Gerhart Riegner, born in Berlin in 1911, was the author of the famous telegram sent to the Allies in London and Washington in August 1942, alerting them to the fact that the so-called Final Solution was on the point of being implemented. Riegner's telegram conveyed the vast scale of the Nazi plan to murder the Jews and mentioned prussic acid as a method being discussed. This chemical was indeed a component of Zyklon B.
Riegner left Germany in 1933 and settled in Geneva after completing his studies in international law in Paris. He joined the World Jewish Congress as a Legal Officer in 1936 and, in 1939, became the head of its Swiss office. This put him in a position to learn about what was taking shape in Germany and the occupied territories, through the agency of individuals like Eduard Schulte, the German industrialist and anti-Nazi who made use of his high level access to Nazi leaders to gather intelligence and pass it to Jewish contacts.
After the war, Riegner remained with the WJC and dedicated himself to the work of changing long-standing attitudes towards the Jews in order to minimise the chances of future injustices on the scale of the Holocaust. An area of particular interest was Jewish-Catholic relations and relations with the Vatican. This work culminated in 1993 with an agreement normalising relations between Israel and the Holy See.
Riegner died in Geneva in December 2001 and The Wiener Library received his library as a legacy in 2002.
Riegner's collection, which filled his modest flat near Geneva's city centre, comprises some 2,500 volumes ranging in topics from the Holocaust to the post-war development of Jewish-Catholic relations (a field to which he made a substantial contribution) to human rights and the philosophy of law. Inevitably, the German classics are also heavily represented, as is art history, 20th Century literature and philosophy.
You can search for the collection in our Online Catalogue using the subject term ‘Riegner Collection'. The Riegner Collection is stored as a discrete collection on the top shelves in the Wolfson Reading Room as a memorial to one of the great figures of 20th Century Jewry.