Latest in Podcasts and Multimedia

Armed Conflict Foreign Relations & International Law

Chatter: The Librarians Who Saved Books in World War II, with Kathy Peiss

David Priess, Kathy Peiss
Tuesday, July 2, 2024, 2:47 PM
Discussing the efforts of librarians to save books during World War II.

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

As the Second World War started, an unsung cadre of US librarians and other information management professionals was making its way to Europe to acquire printed material that could help American analysts understand international threats. As the war went on, the mission of these experts expanded to also include an unprecedented effort to locate, preserve, and ultimately decide what to do with millions of printed items of Nazi propaganda--and with the books and documents that Germany had seized and hidden during the war. 

Professor Kathy Peiss, who teached in the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania, joined host David Priess to discuss this, and more, including many stories from her compelling book Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe. They talked about the field of American Studies, her family connection that led her to study librarians and spies in World War II, the World War I-era connections between librarians and national security matters, the cooperation in the early 1940s between America's emerging intelligence efforts and the Library of Congress, extraordinary women who worked to gather materials in war-torn Europe, advances in microfilm technology and use as a result of their efforts, tensions between the US and UK in open source collection, the vital role Lisbon played in information hunting during the war, unique aspects of the material acquisition and preservation effort as the war ended, the heated debate over the destruction of Nazi books, challenges involved in the return of recovered materials, and more. Including zoot suits. Yes, really.

Works mentioned in this episode:

The book Information Hunters by Kathy Peiss

The movie The Monuments Men

The book The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter

The book The Hunter by Tana French

The book Dr. No by Percival Everett

The book World War I and the Foundations of American Intelligence by Mark Stout

Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Noam Osband of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad.

See for privacy and opt-out information.

David Priess is Director of Intelligence at Bedrock Learning, Inc. and a Senior Fellow at the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security. He served during the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations as a CIA officer and has written two books: “The President’s Book of Secrets,” about the top-secret President’s Daily Brief, and "How To Get Rid of a President," describing the ways American presidents have left office.
Kathy Peiss is a professor at University of Pennsylvania, American historian, and author of "Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe."