OUTSIDE CHICAGO, IL -- Books given to the La Grange Park Public Library for donation get dropped off with regularity. Some are added to the library's collection, others are sold off, and some find their way into the trash.
A trip to the trash bin might have been the case with one particular book if not for Circulation Services Director Ursula Stanek taking a special interest in it this spring.
Stanek, who grew up in Germany and moved to the United States at age 21, noticed something a little different about this book. It was marked, "Geheim!" — the German word for secret.
"People drop off books all the time," Stanek said. "If there's one that's in German it goes to my desk. I didn't realize what it was until I started to look through it."
The book turned out to be a rare Nazi artifact titled 1938-1941: Vier Jahre, Hermann-Göring-Werke. The book describes a four-year Nazi economic plan for a steel-producing industrial site in the town of Salzgitter, Germany, during World War II. According to the library, the book was given away to workers at the steel mill as a Christmas gift.
Also found in between the book's pages was the letterhead of Nazi commander Hermann Göring and an envelope with a return address printed on it.
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Stanek said she first thought about selling the book on eBay.
"I thought we could raise some money for the library's benefit," Stanek said. "I wasn't sure what to do with it, but then I thought that something like this—of historical importance—should be for the public."
Stanek went to work trying to find more information about the book, first contacting a museum in Germany.
"It's a piece of German history," Stanek said. "I thought it should go back there."
When no one returned her phone call, she reached out to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie. But again, her call was not returned.
Finally, she called the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Stanek took the book with her to the museum while on a trip to visit her daughter in Washington D.C. in May.
"They recognized the title right away," Stanek said.
The museum actually had already purchased a reproduced copy of the book at one point, but curators there were thrilled to receive an original copy.
Only Known Copy in U.S.
According to Lenore Bell, library director at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Stanek's find is very significant. Bell said that to her knowledge, the book is the only known copy in a U.S. library or museum. Several copies are known to exist in Europe, she said.
The addition of finding the letterhead and the envelope was significant as well for Bell.
"We actually ended up with two artifacts that way," Bell said.
Bell said she couldn't share the valuation of the book, but said that the museum knew it was a rare find because it is from a numbered edition, meaning only so many copies existed in the first place.
"With materials that are so unique... it can be difficult to come up with a general figure," Bell said.
The fact that the material will now be available to researchers is the real value of the book, she said. The book has been entered into the library's database and cataloged. Researchers looking for a window into the past in relation to the company that produced the book, or the economic plan for Nazi Germany, will now be able to view the material and learn from it.
A Library Mystery
How the rare book turned up in La Grange Park is still a mystery to the library staff, Stanek said. No one recalls who dropped off the book, and so far, no one has come forward claiming to be the donor.
Stanek said she's been surprised by all the attention. She said that when she recently attended a cookout at a park near her home, everyone already knew about the book.
"They had read the [news] articles, and I didn't even know there were any," Stanek said.
Stanek said she was just happy that the book found a suitable home and that she was able to recognize its historical significance.
"It was nice to be able to give it to [the museum]," Stanek said. "They were very pleased to get it."
Stanek said the La Grange Park library has a collection of rare books, which patrons sometimes come in to look at, but she knew of nothing else in the library's collection like this.
"It's just a mystery," she said.
And so it may remain.