The Lost Library

The Legacy of Vilna's Strashun Library in the Aftermath of the Holocaust

Dan Rabinowitz

The Strashun Library was among the most important Jewish public institutions in Vilna, and indeed in Eastern Europe, prior to its destruction during World War II. Mattityahu Strashun, descended from a long and distinguished line of rabbis, bequeathed his extensive personal library of 5,753 volumes to the Vilna Jewish community on his death in 1885, with instructions that it remain open to all. In the summer of 1941, the Nazis came to Vilna, plundered the library, and shipped many of its books to Germany for deposition at a future Institute for Research into the Jewish Question. When the war ended, the recovery effort began. Against all odds, a number of the greatest treasures of the library could be traced. However, owing to its diverse holdings and its many prewar patrons, a custody battle erupted over the remaining holdings. Who should be heir to the Strashun Library? This book tells the story of the Strashun Library from its creation through the contentious battle for ownership following the war until the present day. Pursuant to a settlement in 1958, the remnants of the greatest prewar library in Europe were split between two major institutions: the secular YIVO in the United States and the rabbinic library of Hechal Shlomo in Israel, a compromise that struck at the heart of the library’s original unifying mission.

Paper: $35 | Cloth: $95 | E-book: $34.99
ISBN-13: 9781512603095
Pages: 296 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: December 4, 2018


  • "...a serious contribution to the history of Jewish Vilna, ....this book will be read with great interest and profit by anyone interested in Jewish or Eastern European history, Vilna/Vilnius, or the intricacies of intellectual property restoration after World War II."

    Theodore R. Weeks, The Polish Review
  • "Rabinowitz demonstrates a mastery of his subject...and effectively deploys the Strashun Library as a lens through which to examine wider cultural and geopolitical forces in the 19th and 20th centuries."

    John R. Hodgson, Reviews in History
  • "Dan Rabinowitz’s The Lost Library (Brandeis) ... reminds us that not only “of the making of many books there is no end,” but that the collecting of those books, and the stories they tell as cultural agents, is similarly endless."

    Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought

About the Author

Daniel Rabinowitz

Dan Rabinowitz is an avid book collector and the founder and editor-in-chief of the Seforim Blog, a website devoted to the study of the Hebrew book. His articles have also appeared in Alei Sefer, Hakirah, and Tradition. He is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and practices law in Washington, DC.

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