Deutsche Zentralbücherei für Blinde

A piece of History

In 1894, the DZB was founded as a private association of Leipzig citizens to provide blind people with braille literature and working opportunities. Soon after, its own printing press was established. Twenty years later 5,000 braille volumes were already available to blind readers. During the Second World War the library was destroyed by bombings and over 30,000 volumes burnt in the flames. After the war, the DZB resumed their work with a remaining collection of less than 2,000 volumes. In 1946, the DZB was transformed into a public-law institution and three years later the library stored again 10,000 volumes.

After using several interim locations until 1954, the DZB moved into its current premises, which used to be the former „Höhere Israelitische Schule„ („Higher Israelite School“).

Two years later, in 1956, the professional recording studio began to produce talking books.

In the 1960s, two new buildings were erected at both sides of the old building to accommodate the constantly growing number of books and other media. At the same time production techniques were extended to meet modern standards and demands.

After the political change of 1989, the DZB has become a public-law institution of the Federal State of Saxony and is now administered by the Saxon Ministry for Science and Art.

The Jewish Past of our House

The building into which the DZB moved in 1954, has an eventful but very tragic past. It was built in 1912 as a school for the Jewish children of Leipzig. Some of the city's Jewish population preferred to build their own school to educate their children according to Jewish rules and customs. The rabbi Doctor Ephraim Carlebach was the initiator and leader of the school building project and later its first school principal. His educational ambition was to foster the integration of the young Jewish generation into the German society without losing their religious identity.

The school prospered soon prospered and new branches were founded. During the 1920s, a whole range of Jewish schools in Leipzig with different educational focuses were established: schools for boys and girls, schools for handicraft and schools for higher education. In 1922, the school was named „Higher Israelite School“ and about 400 children attended its classes.

In 1935, the National Socialist racial laws (Nuremberg Laws) forced all Jewish children in Germany to leave common schools and to attend Jewish schools instead. Consequently, the „Higher Israelite School“ had to cope with an amount of students that exceeded its capacity by far. At the same time, the school was exposed to heavy financial and bureaucratic pressure from the Nazi-authorities. Rabbi Dr Ephraim Carlebach was forced to resign from his position as school principal. He emigrated to Palestine where he died shortly after. Siegfried Weikertsheimer became his successor.

In the Reichskristallnacht (Crystal Night) on 9 November 1938, a mob of outraged Nazi-supporters almost destroyed the school. Only the valiant resistance of the teachers prevented the total destruction. School principal Siegfried Weikertsheimer was arrested the same night and imprisoned in the concentration camp of Buchenwald. He was released before Christmas 1938 and emigrated to Great Britain in 1939. In 1947, he died of a kidney disease in Birmingham – a long-term effect of his detention in Buchenwald.

Daniel David Katzmann, who had worked as a teacher for physical education at the school since 1936, became the last principal of the „Higher Israelite School“ in 1939. In the same year, a Nazi law drove the Jewish population out of their houses and apartments and crowded together in the so-called „Judenhäuser“ („Jewish houses“). The school became one of 47 Jewish houses in Leipzig where Jewish families were forced to live confined space and under terrible conditions until their deportation to the Eastern extermination camps started in 1941. Altogether 206 people were deported from the school. One of them was principal Daniel David Katzmann who was killed together with his wife and daughter in Auschwitz in 1943.

As all Jewish schools in Germany, the school was closed in 1942. The Nazis occupied the building in 1943. During the war it was heavily damaged.

In 1953, the East German Ministry for Education purchased the building and restored it. On 23 April 1954, the new building for the DZB was inaugurated.

For a long time, nobody remembered the Jewish past of the building, only the coloured floor tiles at the main entrance reminded of the past. This attitude started to change in the late eighties. In 1988, a memorial tablet was fixed near the main entrance. Today, the DZB is in contact with the Jewish community and the Ephraim-Carlebach-foundation. On 25 June 2008, the part of the DZB-building that was the former „Higher Israelite School“ was officially named „Ephraim-Carlebach-House“. A permanent exhibition reminds visitors of the tragic fate of the building and the people who worked and learnt here.

We remember the teachers of the “Higher Israelite School” who were killed in concentration camps or are missing since their deportation.