Archives can often reveal unexpected information about the people and attitudes of the past. One simple enquiry uncovered a surprising story involving the University Library, Nazi propaganda and the censorship debate.
Dr Hans Pollak was born in Vienna, Austria in 1885. Because of his Jewish heritage, he was forced to emigrate from Austria in the late 1930s to escape persecution, and became a respected lecturer in the Department of German from 1941–1965.
In 1944, Dr Pollak became aware of a number of books scattered throughout the University Library that had been produced under the Nazi Government, many of which were of “a propagandist nature.” It appears that these books were purchased from a Melbourne bookshop by the Carnegie Foundation which donated them to the University, “evidently under a misapprehension” of their content.
Given his own personal history, one might have expected Dr Pollak to demand the books’ removal. Instead he sought to have the books identified and regrouped so that they would not give students “a false idea of the literature of the period”. The matter was referred to the Library Committee and the Minutes of 19 April 1945 revealed the Committee’s decision that segregation was inappropriate as it may set an “undesirable precedent” for publications deemed offensive by other staff. Instead the Committee resolved to insert an explanatory note into the offending books.
As a postscript, Dr Pollak was conferred an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters in 1970 and passed away in Perth in 1976. To this day, a number of the books remain in the Library’s collection, some still sporting the insert.