In 2017, a Belgian woman named Tania Grégoire sent a trove of 150 antique books to Sotheby’s auction house in London. Experts immediately smelled something fishy about the collection. Many of the title pages and bindings, which is where a library stamp usually appears, were missing. In a few cases, library stamps had been scraped off or chemically removed. Some library and shelving marks, however, were still visible and they linked the books to Germany’s University of Bonn, Catherine Hickley at The Art Newspaper reports.
The university has an extensive catalogue of the 180,000 books that went missing during the war years. While most of the lost books were incinerated when the campus was firebombed, some disappeared in the years after the war when the area was occupied by Belgian troops. At that time, between the years 1946 and 1950, valuable volumes that remained from the library were stored in air raid shelters.
In a press release, Michael Herkenhoff, the university library’s curator of manuscripts and historic books, says it’s possible that Belgian soldiers plundered the book depots for valuable volumes.