History in the making – thoughts on cataloguing the Liberation collection (Part 2)

In the first part of my blog-post on working with the Liberation donation, I explored the fragmented and sometimes contradictory vision of history that the books in the collection offer, each point of view representing only a tiny portion of the actual events. In this second part, I want to expand on the odd feeling I sometimes had that the entire collection itself, despite offering quite a complete view of the period’s publishing landscape in France, was only a fraction of the whole story. I don’t mean to diminish the importance of the collection; indeed, what it doesn’t say is just as interesting from a historical point of view as what it does say.

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“Holocaust Literature” in the Liberation Collection

Everybody knows about Ruth Klüger or Primo Levi; Imre Kertész won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2002, and Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. These authors are famous for their autobiographical texts about the Shoah, which they wrote after having survived the Nazi extermination camps. Their books are well known, they became part of the literary canon and have led to a lot of scholarly research.

The Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection in Cambridge University Library offers a promising addition to that field of research, because the collection keeps very similar, though much lesser known books. As the Liberation Collection focuses on books published between the Liberation of Paris in August 1944 and the end of 1946, the collection’s accounts of the Holocaust rank among the earliest testimonies of Nazi crimes, deportation and mass murder during the Second World War. These testimonies range from written accounts to documents and even paintings and illustrations. Even for research focused on books about the extermination camp of Auschwitz, the Liberation Collection offers a diversity of genre, tone, biographical background and emphasis.

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Talk on the Liberation Collection, 22nd February

Originally posted on the Special Collections blog:

On Thursday 22nd February Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey will give a talk to the Cambridge Bibliographical Society on ‘The power of the image in liberated France, 1944-46’.

His talk is inspired by imagery from the collection he has put together (recently presented to the University Library) on the German occupation of France during the war and its liberation by the allied forces. Beautiful books began to be published immediately after the liberation of Paris in August 1944 even though the war was still being fought in France. Once Paris was free and the Vichy government had collapsed, censorship came to an end, and it is the immediacy of this response and the quality of the books themselves that makes this period so interesting for the history of the book.

Talk starts at 17.00. Tea from 16.30 before the talk.

Free event, no booking required. Members and non-members of Cambridge Bibliographical Society welcome.

Milstein Seminar Rooms, Cambridge University Library
Thursday, 22 February, 2018

All welcome; booking not required

Victoire, numéro special (Paris, 1945)

Radio broadcasting and the war

“La chanson des V”. Beethoven’s famous 5th symphonie start was the signature tune for the BBC programme “Les Français parlent aux français”. The rythm of its first four notes equals the letter “V” (for Victory) in morse code. Liberation.b.34

The powerful role of radio propaganda during World War II cannot be overestimated. Information was transmitted quickly to vast populations across borders, overpassing enemy lines. In the UK, the BBC would broadcast in several languages, including French of course, and would even send secret messages to the French Resistance in the form of apparently senseless phrases. The Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection has several publications related to this topic, some of them particularly fascinating.

Maurice Van Moppès was an illustrator, Free France member and broadcaster who worked for “Les Français parlent aux français”, one of the BBC radio programmes that transmitted news from the Front (for more on this check the 5 volumes of Ici Londres, 1940-1944: les voix de la liberté, 539:1.b.820.2-6). The programme was also supposed to boost the French people’s morale and send code messages to the Résistance. Continue reading

No surrender, no retreat

Kosta's autobiography

Kosta’s autobiography

Seventy years after the liberation of Auschwitz, one of its survivors, Jiri Kosta, died last month at the age of 93. His life after the tortures of the Second World War was both typical of a survivor of the concentration camps as well as extraordinary. And while his experiences during the Nazi Regime shaped Kosta for the rest of his life, it was by no means limited by that experience.

That Kosta was able to live a full life was, as is so often the case with survivors of the concentration camps, down to chance. Or, in this case, down to a breadcrumb. Born in Prague in 1921 to German-Jewish parents, he was ordered in late 1941 to help set up what was to become the concentration camp Theresienstadt, in which he and his family were subsequently imprisoned. Because of his youth, he was a useful worker and managed to survive the daily routine in the concentration camp. However, he too was eventually ordered on to the last transport east to Auschwitz in October 1944, where he was to endure the mixture of torture and ritual humiliation that characterised the lives of those that were lucky enough to survive the ruthless selection process. With the advancement of the Red Army he was then forced on to a death march towards Germany. That he managed to escape to safety and survive the death march was down to luck. One morning, before the march was to set off, he had forgotten to take with him a piece of bread that he had saved and put aside. He managed to sneak back into the barracks to fetch this bread. There he found several other fellow prisoners hidden under beds who told him to do the same if he wanted to stay alive. In the chaos that the German troops were already in, the missing prisoners escaped their notice and Kosta survived. Continue reading