Medical University of Vienna restitutes books following provenance research

In a ceremony held on 30th September 2010, the Medical University of Vienna restituted 39 books previously belonging to the former Professor of Pathology Carl Julius Rothberger to his daughter Bertha Gutmann. It is the first restitution and a reflection of the provenance research commenced in 2007 by the university library of the University of Medicine.

"Today's ceremony serves as an encouragement and inspiration to other institutions", said Secretary General Hannah Lessing in her statement; the university library of the Medical University carried out its task of processing and coming to terms with its role in the National Socialist era "seriously and in an exemplary fashion". Lessing stressed that when seized objects are restituted, it is not the material value but to a much greater extent the emotional value which is paramount – the memories and emotions which are attached to the objects.

"Many memories are going to resurface which I thought I had forgotten", confirmed Bertha Gutmann, the daughter of Professor Carl Julius Rothberger, who is pleased to be able to have the books again after over 70 years, "to have them, so I may read them". Her father was – and this is illustrated by the books returned to his daughter – not only a scientist but also a humanist. "The fact that it happened cannot be 'wiedergutgemacht' and the past cannot be changed", says Gutmann. "Yet that doesn't mean that people should do nothing".

The first restitution of expropriated books at the University of Medicine is the result the provenance research which has been carried out at the university library of the Medical University of Vienna since 2007 and involves the systematic examination of the origins of the library's holdings. According to project leader Dr. Walter Mentzel, the 39 volumes which have now been returned to their rightful owner, "bore witness to being exiled and forgotten".

Historical background

In 1938, medicine was a "very heavily exposed faculty", remembers the Rector of the Medical University of Vienna. The introduction of the Nuremberg Laws and the Ordinance on the Reorganization of the Austrian Civil Service led to the dismissal of around 50 percent of the active university lecturers in the Faculty of Medicine. Professor Carl Julius Rothberger, who, according to the Nuremberg Laws, had been deemed Jewish after the Anschluss although married to an "aryan", was arrested and dismissed from the teaching body.

In his property notice of June 1938, Rothberger stated that he was in possession of a medical library which was at the university. The property notices, which all Jews were obliged to submit and which are today archived at the Austrian State Archives, are a vital source for the provenance researchers. In this case, the books were able to be attributed to their previous owner in this way. Carl Julius Rothberger was not given the chance to witness the end of National Socialism. Seven years after the Anschluss, on 13 March 1945, he and his wife were killed in one of the last air raids on Vienna.