The Wiener Holocaust Library in London is celebrating its 90th birthday. It is the oldest continuously functioning archive documenting Nazi crimes.
The Library has its origins in the work of Dr. Alfred Wiener (1885-1964). Dr. Wiener was a German Jew from Berlin who campaigned against Nazism during the 1920s and 30s and gathered evidence about antisemitism and the persecution of Jews in Germany.
Dr. Wiener and his family fled Germany in 1933 and settled in Amsterdam. Later that year he set up the Jewish Central Information Office (JCIO) at the request of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Anglo-Jewish Association. This archive collected information about the Nazis, which formed the basis of campaigns to undermine their activities.
Following Kristallnacht (the November Pogrom of 1938), Wiener prepared to bring his collection to the UK. It arrived the following summer and is believed to have opened on the day the Nazis invaded Poland.
During the war, staff gathered evidence to document and publicize reports of Nazi efforts to annihilate European Jewry, including an eyewitness account of Kristallnacht.
Throughout the war, the JCIO served the British Government as it fought the Nazi regime. Increasingly the collection was referred to as ‘Dr Wiener’s Library’ and eventually this led to its renaming.
Wiener’s recognition of the danger posed by the Nazis didn’t begin after Hitler came to power in 1933. Instead, he can justly lay claim to having been one of the first intellectuals to raise the alarm about the rise of antisemitism after World War I.
Horrified by the surge in anti-Jewish right-wing nationalism that he encountered when he returned from the trenches to his homeland, in 1919 Wiener published a tract, “Prelude to Pogroms?”, in which he warned: “A mighty antisemitic storm has broken over us.” If left unchecked, Wiener predicted, this antisemitism would lead to “bestial murders and violence” and the “blood of citizens running on the pavements.”