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Olden Collection

The Olden Collection, acquired by UCL on 9th November 1948, consists of over 800 works on German political and economic history, from the 1870s to the end of the Second World War. The titles, published mainly in the 1920s and 1930s and mostly in German, cover the German Empire and Bismarck, the First World War and its causes, the German 1918 Revolution, the Treaty of Versailles, the Weimar Republic, the rise of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and the Third Reich. The works include detailed analysis of German and European politics and ideologies of the inter-war years and histories of German political movements, particularly socialism and national socialism.

Many of the works contain the inscription of Rudolf Olden (1885-1940). Olden was a journalist and rights lawyer who, after his experiences in the First World War, began writing for a pacifist newspaper in Vienna and successfully defended the editor of a newspaper, one of whose authors had been indicted for slandering the German Army by calling soldiers ‘murderers’. In 1933 he spoke at a conference of a German writer's alliance and gained the support of many writers and academics for freedom of speech. Because of his antipathy to the Third Reich he spent much of his life in exile, having eluded arrest, later becoming secretary of P.E.N (which promotes literature, freedom of expression and opposes political censorship) in London, and addressing himself to the plight of other German refugees. He and his family died when, having departed from England for the USA on 18 th September 1940, their ship was sunk by a German U-Boat. Titles in this collection written by Olden include a biography of Hitler, translated into various languages, ‘Hitler’ (or ‘Hitler, the pawn’), published in 1936; ‘The new organisation of the German army’ (1935); ‘Hindenburg, oder, Der Geist der preussischen Armee’ (1935) and various editions of works about Gustav Stresemann.

The collection contains works by statesmen, field marshals, generals, politicians and political activists, journalists, historians, leaders of political parties, Nobel Peace prizewinners as well as organisations such as the League of Nations, the German League for Human Rights, the British Foreign Office, the Internationaler Sozialistischer Kampfbund – a splinter group of the German Socialist Democratic Party during the Weimar Republic – and the World Committee for the Victims of German Fascism. The material takes the form of personal narratives and autobiographies, biographies, published correspondence, speeches and histories, travel and handbooks. Many of the works include photos and maps.

Works about the German Empire period and Otto von Bismarck include titles by Bernhard Fürst von Bülow, a German statesman who served as Chancellor of the German Empire from 1900-1901; works about the Prussian statesman Heinrich Friedrich Karl Reichsfreiherr vom und zum Stein (1757-1831), who introduced reforms that paved the way for the unification of Germany; and the correspondence to his cousin of Friedrich August von Holstein (1837-1909), a statesman and head of the political department of the German Foreign Office for over thirty years.

Highlights of the First World War period include the war memories of army general Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937) in ‘Meine Kriegserinnungen, 1914-1918’; biographies of field marshall Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934), including ‘Feldmarschall von Hindenburg: ein Lebensbild’ (1918), a biography by Hindenburg’s brother Bernhard von Hindenburg with 45 pictures, photos and facsimiles; and an autobiography by Hindenburg entitled ‘Aus meinem Leben’ (1934). Works such as ‘Hindenburg: Bilder und goldene Worte …’ (1931), with key excerpts from his speeches and over 130 photos, and ‘Der Hindenburg-Legende’ give a further insight into Hindenburg’s status in Germany and the ideals which he embodied.

Other works connected with this period include those of the French soldier, Allied commander, military theorist and writer Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929), in his memories of the First World War (‘Meine Kriegserinnerungen, 1914-1918’) and works about Gustav Stresemann (1878-1929), liberal politician and statesman who served as chancellor and foreign minister of the Weimar Republic and co-laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926. Also present is a work about, and by, Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919). Rosa was a Jewish Polish-born German theorist, philosopher, activist and socialist revolutionary. She was a member of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Independent Democratic Party and the Communist Party of Germany. In 1914, after the SPD supported German involvement in the First World War she co-founded, with Karl Liebknecht, the anti-war Spartakusbund (Spartacus League) which on 1 January 1919 became the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). During the 1918 German Revolution she and Liebknecht were executed after the Spartacist Uprising in January 1919. The Olden collection contains a work about her thoughts and activities by Paul Frohlich, ‘Rosa Luxemburg: Gedanke und Tat’ (1939), as well as a work by her entitled ‘Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie’ (1936).

