Libraries During the Holocaust

Recently I took a trip to Israel. One of my goals on the trip was to go to a public Library, preferably in Jerusalem. However, it was a guided tour so my dream was not realized (**sigh**).

While in the Holocaust museum Yad Vashem, however, my tour guide instantly peaked my interest when she began discussing the informal, black market “libraries” that sprang up in various Jewish ghettos. Life was extremely hard in these ghettos and resources were limited making survival almost impossible. One would think that having a Library available for the people would not have been a priority.

What I found most interesting was that the books that were most checked-out were cookbooks and agriculture books. She explained that the cookbooks were a form of escapism for these people who had extremely limited amounts of food (they were only rationed about 150 calories a day). They would read these cookbooks and dream of a day when they could return to a normal life and cook their beloved cultural recipes. She also explained that the agriculture books were often taken out so that Jews could learn about how to farm food. Many of them had hope of escaping the ghettos and moving to the “promised land” (what is now Israel) where Jewish farming settlements had already been forming. Obviously, for most people these dreams were sadly never realized. It was fascinating to learn that even during troubled times the Library was still a place of learning, escape, and help for those who needed it.

The more you know!

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