October 18, 2012

Einstein lakeside and other greats from the Leo Baeck Institute


Hard on the heels of the news this week that a never-before-seen-by-the-public collection of documents by Franz Kafka and Max Brod may at last be released to the Israeli National Library (as reported here on MobyLives) came some more good news: the Leo Baeck Institute has digitized and made almost its entire collection available online for free. It is a mammoth collection — over 3.5 million pages — and a deeply important one, bringing together documents from 500 years of German Jewish history. What’s particularly laudable in this case is that they’ve digitized and made searchable not only the flashy items in the collection — the Einstein photos, the Mendelssohn archives, the Joseph Roth manuscripts — but all of it, even the records kept by ordinary German Jews. (In other words, exactly the kind of things the head of Ruskin College, Audrey Mullender, is actively Shred-X-ing over in Oxford.)

There was a formal presentation of the database, called DigiBaeck, on Tuesday in Manhattan at the institute, with presentations by Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle (who was a partner on the project), designer Nicholas Felton, New York Times reporter Claudia Dreifus, and Bernie Blum, former president of the institute. Video of the event is available on the institute’s website.

Haaretz gave a more detailed account of some of the highlights of the collection:

The institute has digitized the original manuscripts of the most important works of Austrian-Jewish author Joseph Roth (1894-1939 )… Also among the digitized documents are the complete diaries and correspondence of philosopher and theologian Franz Rosenzweig, including writings related to his landmark translation of the Hebrew Bible into German (1926-1929) with Martin Buber, as well as the entire estate of the philosopher Constantin Brunner.

The archive includes collections representing four generations of the Mendelssohn family, the quintessential German-Jewish dynasty. These range from personal effects and correspondence of the patriarch, Enlightenment philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, to letters written by his grandson, the composer Felix Mendelssohn.

However, there is no doubt that Albert Einstein steals the show. He features in about 600 stunning photographs… Along with the photos, the guestbook from the Einsteins’ lakeside summer house at Caputh, outside Berlin (from the years 1929 to 1932 ), has been scanned and uploaded to the site, including inscriptions in the handwriting of Chaim Weizmann and drawings by artist Hermann Struck.

Personally, I am excited by the prospect of the “lakeside Einstein” photos, having not yet recovered from the “Beckett at the beach in Tangiersphotos published by Steidl a couple of years ago.


Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.