikienko, who headed it from 1934 to 1958. In 1943, at the height of the war, she went to Kursk. The wounded fighters helped to collect and lock the books in one of the buildings, and a year later it became possible to transport them to Voronezh. Through the efforts of Sofia Onikienko, seven of the 20 carriages of books returned to Voronezh State University from Kursk. After the war, the woman worked actively to restore the book fund of the VSU library.
– Sofia Panfilovna performed a feat. The return of the books required great efforts, diplomacy and the ability to interact with the military, – said Arkady Minakov.
The library staff searched for rare publications from the pre-war collection throughout the post-war period.
– We understood that many books were lost, and some of them were taken out of the Soviet Union. This gave us hope that not all books were lost – they are alive, just in other repositories, with other owners. So we have a chance to get them back. After the war, we received one or two books from private collections. The last time we received a book from Bremen with our seal – it was transferred through the Ministry of Culture – shared the head of the department of rare books of the zonal scientific library of VSU Galina Lantsuzskaya.
Parcels from Voronezh
Among those who occupied Voronezh in the summer of 1942 was 37-year-old Wehrmacht officer Erich Fry. He was born in Riga, knew Russian well and understood the value of ancient Russian books. During the war, Fry was responsible for the work of engineering infrastructure and was a member of the “Council of Military-Technical Management”.
While his colleagues sent home lard and canned food, Erich Fry sent parcels with rare editions to his family, who lived in the German town of Neu-Isenburg. There were three or four volumes in each of them. Thus the officer sent 91 books to Germany.
– In fact, Erich Fry saved a unique collection, – said the rector of VSU Dmitry Endovitsky.
According to the memoirs of Fry’s son, Hans-Erich Fry, who is now 86 years old, his father had no regrets because the books from Voronezh were in his personal possession. A former Wehrmacht officer died in 1983. After his death, Hans-Erich Fry decided to return the publications from the family library to the book fund of VSU. This decision was supported by his brothers and sisters.
At the opening of the exhibition of returned books, VSU Rector Dmitry Endovitsky recalled that it all started with an e-mail from a professor at the University of Bremen, historian Wolfgang Aichvede, who has been advocating for the restitution of cultural property exported from the USSR for many years. Scientist toldthat his apartment in Berlin houses a book collection, which apparently belongs to VSU. He attached photographs of the publications to the letter. After studying the materials, the university’s specialists confirmed that these were books from the university library that had been lost during the war.
Books in August in Berlin were transferred Russian Ambassador to Germany Sergei Nechaev and VSU official representative in Germany Klaus Dieter Heinz. Party of rarities by diplomatic mail delivered to Voronezh State University. Newspapers from Germany, Switzerland and France wrote about the action of people’s diplomacy.
– I pay tribute to the organizational skills of Professor Wolfgang Aichvede, who made a lot of efforts on the German side to get these books transferred to the university, and I thank the Russian Ambassador to Germany Sergei Nechayev for his great work on organizing and transmitting these books. According to historians and culturologists, this is the first time such a great treasure has returned to Russia. Of course, such a step brings Russia, Germany and the European Union closer, – said Dmitry Endovitsky.
Arkady Minakov, Director of the VSU Zonal Scientific Library, clarified that the acquisition of these books is unique in that they are all from a private collection. Usually such books are transferred from state funds.
– In the 1990s and 2000s, about 60 books were returned to the Pavlovsky Palace. This caused a sensation. The return of 91 books is an unprecedented event. That is why it caused such a resonance not only in Germany but also in Switzerland and France, he said.
Hans-Erich Fry and his wife Gabriella were present at the opening ceremony of the exhibition online. The son of a former Nazi soldier has admitted that he feels guilty for his compatriots who attacked the Soviet Union.
– Since 2002, I have undertaken the restitution of these books. I have been to Voronezh many times, but I have never felt such satisfaction before. I sincerely hope that this act of people’s diplomacy will make a great contribution to the development of further mutual understanding between Germany and Russia, – he shared.
Russian Ambassador to Germany Sergei Nechayev also spoke online at the opening of the exhibition.
– Very often international diplomacy returns to the topic of history. This is also relevant for the joint history of Germany and Russia. It is extremely important for us not to allow the tragedy to be repeated and the historical truth to be mystified. The culture of memory is very important in the system of people’s diplomacy and in general for international relations. “These books have found their homeland and returned to where they should be and delight researchers and readers,” the diplomat concluded.
Guido Kemmerling, Cultural Attaché of the German Embassy in Russia, commented that the crimes of Nazi Germany, which treacherously attacked the Soviet Union, will never be forgotten. He added that items exported from the USSR have been found in Germany for almost 80 years.
– The war was a source of huge losses in the former Soviet Union. Values were looted or destroyed in order to maximize damage to national culture. It is inadmissible for these horrors to be repeated, as well as for them to be forgotten, – Guido Kemmerling emphasized.
Klaus-Dieter Heinze, Honorary Doctor of VSU, Head of the German Association of Voronezh University Alumni, Head of the ValuePark Chemical Technology Park, said that until 1998, Russia and Germany had held several successful campaigns to return cultural property.
“It would be great if researchers could write scientific papers based on these returned books, which would be published in Russia and Germany,” Klaus-Dieter Heinze said.
What are the values?
Among the valuable copies of the returned collection are the 3rd and 4th editions of Nikolai Karamzin’s History of the Russian State, works by Mikhail Lomonosov, poet and playwright Alexander Sumarokov, and part of the first collection of works by Alexander Pushkin, published in 1838, a year after his death. . There is also the first edition of the Russian translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy: on the left – the text in Italian, and on the right – the translation. Works such as Byron’s 1823 lifetime edition, Herodotus’ Father of History in French, the works of Plutarch, the philosopher Jean-François Marmontel, and the fable writer Lafontaine are also on display.
Among the book treasures are the chronicle “Cell Chronicler” of Metropolitan Dimitry of Rostov of the XVIII century and the “Cathedral Code” published in 1788 by Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, the father of Peter I.
– The Conciliar Act was adopted in 1649 and was the Constitution of the Russian state. Its norms were in force until the reign of Tsar Nicholas I, – explained Arkady Minakov.
The earliest book of the collection is the work of the statesman, diplomat Peter Shafirov in 1722. It was published the year after the end of the Great Northern War, as a result of which the Baltics were ceded to the Russian Empire. According to experts, Vice Chancellor Shafirov was a close ally of Peter I, led foreign policy. The book was intended for both the Russian reader and the international community.
Another unique edition is the volume “History of Painting” by Igor Grabar, published in 1911. Reproductions of Russian icons were published in the book for the first time. Thanks to this publication, Russian art critics have discovered icon painting as a phenomenon of world art.
According to Arkady Minakov, the department of rare books of the VSU library keeps about 1.5 thousand such ancient editions. They belong to the category of book monuments.
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