Cue the creepy music! Allow me to psych you into opening that creaky door to investigate….. the Internationale Jugendbibliothek!! Are you scared yet? No, I didn’t think so, but the International Youth Library located in Munich grew out of one of the scariest events in world history: World War II.
Let’s set the scene before jaunting off on this virtual field trip. I recently served as a student ambassador at the Fay. B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival. We ambassadors were able to attend the many sessions at the Festival when we were not performing some task for our keep. Naturally I was intrigued by this offering: The Bloody Book Castle, Jella Lepman, and You: Exploring Munich’s International Youth Library. All kinds of questions popped up immediately: Is it a castle or a library? Why call it bloody? Who is or was Jella Lepman, and how is she connected to the library? What kind of proposal could I draft for work or for school that would get me to Munich? Whoops, I’m getting carried away retrospectively. Sorry about that! Needless to say, I chose to attend this wonderfully titled session. Presented by Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo of the University of Alabama, this session turned out to be one of my favorites of the entire festival, and not just because I came away with a cool bag!
Whisk yourself back in time to the uncertain times immediately after WW II. You are a German Jewish woman living in exile in Britain, having fled there to escape Nazi persecution. As a journalist and a children’s book author, you know the importance of the written word. You know the power of words for evil and for good. Now that the voices of evil have been silenced, you are drafted by the American Army as a consultant for cultural and educational matters for women and children in the American-controlled areas of Germany. This group needs so many things: a sense of security, shelter, employment…. How will you go about fulfilling your important mission?
With children’s books, of course!
The woman who dreamed up this bookish answer to the many needs of children and their parents after WW II is Jella Lepman. She wanted to focus on the children and teens traumatized by the rigors of the recently ended war and to begin to reverse the damage done by years of nationalistic indoctrination. Lepman solicited donations of children’s books from publishers worldwide. With 4000 books representing at least 14 countries, Lepman held an exhibit in Munich of International Youth Literature. Featuring the donated books and artwork created by children all over the world, the 1944 exhibit was a huge success.
Thus, Lepman was inspired to create the International Youth Library. 1949 saw the opening of the Internationale Jugenbibliotek with 8000 volumes and a mission to foster world peace through international understanding and cooperation. This new library allowed free access to its holdings, and it provided much more than books. Foreign language classes, book discussions, art classes, and music all helped children and their parents begin to heal their invisible war wounds. Lepman’s vision still informs the current library which is now the largest library for international children’s literature in the world. While the library’s mission has changed somewhat over the years, Lepman’s visionary goal of fostering a peaceful world for growing children and teens remains an integral part of the Internationale Jugenbibliotek.
This international library moved to its current home, Blutenburg Castle, in 1983. Dating from the 15th century when it served as a hunting lodge, the castle itself is a Munich tourist destination. A chapel contains beautiful artwork, and the castle grounds bounded on one side by the River Wurm are a delight. So we arrive at the final mystery of our virtual field trip. It is a castle, and the German word blut means blood. It’s a bloody castle!