Library of Emil Krebs

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The following reply was received by the Language Service of the Federal Foreign Office (Mr. Gunnar Hille, Lecturing Legation Councillor First Class) at the end of July 2008 in response to its inquiry about the whereabouts of the Krebs Library via the German Embassy in Washington. This confirms the transfer of the "Emil Krebs Library" to the National Library of the United States of America (Library of Congress, Washington D.C.) in 1932. The details of the sender and recipient of this mail have been partially deleted for data protection reasons. According to a great-granddaughter of Emil Krebs from Canada, there was an agreement that the books and writings of the entire library were to be transferred to the appropriate subject areas, i.e. languages, in due course.

--------Original-Message --------

Betreff: Fwd: Re: Estate Emil Krebs

Datum: Wed, 30 Jul 2008 12:58:59 -0400
Von: Judy S Lu
CC: Charles V Stanhope, David B. Morris

Dear Mr. Sch.

Your email inquiring about the Emil Krebs collection was forwarded to me by my colleague Dr. David M. Indeed, in 1932, the Library acquired the private library of the late Dr. Emil Krebs, who for many years served as the councilor of the German Legation in Beijing. While the bulk of his collection were lexicographical aids to the study of central European languages, however, there were 236 Chinese titles in 1,620 volumes that include novles, popular lyrics, histories, government documents and early examples of vernacular literature.

These literary works are housed in the Chinese rare book cage in the Jefferson Building according to their subject matters, not arranged as a separate collection.

This information can be found in the "/The development of the Chinese Collection in the Library of Congress/" by Shu Chao Hu. Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1979.

I hope this help.

Judy S. Lu
Head of Collection Services, Asian Division
see page 3


After Emil Krebs' death on March 31, 1930, his widow Amande Krebs and her sister Toni Deneke made an inventory of all the writings and books in this unique library. It was offered to various interested parties; in the end, Washington was awarded the contract. According to reports, the Vatican in Rome also expressed interest. No German inquiries are known, which is certainly to be regretted today.

The transcript of the extensive inventory at the time still exists in private ownership and provides information on all books and writings, organized by language. Authors, edition and publishing dates, rough summaries of contents, etc. allow an assessment of Krebs' linguistic and cultural knowledge. In some cases, it is also possible to deduce the beginning of the study of a language. It can be seen that the mother tongue German was not always used as the decisive intermediary language, and in some cases was even omitted. English, French, Russian, Chinese, Greek, Italian, Turkish, Latin, Spanish, Arabic and Dutch are frequently used as intermediary languages. To learn a foreign language, Krebs very often used textbooks from the respective country and translated editions of the New Testament. Language comparisons are also a recurring theme. Examples: Chinese - Mongolian; Chinese - Mongolian - Manchurian; Chinese - Mongolian - Manchurian - Tibetan and Chinese - Arabic. For further details of these findings, please refer to the essay "On languages in general" cited in transcript under "Publications by Emil Krebs". The book "Emil Krebs Kurier des Geistes" also goes into these facts and the 68 languages he mastered in more detail.

The booklet "Emil Krebs Wie lernte er Sprachen" accompanying the exhibition at Landtag Brandenburg. Potsdam (2023) provides information about the possibilities of autonomous language learning up to the beginning of the last century using the example of the polyglot Emil Krebs. Provided by KoKoPol (Polish Competence and Coordination Center), IBS St. Marienthal/Saxony. Ed. Dr. Klara Jagrova, Leipzig. Text by Eckhard Hoffmann, Potsdam. Under "Books" the reader can access the full content.

The overview of the "Emil Krebs Library" compiled in 1930/1931 lists a total of 111 languages. The books and writings listed provide information about the languages Krebs considered important or interesting and thus his assumed command of them.

The following evaluations are just a few of many, and provide an overview of the books and publications, their content, the intermediary languages, publishers, authors and much more.

The following evaluations are only a few of many, and form an overview of the books and publications, their content, the intermediary languages, publishers, authors and much more. copy of the sample request from Ms. Mande Krebs to various libraries. Including additionally identified literature (above all periodicals and newspapers from various countries) results in over 5,000 inventory items.




The above overview is based on the copy of the inventory list from 1930/31, which is still in private hands. The original is in the holdings of the Congress Library in Washington. Another copy was given to the Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office. An attempt was made to identify all the relevant data from the point of view of the compiler from the nearly 240 A4 pages of the record. This provides insights into the scope and depth of the languages learned or even just touched upon by Krebs. The intermediary languages used are listed. Further evaluations, not shown here, provide information on the use of intermediary languages in the area of grammar and entry via dictionaries or general literature. Its "main languages", i.e. languages spoken, are derived from the available data in the following example of Arabic. All the languages listed are documented in detail in the same way. Many languages that he only touched on can also be recognized from this list. If no information appears under "Third languages" (intermediate languages), it can be assumed that Krebs only learned the foreign language through his mother tongue German (e.g. Polish).

Krebs obtained his books and writings from libraries and publishers worldwide. Places such as Berlin, Leipzig, Heidelberg, St. Petersburg, Budapest, Paris, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, London and Constantinople are worthy of mention. German publishers are of course also extensively represented: Langenscheidt with 33 languages, Hartleben (now Vienna and Graz) with 53 languages, Stauffenburg and Groos 23 languages, de Gruyter including the Göschen collection and the publishers Reimer, Trübner and Veit (22 languages), Brockhaus (10 languages).


The following is a copy of a statement by the Head of the Language Service Gautier on the use of the polyglot Krebs in his office from the "Emil Krebs Personnel File" in the Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office.



This list of languages, handwritten by Krebs as early as 1922, was the basis for his transfer to the Foreign Office's language service. At that time, it already contained almost 40 languages from which Krebs was able to produce official translations into German. It can be assumed that further languages were added before his death.



Übersetzung der von Krebs handschriftlich erstellten Sprachenauflistung vom 23 August 1922:

"I can provide correct translations into German from the following languages":


Bulgarian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, Modern Greek, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Hungarian, Western Armenian.

Asia etc.:

Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Javanese, Korean, Malay, Manchurian, Mongolian, Eastern Armenian, Persian, Siamese, Tibetan, Urdu.

I have left out Latin, Ancient Greek, Ancient Hebrew as hardly worth considering, as well as some other languages of which I have a theoretical knowledge but not enough practical experience.

I know Albanian well enough to be able to make translations from it if I had a dictionary. The same applies to Georgian."