The initial steps in forming this collection were taken by Isaac H. Coppenhagen (1846-1905), a Sofer Stam (a scribe of Jewish religious texts) and Hebrew teacher in Amsterdam. His son, Haim I. Coppenhagen (1874-1942), who qualified at the Joods Israelitisch Seminarium, the rabbinical Seminary in Amsterdam, expanded the collection inherited from his father, which he named Otsar Haim ('a treasure of life' or 'a living treasure'). Central theme of the collection was the history of Dutch Jewry. Haim's son, Jacob H. Coppenhagen (1913-1997), was initiated into this world of books and enjoined to maintain it.
The Collection during the Holocaust
After the first month of Nazi Occupation in 1940, Jacob realized that the now sizeable library could not stay where it was. He started to move it from his parents' home to the premises of a Jewish school, where he was on the teaching staff and where the books would be regarded as belonging to the school. But the elimination of the ex-libris was essential, so their origin could not be traced, removal of Jewish property being declared punishable. With the passage of time the Jewish school was scheduled for closure, as fewer and fewer pupils were attending, many having already been deported with their families. So the books were again at risk. Jacob started to move them to the building next door, which served as an ordinary school. The most precious items where hidden. But eventually Jacob had go into hiding himself to save his life leaving the books behind - scattered around several places. With the help of the Dutch resistance and righteous gentiles he was indeed saved. Most of his family perished in Auschwitz and Sobibor.
The Collection after the Holocaust
After the liberation, Jacob started to piece the library back together. Some books were returned at once, many others were missing. Those which had remained in the Jewish school had been confiscated by the Nazis along with the school's own books. After a relatively short interval, they were returned from Germany. Books that had been left behind in the Coppenhagen parental home had simply disappeared. However, periodically, even many years after the War, books belonging to the collection -identifiable from the contours and remnants of Haim's ex-libris- turned up. The initial motivation for forming the collection was simply the pleasure of collecting books, while also registering historical data on Dutch Jewry. But the unparalleled history of the Holocaust, which obliterated so much of Dutch-Jewish life, made Jacob Coppenhagen feel compelled to add to the collection books, which trace and illuminate the fate of European Jewry thus to recording and commemorating what had been annihilated. This purpose is captured in the statement, attributed in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 18a) to Rabbi Hanina ben Teradya in the course of his martyrdom, in a scene described in the Yom Kippur liturgy, of how gewillin nisrafien ve'otiyot porchot, '[parchment] rolls are burned, but [their] words fly'. This sentence appears in the ex-libris placed in all items of the collection from the early 1950s onwards, to indicate that the library represents the remnants of a once flourishing Jewish community. But the field turned out to be too broad to cover. He therefore decided to concentrate on the Holocaust in the Low Countries together with other material on the history of Dutch Jewry, including Surinam and the Dutch Antilles.
Eventually Jacob Coppenhagen became a librarian by profession. From 1965 until 1969 he was the librarian of the celebrated Ets Haim Library of the Jewish Portuguese community in Amsterdam, which owned rare Hebraica and many manuscripts. After emigrating to Israel in 1969, he served as Librarian for the Israeli Broadcasting Authority. His knowledge of Dutch Jewish history on the one hand and librarianship on the other had a beneficial impact on the maintenance and development of his own library. Cataloguing was improved and more topics where recognized and included as relevant to the overall theme of the library. Although a private collection, the library came to constitute a valued resource for a considerable range of researchers.
The material comprises nearly 30,000 books relating to the history of Dutch Jewry, a series of old etchings on Dutch Jewish themes, extraordinary collections of Jewish ex libris and early 20th century postcards of virtually all synagogues in the Netherlands, some 10,000 pamphlets on manyJewish communities before the Second World War, an extensive archive of newspaper articles and over 300,000 fiches recording facts and data concerning Dutch Jewry arranged by subject.
Literary production: The beginning of literary production and printing by Jews in the Netherlands coincides to a large extent with the Dutch Golden Age. The Coppenhagen Library contains an extraordinary and valuable collection of seventeenth-century Hebrew books printed in places such as Amsterdam, Leiden, Utrecht and Franeker. There are a large number of Hebrew Bibles (most of the Amsterdam prints are there), Hebrew grammars and dictionaries by Christian Hebraists and Jews (such as Johanne Buxtorf, Johannes Drusius, Johannes Leusden and Elijah Levita), works by Christian Hebraists on Jewish ethnography and the works of Menasseh ben Israel and virtually all the publications from his printing house. There is an exquisite collection of Ashkenazi and Sephardi prayer books for the entire year as well as Mahzorim for the High Holy Days and special occasions from the seventeenth century onwards, some with translations into Dutch or Yiddish. The Library furthermore has a section on Jewish-Christian relations also from the seventeenth century onwards, containing works in Dutch such as Phil. Van Limborch's Vriendelijke onderhandeling met den geleerden Jood (Amsterdam 1735).
Apart from the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century books the Coppenhagen Library contains a bibliographical section on Dutch printing (Jewish and general), a welcome addition to the existing bibliographical holdings of the Leopold Muller Memorial Library.
Data concerning Dutch Jewry: The library is rich in data concerning Dutch Jewry, in particular the various communities in the Netherlands which were decimated or annihilated during the Nazi period. The section comprises about 40 per cent of the holdings and is a unique resource for the history of Dutch Jewry. It contains sections on the following subjects:
a. Monographs and pamphlets (often difficult to obtain) concerning Dutch-Jewish communities. The pamphlets vary from sermons and special liturgies to eulogies for special occasions. There is a large collection concerning the loyalty of Jewish communities to the Royal family.
b. Information, some on microfiche, about Jewish life before the War, such as Jewish trade from 1932 to 1940 and the 'Weekly for the Jewish Family' from 1870 to 1940.
c. General information on the social, economical and cultural conditions in the Netherlands (mainly Amsterdam).
d. The Second World War and (Jewish) resistance.
e. The Holocaust, with a large section on Anne Frank.
g. Newspaper cuttings on a variety of topics related to Dutch Jewish subjects or persons.
Complementing the Foyle-Montefiore Library, this unique collection makes the Centre's Library one of the most important resources for the history of European Jewry.