Station: [357] The Schocken Library in Jerusalem

In 1934, at the height of his career, Salman Schocken packed his suitcase and left the German empire. He thus became homeless. This was a fate he shared with many Jews: they felt German, they spoke German, but weren’t allowed to be German in Nazi Germany. 

With Salman Schocken over 200 cases with books went from Berlin to Jerusalem. They were either sent by post, or shipped out from Hamburg. Schocken had wooden crates specially made and numbered so that he could keep an overview of his collection. Each of the boxes contained a list of the titles of the books inside. 

Not far from the Schockens’ house in Balfour Street in Jerusalem Erich Mendelsohn designed a library for Salman. The building, with well-proportioned facade made of rose-coloured Jerusalem sandstone is equipped with a horizontal row of windows and glazed stairwells. 

Mendelsohn drew his inspiration from the countryside, which was still open at the time, the bare, staggered hilltops reaching into the background and the silhouettes of Arabian villages, which for him, were in perfect harmony with the landscape. His dream was to create a connection between European modernity and Arabian architecture.

Mendelssohn also created the interior design: elegant banisters, steel door handles, light citrus-wood book cases, chairs, tables and umbrella stands as well as washrooms and toilets. As in many other houses, his own being a good example, Mendelsohn orchestrated a total work of art. You can have a look at a model of Mendelsohn’s house at Rupenhorn in Berlin in the bow front exhibition on the first floor.

As the reading room in a library needs peaceful north light Mendelsohn put a row of windows in the north wall. This opens above the bookcases. Clearly visible on the model is a narrow, vertical oriel to the south, which means the sun’s movement can be seen inside during the day without too much light getting in. Mendelsohn quoted this oriel feature in many other buildings.

Schocken placed great value in his own study at the head of the library. The reading room in the main wing was open to the public and was used by colleagues who researched the Medieval and pre-Medieval literature and translated manuscripts. From 1939 Schocken’s son, Gershom, dedicated himself to the Jewish mysticism of the Kabbalah here.