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Black and white photograph from 1938 of store with broken windows. Woman in a trench coat is walking in front.
Windows of a Jewish owned printing business smashed during Kristallnacht, Berlin. November 9-10, 1938. Credit: Everett Collection /

The Seizure of Jewish Intellectual Property Ahead of World War II

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The following is a guest post by Marilyn Creswell, information resources assistant at the University of Michigan Law School. She served as Librarian-in-Residence at the U.S. Copyright Office from July 2020 to April 2021.

As the United States enters the Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust, we remember the many hardships Jewish people have overcome. In this blog we specifically explore the lesser-known area of intellectual property (IP) leading up to and during World War II. Beginning in 1933, the Nazi German state began pressuring Jewish business owners to sell their businesses far below market value. By 1938, a majority of Jewish-owned businesses were already sold or out of business when this process, called Aryanization, became compulsory after Kristallnacht.1 As part of the seizure of businesses and personal property, the ability of Jewish people to benefit from their intellectual property was also severely restricted. A 1939 executive order required all Jewish men to add “Israel” as a second name and women to add “Sara.”2 This made it easier for Nazi officials to deny intellectual property registrations and renewals to Jewish applicants, cutting them off from the IP system.3 While the loss of IP rights pales in comparison to the horrific death tolls during World War II, its loss is another indignity the Jewish people suffered and source of wealth extracted at the hands of the Nazis.

In some instances, works by Jewish authors were nearly completely reproduced and distributed by others without their consent. One example of an Aryanized work is Alice Urbach’s So kocht man in Wien!, a Viennese cookbook. Urbach was forced to transfer the rights to her book, which was then republished with new authorial credit to “Rudolf Rösch.” The new work kept most of the original texts and photographs of her cooking demonstrations but removed elements celebrating Vienna’s diversity.4 In the field of medicine, Dr. Josef Löbel’s Knaurs Gesundheitslexikon was a health encyclopedia that, after the Otto Liebmann publishing house was taken over by a Nazi publisher, was republished by the author Herbert Volkmann under the pseudonym “Peter Hiron.” Volkmann even added new sections on race, homosexuality, and prison psychology. He similarly usurped authorship for Dr. Walter Guttman’s Medizinische Terminologie and its ongoing publications.5

An old book opened to two pages with text in German. Words from Handel's Jephta.
Handel, George Frideric, G Buchanan, and Thomas Morell. Jephtha. Libretto. German. Image.

Public domain works were revised to remove references to Jewish people and culture. For example, Fritz Stein presented a new version of Handel’s Occasional Oratorio (Gelegenheits Oratorium) in 1935 that added state-promoting verses and removed references to Jacob, Jehovah, and the full aria “When Israel, like the bounteous Nile.” In 1941, Handel’s Jephtha was renamed Das Opfer and changed so its Jewish history was reframed as a broader narrative about nationalism. The text of his Judas Maccabeus was not only rewritten to omit Jewish references, but it went so far as to make it into a “patriotic fold oratorio” and eventually transplanted Judas with a Field Marshall, a powerful military dictator analogous to the Führer.6 Also in 1941, all theatrical productions required permission from the Reich Dramaturgy, which banned Shakespeare’s historical plays but encouraged the broadcast and production of the anti-Semitic Merchant of Venice.7

Elsewhere, we see examples of the works of Jewish authors being intentionally substituted or re-created. For example, Mozart and da Ponte’s Così fan Tutte, Le Nozze di Figaro, and Don Giovanni were translated by a Jewish man named Hermann Levi. Instead of banning these popular works, they were retranslated by Siegfried Anheisser and used in seventy-six theaters.8

In addition to specific works being confiscated, misappropriated, or edited, the effect of the general stigma against Jewish creators cannot be understated. Nazi leaders passed more than 400 decrees that worked in combination to stigmatize and control the lives of Jewish people.9 Acknowledging the stigma, some Jewish coauthors agreed to omit their names from their research so that it could still go to market.10 In 1933, membership in the Reich Chamber of Culture was prohibited for Jewish people, meaning they could not work in radio or theatres, nor could they sell paintings or sculptures.11 Books by Jewish authors were burned in massive bonfires. With their creative works criminalized, Jewish creators were cut off from the ability to reap the rewards of their creative expression. Even those who found ways to make creative works would have struggled to pay registration and renewal fees, as the Nazi regime levied heavy taxes on Jewish residents, many of whom had their assets seized.12

