How LIBRARIANS Under the Nazi Occupation of France, Fought Back!

Getting Lost in the Libraries of Paris Researching WWII

Janet Skeslien Charles Finds Her Way to Her New Book 

By Janet Skeslien Charles


February 19, 2021

from LITHUB.com

The American Library in Paris sits in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Its collection of 100,000 books is spread over three stories. Members from 60 countries can work at long tables or whisper at the coffee machine. As the programs manager, I oversaw the ALP’s weekly Evening with an Author series, hosting journalists, debut novelists, and National Book Award winners. At events, I stood in the back of the reading room, one eye on the crowd, the other on my journal as I jotted down the writers’ words. During the day, at my desk in the bustling back office, I also took note of what colleagues said and was particularly captivated by the World War II story of the courageous librarians who defied the Nazi “Library Protector” in order to hand-deliver books to Jewish readers. 

During the Nazi occupation of France, Dorothy Reeder, the Directress of the Library, stood up to the Bibliotheksschütz, Dr. Hermann Fuchs, who had full authority over intellectual activity in the country at the time. Before the war, these two book lovers had chatted at international library conferences; later, they would find themselves on opposing sides. I longed to learn more about them, and began searching for answers to my questions: What had brought the Directress to France? What became of her? Who was the Bibliotheksschütz before the war? Was he eventually arrested for his role? 

Worried that nothing would come of my research, I was reticent to tell coworkers about the project. But I wasn’t shy about reaching out to strangers and sent dozens of emails to various libraries where the Directress and her staff had worked. I contacted people with the last names of Reeder, Netchaeff, or Oustinoff in hopes that they were related to the ALP librarians. I read through hundreds of pages of scanned documents from the American Library Association archives, including Dorothy Reeder’s correspondence. I interviewed French women who’d lived through the Occupation.

To learn more about the day-to-day life of Parisians during the war, I turned to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF). This modern library is made up of four buildings in a configuration that resembles four open books; however, the public resources are less accessible than this design would suggest, with the tomes for the general public on the basement level and the research library in the sub-basement.

In keeping with the infamous French bureaucracy, to access the research level, you must have a letter from a professor or an employer and go through an interview. I wasn’t a student, and since I’d recently dedicated all my time to research, I no longer had an employer. An Ivy-League acquaintance was rejected after her interview, and I became nervous that I wouldn’t pass the test.The American Library in Paris sits in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Its collection of 100,000 books is spread over three stories.

In preparation for my appointment, I carried a list of books to consult as well as a copy of my first novel, physical proof that I was an author. The reference librarian conducting the interview was cordial; we discussed my project for 20 minutes. She hadn’t heard of the librarians who’d resisted during the war, which made me want to write the book even more.

With a stamp of approval on my application, I moved to the cashier’s desk. A researcher’s pass costs 50 euros, or $70, for a year.

“What’s your profession?” the cashier asked.

“I’m an author.”

She glanced at the paperwork. Not finding the appropriate box to check, she said, “We’ll just write that you’re unemployed.”

Library card in hand, I passed through immense metal doors and down two narrow escalators, to a last set of doors that older researchers have trouble opening without assistance. With 40 million documents, the BNF houses the national memory and much of the international memory. All precautions against fire are taken. It feels like a bunker.

READ THE FULL PIECE AT LITHUB

R.I.P. to Lawrence Ferlinghetti – Poet and Publisher Who Took a Chance On the Beat Generation

R.I.P. to Lawrence Ferlinghetti – poet and publisher who took a chance and stood up to censorship lawsuits to publish some of the beat generation’s best and most daring in the 1960s. Publishing Allen Ginsberg’s poetry chapbook ‘Howl’ which was the subject of a groundshaking censorship trial cemented Ferlinghetti as a generous thoughtful leader of belles lettres.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/lawrence-ferlinghetti
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Ferlinghetti

He started City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, a true landmark of literature in the United States that I urge you to visit if you ever get a chance. I checked it out when I happened to be there on a short trip, and that random evening they had some live music. Hopefully it remains a lively spot going forward!

It’s probably one of his more didactic poems but I will share today as a call for other poets to explore his legacy and poems, especially the collection ‘A Coney island of the Mind’ :

‘Poetry as Insurgent Art [I am signaling you through the flames]’

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am signaling you through the flames.

The North Pole is not where it used to be.

Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.

Civilization self-destructs.

Nemesis is knocking at the door.

What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?

The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.

If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words….