Nazi Aryanisation of intellectual property - and contemporary efforts to restore it

An aerial view of 1930s Vienna
The Nazi practice of economic Aryanisation, the destruction of so-called ‘degenerate’ books and artworks, and cultural plunder all form elements of the regime’s attempted cultural and economic extermination policy. These intensified after Kristallnacht in 1938, with efforts to restore property and citizenship continuing to the present in a number of European countries. 

Intellectual property, too, forms a part of this history of expropriation. Alice Urbach, a Jewish native of Vienna, published a bestselling cookbook in 1935: So kocht man in Wien! (How to Cook in Vienna!). In 1938, the publisher, Ernst Reinhardt Verlag, ‘Aryanised’ the work, with Urbach forced to transfer the rights and the book swiftly republished under the name ‘Rudolf Rösch’, who may not even have ever existed. 

Though around 40% of the text was removed or altered, Urbach’s hand could still be detected in the work: not just in the original 60% of the text, but quite literally, as photographs of her cooking demonstrations were retained. However, where Urbach praised Vienna’s diverse culinary influences at the heart of Europe, the revised version was instead concerned with portraying Vienna as a quintessential city of the Reich. Then-Ernst Reinhardt manager Hermann Jungck claimed as late as 1974 - nearly a decade before Urbach’s 1983 death at the age of 97 - that ‘Rösch’ had in 1938 simply ‘modernised’ the original 1935 publication. 

After the war, the theft continued to cast a shadow on Urbach’s life. She even personally found a copy of the revised work in a Viennese bookshop in 1949. Written from 1950-54, a series of letters located by the publisher - despite earlier claims that archival material had been lost - reveal her requests for the rights’ return so that she might be able to translate and re-publish the book in her new home, the United States. Commemorative editions of the plagiarised book came out in 1974 and 1999, with Jungck acknowledging in the 1974 edition that he had felt compelled to ‘search for a new author’ in the 1930s on account of Urbach’s ethnicity. Urbach had rejected his suggestion that the text be attributed both to her and to ‘Rösch’. 

Urbach’s granddaughter, historian Dr Karina Urbach (University of London), has conducted extensive research into the issue, publishing an account of the copyright theft, Das Buch Alice, in October 2020. Her efforts, and those of similarly-affected descendants, have not been without hurdles. Ernst Reinhardt is reported to have failed to respond to correspondence from either Dr Urbach or Vienna’s Jewish community until Der Spiegel interviewed Dr Urbach, in which she restated her intention to have attribution of her grandmother's authorship restored. The high-profile media attention led Ernst Reinhardt to agree and to acknowledge its past Nazi complicity. 

Although it has not captured the public imagination in the same way as, for instance, the apocryphal Nazi gold train, intellectual property theft under the Third Reich is not limited to the Urbach case. For instance, committed Nazi party member Ludwig Reiners published a German language style guide in 1943, neglecting to mention that it was significantly plagiarised from Jewish author Eduard Engels, among others. Dr Urbach’s own research draws attention to Max Friedlaender, a Jewish lawyer, who found his Commentary on the Lawyers’ Act (Kommentar zur Rechtsanwaltsordnung) removed from the marketplace and replaced with an Aryanised version so strikingly similar as to be known at the time in the legal profession as Der kleine Friedlaender.

It is interesting to note that these Aryanised works are concerned with topics central to the idea of a nation: cuisine, language, and law. Dr. Angelika Königseder (TU Berlin) has conducted similar research into the archives of the de Gruyter scientific publishing house, revealing its involvement in the practice. A 1939 protocol document advises to “check how far new editions can be brought out by Aryans” in the case of ‘non-Aryan’-authored works.

Both Dr. Urbach and Dr. Königsreder have described the Aryanisation of intellectual property, especially non-fiction literary works, as under-researched. It therefore remains to be seen whether the full extent of the practice will be revealed and if just restitution will occur.

Image: Walter Mittelholzer - This image is from the collection of the ETH-Bibliothek, Public Domain.
Nazi Aryanisation of intellectual property - and contemporary efforts to restore it Nazi Aryanisation of intellectual property - and contemporary efforts to restore it Reviewed by Sophie Corke on Monday, January 18, 2021 Rating: 5

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