Book review

Title: Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies banded together in World War II Europe

Author: Kathy Peiss
Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2020

Review by Bob Lane

This book tells a story that has not been told before. It tells the story of the many people who saved the documents, books and pictures produced by the Nazis in WWII. As the author tells us in the Prologue “This book grew our of a chance discovery of an online memorial to an uncle I never knew. Reuben Peiss had been a librarian at Harvard when World War II began … and he was recruited into the Office of Strategic Services, the nation’s first intelligence agency.” This reviewer came across the book while doing research on an old professor of mine, Douwe Stuurman. Stuurman is one of the soldiers who contributed to the finding and saving of truckloads of books, documents, pictures, and writings of the time.

Peiss writes: “Stuurman prepared four freight cars of materials for shipment in February 1946, paying out of pocket for labor and hiring a German moving agency, both against regulations. He marveled at their finds – political pamphlets, Jewish literature, Nazi periodicals, newspapers “of all political colorings, illegal and ‘auslandsdeutsche’ newspapers too” recordings of Nazi speeches, millions of newspaper clippings “reflecting the Nazis in the world press” and 50,000 posters,

“This was an unparalleled relationship between the government, military, and American libraires, one that libraries embraced not only out of patriotic duty but as an opportunity.” As the story unfolds, we learn of the many people (Archibald MacLeish, William Donovan, Herbert Hoover, General Lucius Clay, Hannah Arendt, Lucy Dawidowitz and a number of obscure individuals) who participated in the massive tasks to discover and save the publications that as the war progressed the Nazis were so anxious to destroy or hide. The book is carefully documented and consists of:




  1. The Country of the Mind Must also Attack
  2. Librarians and Collectors Go to War
  3. The Wild Scramble for Documents
  4. Acquisitions on a Grand Scale
  5. Fugitive Records of War
  6. Book Burning – American Style
  7. Not a Library, but a Large Depot of Loot



Notes (lots and lots of notes)

Index (a very useful and complete index)

Each chapter advances the fascinating story of the massive attempt to discover and save the many documents and books – to determine which were of value (initially to the winning of the war) and then which would be useful in trying the Nazi leaders at the war crimes trials. One of the fascinations of the book is the many old pictures which accompany the story and help to give it a feel of authenticity.

As you can imagine the story includes the many questions that such a project would raise: What about copyright? Who owns these documents and books? How to insure that materials taken from private libraries are accounted for and possibly returned? What to do to be sure that the war time documents get to the right people? The sheer size of the operation is amazing. Stuurman was responsible for finding and securing boxcar loads of Nazi material in the final years of the war and into the occupation. The problems were exacerbated by the post war division of Berlin and by the ongoing disagreements among wartime “partners” as the cold war progressed.

The book is carefully researched, written with care and skill, and provides an additional warning about the horrors of wartime.

Bob Lane is Professor Emeritus Philosophy at Vancouver Island University and the author of Reading the Bible: Intention, Text, Interpretation.

On spirituality

“If there is a sin against life,” Albert Camus wrote, “it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.”


Traditionally, religions have regarded spirituality as an integral aspect of religious experience. Many do still equate spirituality with religion, but declining membership of organized religions and the growth of secularism in the western world has given rise to a broader view of spirituality.

Secular spirituality carries connotations of an individual having a spiritual outlook which is more personalized, less structured, more open to new ideas/influences, and more pluralistic than that of the doctrinal faiths of organized religions. At one end of the spectrum, even some atheists are spiritual. While atheism tends to lean towards skepticism regarding supernatural claims and the existence of an actual “spirit”, some atheists define “spiritual” as nurturing thoughts, emotions, words and actions that are in harmony with a belief that the entire universe is, in some way, connected; even if only by the mysterious flow of cause and effect at every scale.[5]

In contrast, those of a more ‘New-Age‘ disposition see spirituality as the active connection to some force/power/energy/spirit, facilitating a sense of a deep self.

For some, spirituality includes introspection, and the development of an individual’s inner life through practices such as meditation, prayer and contemplation. Some modern religions also see spirituality in everything: see pantheism and neo-Pantheism. In a similar vein, Religious Naturalism has a spiritual attitude towards the awe, majesty and mystery it sees in the natural world.