German and European politics of the inter-war years, the rise of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) and Hitler’s coming to power are particularly strong in the collection and reflect varying political viewpoints. Highlights include works about the ideology of the NSDAP by Gottfried Feder (1883-1941), an economist and one of the early key members of the Nazi Party, and by Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), Hitler’s propaganda minister; comparisons of the ideologies of Hitler and Ernst Thälmann, leader of the Communist Party of Germany, entitled: ‘Für Hitler oder Thälmann, für Krieg oder Frieden?’; narratives of people who knew Hitler, and biographies of Hitler (including that of Rudolf Olden); an English translation of Hitler’s ‘Rede des Führers und Reichskanzlers Adolf Hitler vor dem Reichstag am 7 Marz 1936’, in which Hitler rails against the punitive nature and perceived effect on Germany of The Versailles Treaty; and works on resistance movements, including ‘Hitlers Krieg gegen die Friedenskämpfer in Deutschland: ein Tatsachenbuch’ (1936) and Evelyn Lend’s ‘The underground struggle in Germany’ (1936). There are also works about the Reichstag Fire, an arson attack on the Reichstag building in Berlin on February 27 th 1933, which was used as evidence by Nazis that the Communists were beginning to plot against the German government and resulted in suspension of civil liberties, and an illustrated travel guide for visitors to the infamous Berlin 1936 Olympics, described as ‘indispensable’ in the title.

Works dealing with the period leading up to the Second World War include correspondence by the Foreign Office showing the course of diplomatic discussions directed towards securing a European settlement between June 1934 and March 1936; appeasement policies of prime minister Arthur Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940); statements by King George VI, Neville Chamberlain, the President of Poland and others at the oubreak of the War in 1939, and Foreign Office documents concerning German-Polish relations and outbreak of hostilities in 1939.

Other key figures represented in the collection are Carl von Ossietsky (1889-1938), radical pacifist, journalist and recipient of the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize, who was convicted of high treason and espionage in 1931 for publishing details of Germany’s alleged violation of the Treaty of Versailles; and Andre Leon Blum (1872-1950), socialist Jewish French politician and three times prime minister of France who was part of the Front Populaire, an alliance of left-wing movements in France formed in 1935.

There is a lot of material in the collection on antisemitism and persecution of the Jewish people, particularly in the 1930s, in Germany (and elsewhere) as well as some works that have antisemitic ideologies. Examples of titles about the plight of the Jewish people are ‘Le IIIe Reich et les juifs’ (1933) by the Comite pour la defense des droits des Juifs, Antwerp; and ‘La question des juifs allemands devant la Societe des Nations …’ (1933). ‘Der Fall Halsmann’ (1931) describes the case of Philippe Halsman who was accused of murdering his father, Latvian Jewish dentist Murdoch Max Halsman, whilst hiking in the Austrian Tyrol in 1928. Philippe protested his innocence, but the trial in Innsbruck showed widespread antisemitism and condemnation of him in advance. He was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in 1929: however leading intellectuals at the time, including Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann campaigned for his release and he was finally released in 1930.

Prominent among the antisemitic works in the collection are those titles dealing with eugenics, German mysticism, Aryan ideals and racial theory, and works written by Adolf Josef Lanz (1874-1954). Lanz was an Austrian publicist, journalist, former monk and the founder of the magazine ‘Ostara’ in which he published antisemitic theories and whose readers included Hitler. The collection contains about 14 issues of Ostara between 1911 and 1913 which contain articles by Lanz on the Teutonic race, eugenics, the role of women and ethnology. Other works include ‘Juden sehen dich an’ written in the 1930s by Johann von Leers (1902-) which is a polemic about prominent Jewish bankers, lawyers and other professionals in Germany who, it is claimed, are evidence of Jewish domination.

Other subjects touched upon in this very diverse collection include: German church history, German literature and civilisation, the German military and re-armament between the World Wards, fascism in Britain, British foreign policy in the 1930s, politcal and social science, imperialism, and psychoanalysis (including works by Sigmund and Anna Freud).