Dec 22, 2013

The Wienbibliothek Responds

The Wienbibliothek has responded to my query as to why the prayer books of Schubert's sister Maria Theresia Schneider and her daughter Therese Krasser which had been acquired by the library almost forty years ago were presented in September 2012 as "new acquisitions". Mag. Christian Mertens, head of the library's "Zentrale Dienste" (central services), answered my question as follows:
Dear Dr. Lorenz!

Thank you for your email. After checking with my (intermittently ill) colleague Mag. Buchberger, who in September 2012 ambiguously placed the two objects on the library's page of "New Acquisitions", the case of the prayer books is as follows:

The two prayer books and the supplements were purchased by the City of Vienna together with the rest of the "Bibliotheca Schubertiana" after the death of Ignaz Weinmann and since then were kept at City Hall. That you saw them in 1993 at the home of Ernst Hilmar, could be due to a temporary borrowing for working purposes by Dr. Hilmar; in any case they were not stolen and we "did not buy back" books as you suggest. There was no "new acquisition" in September 2012 as the web site suggests, but only a "new cataloging" of books. Due to their interesting content Mag. Buchberger filed the books under "New Acquisitions" of the collection to present them to a wider audience.

Anyway, I would like to thank you for your thoughtful note and apologise on behalf of Mag. Buchberger and the library for the resulting confusion and wish you a Merry Christmas!
At this point a series of modest questions come to mind:
  • Why did it take the Wienbibliothek thirty-six years to catalog two prayer books?
  • What happened to the many other leather-bound books from Ignaz Weinmann's "Bibliotheca Schubertiana" that were seen in Ernst Hilmar's house? Are they not catalogued yet?
  • If no books were stolen and Weinmann's library is still preserved, why was an internal investigation conducted at all?
  • If no books were stolen, why was Ernst Hilmar suspended in 1994?
  • Which books were "erroneously sold" by Herwig Würtz?
  • Where is the "Schubert-box" in the form of a book with gold pressed leather cover and a Schubert portrait that is listed in the inventory of Weinmann's collection?
It seems that the Wienbibliothek is desperately trying to get rid of this affair that just will not end. It will not end, because a) the people who are in charge keep covering up the events that led to the suspension of the head of the music collection and refuse to deal with the matter in an open and honest way; and b) as the attempted sale of stolen Strauss autographs in 2010 has shown, stolen material keeps turning up every now and then. And even when the location of a stolen item is known, it is not recovered by the Wienbibliothek, because the people in charge are obviously afraid that such a procedure could lead to their lethargic behavior becoming known to the public. The responsible city councilman Andreas Mailath-Pokorny came up with the following excuse: "We are unable to do more. The Wienbibliothek is not a detective agency."

The lock of hair which in 1863 was recovered from Franz Schubert's skull and was stolen from the Wienbibliothek by Ernst Hilmar

© Dr. Michael Lorenz 2013. All rights reserved.

Dec 3, 2013

The Wienbibliothek Buys its Own Property

The eminent Viennese music collector and scholar Ignaz Weinmann (1897-1976) left his collection and musical estate to the (then) Wiener Stadt- und Landesbibliothek (today Wienbibliothek). While Weinmann's huge collection of musical scores survived the transfer to the library without any loss, other items from Weinmann's collection of Schubertiana did not fare so well. In a blogpost, which I published here on 5 December 2012, I wrote the following:
While the current efforts of the Wienbibliothek to recover stolen Strauss sketches are praiseworthy, it has become evident that these sketches are only the tip of an iceberg, and that the public has not yet been informed of the full extent of the losses suffered by the music collection of the Wienbibliothek (at that time the Wiener Stadt- und Landesbibliothek) prior to the retirement of Ernst Hilmar as head of that collection in 1994. In particular, the estates of Otto Erich Deutsch and Ignaz Weinmann, both owned by the Wienbibliothek, suffered massive losses. Items that were demonstrably in the library as part of Weinmann's estate surfaced in a Viennese antiquarian shop as early as 1993, where they were purchased by the Canadian Schubert scholar Rita Steblin. Steblin (for obvious reasons) did not notify the police, but informed the head of the library, who, however, took no legal action, preferring instead to resolve everything behind the scenes, putatively in the interest of a principle of "confidentiality" that is apparently still in force today. The head of the music collection was suspended and eventually quietly dismissed into retirement. The police and the state prosecutor were not involved. The losses from Weinmann's estate included not only irreplaceable treasures that once belonged to the Krasser family, such as the prayer books of Schubert's sister Therese Schneider and her daughter, but also many other valuable books and a lock of Franz Schubert's hair that had been given to his half-brother Andreas Schubert on the occasion of the composer's first exhumation in 1863.
The two prayer books originating from Schubert's sister and her daughter Therese Krasser were part of Weinmann's valuable collection and came to the Wiener Stadt- und Landesbibliothek in 1976, together with all the other material that Weinmann had bequeathed to the library. In the inventory of Weinmann's library, titled Bibliotheca Schubertiana (Vienna 1968) these prayer books appear under "Andenken aus dem Nachlass K r a s s e r" (keepsakes from the Krasser estate), right after the lock of Schubert's hair that was stolen from the library and never recovered from its current location, the exhibit rooms in Schloss Atzenbrugg.


Just like many other books from Weinmann's estate the two precious prayer books did not make it into the holdings of the library. They vanished and all my efforts to find them in the library's catalog in 1999 and to order them were unsuccessful. At some time around 1993 they were seen in Ernst Hilmar's house in the Kaulbachstraße. In the course of an internal investigation their loss (and the loss of many other books from Weinmann's estate) was later blamed on "an erroneous sale of supposed duplicates" by the former head of the library Herwig Würtz. Thus all the embarrassing losses and thefts that the library suffered during the 1990s could be quietly resolved without the involvement of the police or the state prosecutor. 

In autumn of 2012 the lost prayer books from the Krasser family turned up again. To round up a sad story with a bizarre twist, the two books were presented on the website of the Wienbibliothek as "Neuerwerbungen September 2012" (new acquisitions in September 2012):


There is no reason to assume that the library is now disingenuously presenting books as "new acquisitions" that it has already owned since 1976, when Ignaz Weinmann bequeathed his collection to the City of Vienna. I have made no enquiries yet, as to who sold (or donated) the two prayer books to the Wienbibliothek. I take it as a curious fact that the Wienbibliothek is now buying back valuable items that already belonged to this library almost forty years ago.