Photo Credit: Israel Mizrahi

Within a large collection of antiquarian books that I recently acquired, I came across several volumes that displayed the ownership markings and stamps of one of the most storied and legendary of Jewish libraries in pre-war Europe, that of the Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin. The Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva which opened its doors in 1930 after several years of planning and fundraising, was of the largest Yeshivas in the world, and its library was intended to be the greatest in the Jewish world. The library was built with donations from throughout the world, including from a donor in New York, Rabbi Benjamin Gut of the Chasam Sofer Shul of NYC, who donated up to 4,000 volumes. A committee was commissioned to obtain books for the library and donations and purchases of rare books and manuscripts were made from throughout the world. After the Rosh Yeshiva, R. Meir Shapiro’s passing, his substantial private collection was incorporated into the Yeshiva library as well. The stated goal of the Yeshiva was for the library to reach 100,000 volumes. While they most likely did not achieve that goal by the outbreak of war, the library was said to have contained many tens of thousands by the end of the 1930s.

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When the German Army took Lublin during World War II, they stripped the interior and burned the vast library in the town square. An officer who witnessed the event reported that a brass band played while a Jewish throng loudly wept as the books burned. The building became the regional headquarters of the German Military Police. After the war various conflicting reports were floating around regarding the state of the former library of the Yeshiva, with some reports saying that much of it survived while other reports assumed they were lost forever. While a substantial number of volumes have yet to be located, occasionally individual volumes, such as the ones I discovered do surface, allowing a glimpse of hope that perhaps one day the remaining part of the surviving library will be discovered.

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Israel Mizrahi is the owner of Mizrahi Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, and He can be reached at [email protected].