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Thousands of Books Lost after Fire in Historical Library

Fire in a 16th-Century library in Germany ravaged 25,000 irreplaceable books. Workers save 6,000 other works, including Luther Bible
( [email protected] ) Sep 04, 2004 12:37 PM EDT

A blaze broke out Thursday night, setting fire to one of Germany’s most precious historical libraries and destroying or damaging tens of thousands of irreplaceable books. “This is a painful blow,” Wiemar Mayor Volkhard Germer said.

About 25,000 books were destroyed and an additional 40,000 damaged by water and smoke after Weimar’s Duchess Anna Amalia Library fell victim to the tragic fire, reported the Associated Press.

The fire, which German Culture Minister Christian Weiss called a “national culture catastrophe and a great loss for world heritage,” broke out in a top floor after the library closed and raged for some two hours before 330 firefighters brought it under control.

Workers did, however, manage to save 6,000 works, including a 1543 Martin Luther Bible, after a human chain was formed carrying them to safety before abandoning their rescue attempts following the threat of a ceiling cave-in.

According to its website, the library houses some one million works at several places in Weimar, though the palace is the main location. They include 2,000 rare manuscripts from the Middle Ages, a collection of bibles from the 16th century, a papal edict issued against Martin Luther and letters of Germany's first chancellor, Otto von Bismarck.

Among the volumes destroyed from the blaze were a collection of 18th-century musical works donated by Duchess Anna Amalia and the renowned book collection of the first librarian, Daniel Schurzfleisch, who brought them to the library on 35 horse-drawn carts in 1722, library director Michael Knoche said.

Up to $4.9 million in immediate aid has been pledged to help repair the building and restore the books. Meanwhile, investigators are trying to determine the cause of the fire.