UCLA Library Acquires Historical Collection of Medical Texts
Collection Confiscated by the Gestapo in the 1930s
The UCLA Library has acquired a historical collection of books and journals
from Germany, primarily medical texts in the field of otorhinolaryngology.
The materials were originally in the private library of Dr. Cäsar Hirsch,
a specialist in the field, who was forced to leave all his belongings behind
when he and his family fled Germany in 1933.
The collection comprises 191 book titles and 37 journal titles (filling 733 bound volumes)
in a number of languages, including English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
Most were published in the first three decades of the 20th century, although
there are rare texts from the 1800s and earlier. The collection, which will be
added to the History & Special Collections Division of the Louise M. Darling Biomedical
Library, strengthens the holdings of historical materials on general medicine and
otorhinolaryngology in the UCLA Library as well as in the entire University of
The collection is a gift of Peter J. Hearst and Susa Kessler, Hirsch's son and daughter.
The UCLA Library is grateful for the assistance of the University of California,
San Francisco, Library and Center for Knowledge Management and the University of
California, Berkeley, Library in evaluating the collection and facilitating its transfer to UCLA.
About Cäsar Hirsch
Cäsar Hirsch was born in Cannstatt, Germany, on November 19, 1885, to parents whose
ancestors had lived in southern Germany for hundreds of years. He completed high
school in 1904 and studied medicine in Tübingen, Paris, Munich, Berlin and Geneva
before graduating summa cum laude in 1909 from the University of Freiburg.
Hirsch began his medical career as an assistant doctor in a renowned ear, nose
and throat clinic in Frankfurt am Main, then established a private practice in
Stuttgart in 1914. He served as an officer in the Germany army from 1915 to 1918,
then after his return to Stuttgart, he became chief physician of the ear, nose and
throat ward at St. Mary's Hospital in 1923. He and his wife, Felicia, had three
children: Peter, born in 1923; Susa, born in 1926; and Kate, born in 1927.
Adolf Hitler was named German chancellor in January 1933 and seized full
dictatorial power on March 5. Near the end of March, Hirsch was warned by knowledgeable
friends that, because of planned anti-Jewish actions in Stuttgart on April 1 and because
his name was on a blacklist, the lives of Hirsch and his family were in danger.
On March 31, 1933, Peter's tenth birthday, Hirsch put his children and their grandmother
on a train to Switzerland. He stayed behind briefly to perform a successful operation
on a seriously ill charity patient who had been referred to him, then in the evening
he and his wife followed by car. Left behind were most of the family's belong-ings,
including Hirsch's 1400-volume library; restrictions on taking money out of the country and
punitive travel fees also left them with very little money.
The Hirsch family found temporary refuge in Switzerland and France, then emigrated
to the United States. Five years later Hirsch changed the children's last name to
Hearst, hoping to ease their way through the process of becoming naturalized citizens.
In the meantime, in November 1938 the Nazis revoked Hirsch's German citizenship, and
on February 6, 1939, they took away his medical degree. In 1940 the family relocated
from New York to Seattle, where Hirsch had been offered a position in a practice.
However, the offer was withdrawn, and on May 14, 1940, nearly penniless and deeply
depressed, he committed suicide.
About the Collection
On May 16, 1933, barely six weeks after the family left Germany, the tax office in
Stuttgart issued an order that began the process by which the state confiscated the Hirschs'
belongings. Two tax collectors produced an 11-page inventory of all items in the house, including
Hirsch's private library of 1439 volumes, which filled six bookcases in his study. Most of
the possessions and the house itself were then auctioned, as were the furnishings and instruments
from Hirsch's medical practice.
The books, however, were confiscated by the Gestapo, and on June 16, 1938, they were delivered
in 29 crates to the library at the University of Tübingen. Although it is not known why the
Gestapo gave the books to the university, it may have been related to the February 1938 opening
of a nearby ear, nose and throat clinic.
The Gestapo made no secret of the provenance of the items; the accompanying cover letter describes
the contents as "the confiscated medical-scientific library of the Jewish emigrant Dr. Caesar Hirsch."
Per the conditions stated in the letter, library assistants worked with staff from the Gestapo's
Tübingen field office to prepare a detailed inventory of the collection, which was submitted in
duplicate to the Gestapo's Stuttgart office.
Although the cover letter uses the words "temporary assignment," the library director had had an
understanding with the Gestapo since 1936 that such materials would become the library's permanent
property. That understanding was formalized with regard to the Hirsch collection in 1940, when the
finance office in Berlin offered the university the opportunity to purchase the collection. The
acquisition was officially completed on August 12 for a payment of 1,000 Reichmarks. The library kept
190 books and a number of journals for its collection and sold the remainder in 1941 through book-sellers
in Berlin and Leipzig.
In early 1999 Hans-Joachim Lang, a historian with a doctorate from Tübingen University and
editor of the Tübingen daily newspaper, was engaged in unrelated research in the university
archives when he came across a reference to the library of Dr. Cäsar Hirsch and found that the
collection was still at the university. His search of government archives gave him considerable
information about the Hirsch family, and he was able to find Peter Hearst in California through
an Internet phone directory. Hearst, who had childhood memories of the off-limits library but had
no idea of its current location, exchanged other family information with Lang.
In October 1999 Lang published a full-page article in the Swäbian Daily News entitled
"A Present from the Gestapo," which gave a description of the books, detailed their history
and discussed what had happened to the Hirsch family and Dr. Hirsch's sad end. Lang also
contacted the university administration directly, and in November 1999 the university president
sent a letter to Peter Hearst in which he acknowledged that the library had a number of the
Hirsch books and offered to return them to Hearst, to place a commemorative bookplate in them
that would briefly tell their story or to take other action as Hearst desired. When Hearst
decided to donate the collection to a UC library, the university and library administration
assisted UC staff with access to the items and advice in evaluating them and later prepared
the collection for shipment to UCLA.
Peter Hearst has been a California resident for 60 years and received a Ph.D. from Stanford
University. However, all three of his sons are graduates of UC campuses, two also received
medical degrees from UCLA and UCSF, and one is a UC faculty member. Thus, they feel it is
fitting that their grandfather's collection of medical books and journals has a new home in
the UC library system.
Press Release by Dawn Setzer Director, Library Communications, UCLA.
For information about the collection contact: Katharine E. S. Donahue,
Head, History & Special Collections, Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, UCLA.
History & Special Collections
UCLA Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library
12-077 CHS, Box 951798
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1798
©2002 The Regents of the University of California