Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Wiener Library

Although I've worked close to The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide for several years now, I'd never actually visited. It wasn't until a colleague told me about the weekly library tours, which take place every Tuesday lunchtime, that I thought to visit. We ended up making it a bit of a work thing: three of us went one lunchtime, to be followed by the other two a week later.
The Library, formed in 1933 by Alfred Wiener, is Britain's Holocaust library and the oldest collection of its kind in the world. It holds over one million items, including illustrated and rare books, press cuttings, photographs and eyewitness testimonies.
Our tour included the main Library reading room, with considerable collections available on open access for the use of readers. Items stored elsewhere in the building, including photographs and fragile items, can be requested. Members of the public can use the Library, open on weekdays, free of charge, though first-time visitors do need to bring some ID. You need to become a member if you want to borrow books.
We were taken downstairs to view the stacks, and were able to see several fascinating items which our guide brought out to show us. One was a Nazi colouring book and another was a book of photographs of Hitler and assorted small children: both were bizarre and rather chilling. There were also some documents relating to Jewish refugees who came to the UK.
The Library runs a programme of temporary exhibitions on the ground floor. The current exhibition is Fragments of a Lost Homeland: Remembering the Armenian Genocide which is on until 25 February. This exhibition focuses on one particular family around 1915 who recorded their experiences before, during and after the genocide in letters, diaries and photographs.
The Wiener Library is well worth a visit, even if you don't need to use the research facilities. Tours run on Tuesdays at 1pm, and you can visit the temporary exhibitions during regular opening hours.

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