Jordan River

Rhodes Scholar: Stuurman’s education

How does one compete for the Rhodes Scholarship?

Stuurman: “Well, it’s the same thing still. First, you earn the right by competitive examinations to to represent your college. Then you go to state . . . And then you go to the district – a collection of six states – two from each state go to the finals. And then from the twelve, four are chosen. Now, if it hadn’t been for Rebec’s learning and my having sat in his classes so wide-eyed, I wouldn’t have it so easy, because my first question at the district was . . . There were five men, five professors. And one of them said . . . “Everything matters except everything.” Who said that? And what did he mean?

“. . . now literary philosophy teaches you how to handle stuff like that; straight philosophy doesn’t.”

– He thought he stumped you on it.

  • Yeah. And that I quickly said, it could only be Chesterton. And the next question was, “Eugene O’Neill’s recent play, Mourning Becomes Electra – what would you say in just response to that bit of information?” Well again, having been brought up with literary philosophy, there was no problem. Glow with the Greeks. It is modeled on Greek tragedy, so my Greek studies made that a natural. He (Rebeck) had given me a vocabulary with which to talk about things like that. Now religion would never have helped me with that, because religion is, again, the way a secretary is to conventional language. It means exactly what it means in their minds. In literature, you’ve got the exact opposite. No word means exactly what it means. It’s like a symbol. It can include opposites. It can do all sorts of things, and it has a sort of radiant quality, as opposed to this grim two-dimension stuff.
  • – Going back to Oxford. You passed your examination. You’re selected to go to Oxford (as a Rhodes scholar). This is during the thirties?
  • During the depression. We all met in New York. There were thirty-two of us from from forty-eights states. . . . The Rhodes stipend was very handsome in those days. It was the biggest scholarship available, and especially during the depression. . . . we took a Dutch boat, all of us together. And we landed at Plymouth and then went to Stonehenge. It’s a miracle when you are young, you know, everything looks glamorous. And then, on top of it we were the glamour boys.

Douwe Stuurman College Lecture Draws Anxious Turn-Away Crowd; Topic: Anxiety

The weekly All-College Lecture series, held Tuesday at the Classroom Building auditorium, featured Prof. Douwe Stuurman lecturing on “Philosophy in an Age of Anxiety.”

Before a crowd that filled not only every seat in the auditorium but also all available seating area on the stage and in the aisles, the popular Prof. Stuurman talked somberly on the “anxieties” with which Twentieth Century man has been presented and the philosopher’s role in this situation.

Stuurman opened the lecture with quotations from T. S. Eliot, defining the tense feelings presented to modern man. Investigation of modern poetic and psychiatric terminology, he stated, defined the feelings of the individual—emptiness and loneliness, isolation and hallowness being the key words. Philosophy, said Stuurman, was largely responsible in creating these feelings. In philosophy lies the answer to the modern meaning of “anxiety.”

“Bertrand Russell,” said Stuurman, “spoke of the philosopher as living-in a world not his own. Somewhere the philosopher lost touch with the meaning of ‘making full’.” (Russell on happiness.)

He then went on to some of the more basic philosophical concepts, their histories, and how
radically some of the basic ideas in them had changed throughout the history of philosophy. Such things as the role of individualism as a cloak for incompetence, Descartes’ philosophy of the separation of mind and body, Stuurman feels, were all contributing factors in defining modern philosophy.

• “Modern philosophy could emphasize will or it could emphasize the rational. Modern interpretations,” said Stuurman, “by modern philosophers defined the irrational as a source of power and satisfaction. Philosophy was hard to distinguish from science and logic.”

Stuurman further feels that our new philosophy is thought to be an answer, a relief from anxiety.
The Existentialists’ feelings toward suffering is viewed by Stuurman as the reasoning behind many modern philosophers, and that the mind is a minor reflecting objective reality.

Philosophy has taught that love of wisdom must be stronger than the love of knowledge, even stronger than love of life..

To end his lecture Stuurman concluded: “’Philosophy has provided an answer to the problem of anxiety.”

  • from “El Gaucho” October 18, 1957; University of California – Santa Barbara College.

Aldous Huxley visits UCSB. : Who knows why the people came? The talks were made possible by UCSB Proust professor Douwe Stuurman – a khaki-clad, ascot-wearing character about town-who had attended Oxford’s Balliol College with Huxley and Isherwood. But it wasn’t just Anglophilia that made Huxley a hot ticket. His talks fit the agenda of a once-sleepy tourist town that suddenly had a UC campus, appealing to both academics and the greater community. First, Huxley made an impassioned plea for remarrying the increasingly specialized branches of Academia. He wanted people to see the world as a combination of “atomic physics” on one hand and “an immediate experience of value, love, and emotion” on the other. “The building of this fundamental bridge is an urgent, urgent problem in our world,” he said.

Dr. Stuurman #4

Professor Stuurman

More from the long interview:

  • “Given your views on religion (Stuurman was a non-believer), did you object to your parents decision to send you to a religious school?
  • No, I wasn’t oriented enough. It’s easy enough in retrospect to say what was going on, but at the time you don’t know. I was a strange mixture. Then in college, fortunately, after I had been there a couple of months, having all that Greek stuff was a big advantage . . .
  • Traditional liberal arts?
  • Yeah . . . And then, after I had been there a couple of months, one of the professors – a professor of Dutch art history – came to see me in the dormitory. And when he came in, he closed the door behind him, and I thought, “Oh, boy, they are closing in on me now.” He said, “No, nothing’s wrong. It is just that I want to tell you” – he was from Holland and he didn’t like the American evangelical scene; he thought it stank – and he said, “all I want to do is tell you that when you are in a provincial college of this kind, thee are two ways to live. One is to play the game – you know, obey the code, do everything, and they will reward you for being dim-witted. On the other hand,” he said, “if you want to, you can quietly live another kind of life, where you don’t pay any attention to the rules and regulations here, except to obey them – but not to rebel against them, except quietly and inwardly.” He said, “If you want to start a quarrel with them, then all your emotional energies will be drained – and they won’t be grounded, just plain drained. “So,” he said, “It’s up to you what you want to do.” “But,”he said”I just wanted to warn you not to waste any energy rebelling. They’ll win. But on the other hand, if you quietly go your own way and live your own life, you’ll find in the long run it pays off and you’ll have a sense of stability.” And, he said, “you already have this Greek point of view, and you can build on that. You can’t reform them.” He said “That’s a lost cause.”
  • Well, I stayed four years at the college and got a good liberal arts training.
  • – Were you a philosophy major?
  • – Yeah philosophy and Greek.

After receiving the BA degree, and during the big depression in the USA, Stuurman set out on his own. As he tells it: “George Rebec, who was president of the American Philosophical Association, became the dean of the graduate school at Eugene, Oregon. He was looking for a teaching fellow who knew philosophy and Greek, and who had a European background. I went to see him, and he was a marvelous man. “I was away from the religious context and he was a world opening up. And I was ready for that. This is the first flowering period of my life. . . . And that was the big period of my life; that was the burgeoning out.”

Stuurman on teaching:

Dr. Stuurman #3

Once long ago when I was the janitor at the Unitarian Church, while a student at UCSB, I arranged for Stuurman to give the sermon on a Sunday when Dr. Crane was absent. He filled the church. He had a following in the city! I introduced him with a “Stuurman sermon” joke and got a few laughs. But once he started talking the audience was quiet.

He talked about the Bible that day. Everyone in the place was on the edge of his/her pew so as to miss nothing that our guest speaker had to say in his quiet voice. He spoke of the humans in those OT stories and about the wisdom they learned from the situations the writers placed them in. What I remember about that day is the complete control of audience: partly because of delivery – no notes, no lecturn, he stood in front of the audience and delivered a thought provocative “sermon” in his quiet voice. A sermon that engaged everyone in the crowded assembly. Stuurman was at his very best!

A non-believer talking about Bible stories in a way that made those stories live.

I am sure that many returned home after the sermon, as did I, with a new attitude toward those marvelous stories.

After the “sermon” he disappeared.

Stuurman #2

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From “Douwe Stuurman: A Rhoades Scholars View of Nazi Germany”

“We could start with a brief biographical sketch of your family … and their occupations when they came to this country (USA) as well as … why they decided to leave Europe.”

“My family – having come from Holland – were of course ocean-going people. . . . It was a large family. And my father. . . decided to go all the way to the west coast . . . So my grandfather ruled like a patriarch.