In the face of persecution, many Jewish people continued to express themselves and their plight. At great personal risk, prisoners in concentration camps kept creating works, including cabaret songs, dramas, puppet shows, and other arts.13 Some works were kept private, some were performed for hundreds of fellow prisoners,14 and others were more direct acts of resistance. Norbert Troller, an architect for the Jewish self-administration of the camp in Theresienstadt, produced drawings and sketches of the horrible conditions, which were then used to prove those conditions to people outside the camp. After being sent to Auschwitz in 1945, he was liberated, and eventually, he moved to the United States, where he continued to practice architechture.15 Some prisoners were ordered to act, sing, play instruments, or make drawings, crafts, and even greeting cards.16 Some of those works, in addition to works made covertly and after liberation, are on view at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

The damage of the Nazi Regime continues to require our attention and research. Because so many works of that era have become disassociated from their Jewish authors and many others destroyed, it is difficult to know the full extent of works created by these authors. This leaves a gaping hole in the cultural, historical, and intellectual property records of Jewish and other discriminated groups of that time.

We continue to remember our history with sobriety, and with admiration for the resilience of the human spirit in the face of injustice.



1 “Aryanization,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, last modified October 24, 2017,

2“Law on Alteration of Family and Personal Names,” Timeline of Events, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed April 12, 2022,

3Hannes Siegrist and Augusta Dimou, eds., Expanding Intellectual Property: Copyrights and Patents in 20th Century Europe and Beyond (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2017), accessed April 12, 2022,

4 Sophie Corke, “Nazi Aryanisation of intellectual property – and contemporary efforts to restore it,” The IPKat (blog), January, 18, 2021,

5 Ruth Weiss, “Aryanization of Jewish Writer’s Intellectual Property,” Ruth Weiss (blog), accessed April 12, 2022,

6Erik Levi, “The Aryanization of Music in Nazi Germany,” The Musical Times 131, no. 1763 (January 1990): 19–23, accessed April 12, 2022,

7Susannah Heschel, “The Nazi Appropriation of Shakespeare: Cultural Politics in the Third Reich (review),” The MIT Press 38, no. 2, (Autumn 2007): 290-291, accessed April 12, 2022,

8 Levi, “The Aryanization of Music,” 19-23.

9“Antisemetic Legislation 1933-1939,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed April 12, 2022,

10See one example of inventor Otto Eppenstein of the Zeiss factory, written about in the following: Lida Barner, “‘Aryanization’ Expanded? Patent Rights of Jews under the Nazi Regime,” in Expanding Intellectual Property: Copyrights and Patents in 20th Century Europe and Beyond, eds. Hannes Siegrist and Augusta Dimou (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2017), 127-143, accessed April 12, 2022,

11 “Nazi Germany and Anti-Jewish Policy,” Anti-Defamation League, accessed April 12, 2022,

12Lorraine Boissoneault, “A 1938 Nazi Law Forced Jews to Register Their Wealth—Making It Easier to Steal,” Smithsonian Magazine, April 26, 2018,; see also, Albrecht Ritschl, “Fiscal destruction: Confiscatory taxation of Jewish property and income in Nazi Germany,” VOX EU, May 30, 2019,

13“Theatre scripts from the heart of the Holocaust,” University of York, January 24, 2018,

14 Curt Daniel, “Theatre in the Nazi Concentration Camps,” My Jewish Learning (blog), accessed April 12, 2022,

15 Léonie Shinn-Morris, “Art and the Holocaust,” Google Arts & Culture, accessed April 12, 2022,

16 “Works of art,” Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, accessed April 12, 2022,; see also, Daniel, “Theatre in the Nazi Concentration Camps.”

Comments (5)

  1. La storia si ripete, i finanziamenti a Hitler e il genocidio, sono il great reset per il nuovo business all’insegna della Nuova Guerra Fredda e del Piano Marshall II

  2. I thought I had enough information about the Holocaust that took place in World War II, but I’m amazed at how much there is still to report! Thank you very much for the clarifications regarding the History of the Jewish People.

  3. A much needed and interesting article.
    Thank you,

  4. I attempted to read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William L. Shirer when I was in junior high school. I finally finished the lengthy volume much later in life after I had already lived in Western Germany and Berlin for almost two years. Modern Germans are not shy to point out that other countries should be learning from their mistakes. The United States of America today doesn’t seem to remember the rise and complete destruction brought by totalitarian and fascist governments in the twentieth century.

  5. I am trying to confirm the Nazi confiscation of my family house in Grosskarben (Karben), Germany. Can anyone tell me the best way to go about finding records on this possibility? Thank you

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