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May 2001 Journal

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Ilse Wolff: an appreciation

Ben Barkow, Acting Director of the Wiener Library writes:

Isle Wolff came to work at the Wiener Library - when it was still known as the Jewish Central Information Office - in January 1940, after a chance meeting with Alfred Wiener in Hyde Park. He mentioned that he needed a stand-in for his secretary, who was very ill; Ilse took the temporary job and stayed with the Library for over 25 years.

Her decision to become a librarian was, for the Wiener Library, a momentous one; she recognised that if Dr Wiener’s remarkable collection was to have a future it would have to change from being an information bureau, serving political and governmental circles, to become an academic library where scholars, authors and students could research and write history. As the first professionally qualified librarian employed by Dr Wiener, Ilse exerted an incalculable influence on the development of the Library over not just years but decades.

Ilse made another great contribution to scholarship: she edited the first four volumes of the internationally acclaimed Wiener Library Catalogue series, the essential bibliographic tool for scholars who wrote the classic early accounts of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

Ilse retired from the Library in 1966, owing to a lengthy period of ill health. In recent years she attended a number of social events at the Library and established friendly relations with the present generation of librarians, who saw in her a pioneering and heroic figure.

If western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato, I think we can describe the history of the Wiener Library over the last 50 years as a series of footnotes to Ilse Wolff. She will be sadly missed at the institution to which she gave so much.
Ben Barkow

previous article:Central Office for Holocaust Claims