It was a very busy, rather happy life, and the religion had no chance to kill it or in anyway spoil it. And then on Sunday, when religion entered the picture, all it meant was that they went to church to meet their friends. They slept during the sermon because they were all tired from working all the time.  . . So the religion wasn’t a curse to them, but it was to us children, because being industrious Dutch people, they immediately became rich, especially because of the First World War. . . my brothers and sisters all went in for the money. They got the very worst of the Yankee qualities, and they repudiated their Dutch tradition. I was the only one who continued to read Dutch, and to enjoy Dutch literature, and to respect the tradition that had been there . . .”

Stuurman went to a private Dutch school where the kids were told and made to believe that they were special. His Mother told her kids “All right, go out and play, but don’t play with the Americans.” He explains that the man who rescued him from religion was one of the ministers. At fourteen this minister invited him to study Greek with him every morning early. “He never attacked religion. He just ignored it. . .”

Later that minister would leave the church saying simply “I no longer believe any of this stuff.”

Professor Douwe Stuurman.

Source: A Rhoades Scholar’s View of Nazi Germany; copyright 1984 by Douwe Stuurman and The Regent’s of the University of California.

Professor Stuurman

I have written about Douwe Stuurman a few times. He was my MA supervisor at UCSB and later a family friend. He came to Canada in his VW beetle to attend our daughter’s wedding and immediately began making useful suggestions about making changes to our house! He wasn’t just a Rhodes Scholar philosophy and literature prof, but also a man who liked to build things! Shortly after arriving he changed our stairway (for the better) by removing a glass section that opened up the living room.

In a recent post John Richards wrote briefly about Stuurman’s influence on him. He also sent a beautiful and thoughtful gift for me: a book about Stuurman’s time in Europe after the big war. He had collected a treasure of writings from Hitler and other military Naziis that help to remind us that we are capable of all sorts of behaviour as humans. I have almost finished reading that book now and want to share some of it’s content with you over the next few days.

Here is the UCSB library’s entry:

“Douwe Stuurman oral history, 1982Author Online Archive of California Notes As a student at the University of Kiel, Professor Douwe Stuurman recalls his experiences in Nazi Germany and how Hitler’s programs compromised the academic integrity of the university. He describes his military assignments during World War II, which led to his discovery of the Chancellery Papers and Hitler’s personal library. The oral history also covers Stuurman’s academic career at UCSB, including his development of a course on the Bible as Literature. Finished version: A Rhodes Scholar’s View of Nazi Germany. Oral history conducted by David E. Russell, Santa Barbara: Davidson Library Oral History Program, 1982. 300 pages. Interviewer: David E. Russell, [1982?]. Interviewee(s): Douwe Stuurman. Transcript: Several versions. Douwe Stuurman with David E. Russell, A Rhodes Scholar’s View of Nazi Germany (Santa Barbara: Davidson Library Oral History Program, 1982), 300 pages. [don’t actually find a version of this length – latest version seems to be one with pencil edits]. Related materials: David E. Russell, “The World War II Experiences of Douwe Stuurman, Robert Olney Easton, Bob Tannenbaum, and Donald C. Davidson,” Soundings, XXVII, 34 (1997): 36-59.”

And from an earlier post:

After a few years in public schools and four years in the United States Marine Corps (1953-1957), I learned about sex and violence in more direct ways, and stopped reading the Bible until I was in university. When I was discharged from the USMC my new wife, new son, and I moved to Texas where I was going to become an electrical engineer. I studied engineering at the University of Texas until one day my first year English professor told the class that T. S. Eliot was coming to Dallas to give a reading. We were studying his poetry and I decided to go to the reading. It was amazing! Eliot read “The Hallow Men” in a Quonset hut – with rain falling on the tin roof – and I had a conversion experience. It hit me that engineers were building war machines and I did not want to do that. I went home, finished the year of engineering study, and moved to California where I changed majors first to math and then to English. I spent a year at Santa Barbara City College where my love for the humanities grew under the direction of a most impressive professor, Bart Sorensen. After a year at SBCC I received an entrance scholarship to UCSB. I was awarded the BA with Honors in 1961 and, partly because we were in need of money, I took a job as a personnel supervisor with the Boeing Company at Vandenberg Air Force Base.  This was an exciting time – a time of the Cold War, of bomb shelters and missile launches – a time to think about the nature of truth and the nature of good and bad. Boeing moved me to home office in Seattle and I moved engineers around to different projects in Minot, ND and Huntsville, AL. The money was good; the nature of the work began to challenge my sense of right and wrong. I was offered a transfer to Huntsville to work on the Dinosaur project. I turned it down on moral grounds and went back to graduate school.      Who were some of your mentors in university and what did you learn from them?  At the University of California in Santa Barbara I was assigned as a teaching assistant to Professor Douwe Stuurman, who taught a course on the Bible. His classes were always full of interesting people. In the front row were the nuns, who, he said, were there to spy on him. Then came the middle-aged students looking for therapy, the literature and philosophy students, and the atheists who sat in the back. I tried to sit in a different part of the room each time. Stuurman had a Freudian, Eastern, Calvinist, Proustian, Existentialist background and the ability to mesmerize an audience. Above all he opened up the text for me. I read it with fresh eyes. These stories were marvelous works of art! Stuurman’s lectures were inspiring (I used to call them “Stuurman on the mount”) and unlike my Lutheran pastor, he asked questions all the time. When not at the university I spent my time cleaning the Unitarian Church in Santa Barbara, which meant that I had the opportunity to talk with Lex Crane, who was ministering there then. His background in literature and philosophy was extensive and we used to have long talks about “meaning” while I should have been cleaning the toilets. I flirted with the idea of becoming a Unitarian minister, but never got the “call.”  I did a directed studies course with Dr. Stuurman on Albert Camus. I had another conversion! The Absurd. Made sense to me. I read everything Camus wrote and wrote about his ideas. I studied Shakespeare with Dr. Homer Swander, and poetry with Dr. Donald Pearce and Dr. Hugh Kenner.  Dr. Stuurman had one foot in the English Department and the other in the Philosophy Department. He taught a popular course called “Bible as Literature” as well as “Continental Literature”. Looking back now it is easy to see that I would try to follow in his footsteps. After completing studies for the MA I began my teaching career at Southwestern Oregon Community College, where I taught introductory English courses and Shakespeare.  From Stuurman I learned about continental literature and existentialism. He argued effectively for moral relativism. From Swander I learned the value of close reading of a text. And from others I learned the excitement of poetry. I returned to UCSB in the summer sessions as I worked on my next degree in philosophy.  I became a lover of literature:  The three writers who have most influenced my own take on fiction are Joseph Conrad in his foreword to The Nigger of the Narcissus; E. M. Forster in his little book Aspects of the Novel; and Kenneth Burke. I took an honors seminar with Burke at UCSB in 1965. He was another scholar who was multi-disciplinary in his work. He was also a great teacher. T. S. Eliot died during that year and Burke, who had written critically about Eliot, teared up when talking about his friend. 

I have also learned a great deal from my kids. When our first son was about four he went to play school one day and immediately went over to an easel and stood there holding a brush ready to start painting. The teacher came up behind him and said, “What are you going to paint?”  “God,” he said.  “And do you know what God looks like?” 

“I will when I finish the painting,” he said as he began to paint.

Painting by Siena


Old friends are special. Even if you do not see them often for whatever reasons. Bob Davis and I were friends from an early age. We did some crazy things from time to time: racing cars on the highway, playing jokes on other kids, talking and laughing in class, getting in trouble with the principal – you know the kind of stuff I mean. But, there was a strong relationship that we had. Evidenced by the fact that we developed and used our own private language. “Ton-jay-vous” was the key phrase, and depending on context it carried an enormous amount of information!

We loved sports and girls. We played football and were track stars (you know: small school stars). We loved movies and girls. We got in trouble on occasion, but never hurt anyone. I almost shot a duck hunter once when we were on our way to our duck blind set up on the farm by the big lagoon. Luckily he spoke up “Are you pointing that gun at me?” before I fired!

Mostly I remember the times we spent at his place in town. We were friends. Talking about the past with Bob was always fun – we may have exaggerated from time to time, but we were always ready to help each other. Good friends; buddies!

So, ton-Jay-vous old friend!