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Kurt Schwerin (1902-1995) Papers, 1902-1995

Identifier: 17/33

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Scope and Contents

The Kurt Schwerin Papers fill thirty archival boxes, spanning Schwerin's life, from 1902 to 1995. This collection is split into the papers of Kurt Schwerin and the papers of his wife, Gertrude Schwerin. Kurt Schwerin's collection is split into seven subseries: biography, education, lectures, teaching materials, correspondence, subject/research files, and publications. The publications subseries is further divided into articles and contributions, books and pamphlets, and book reviews.

Gertrude Schwerin's papers are divided into four subseries: biographical, education, correspondence, and publications.

Many of the documents in both Kurt and Gertrude's papers are in German. Some folders are labeled in German with the English translation in brackets. In those subseries ordered alphabetically, the folders in German are arranged according to their German title.

Kurt Schwerin:

The Biography subseries of Schwerin's papers includes press clippings, C.V.'s, profiles from such publications as Who's Who and Kürschner's, family history, accounts of his extensive travels around the United States and Europe, birth and marriage certificates, and records of his migration from Germany to the United States. Of particular interest are his papers dealing with Nazi Germany; there is his application for reparations, his papers dealing with his first wife Herta who stayed in Germany and died in a concentration camp, and his German passports from 1936 and 1940 (in the latter he is listed as “Kurt Israel Schwerin”). Within the folder on Herta Schwerin are documents representing Schwerin's attempts to confirm exactly how, where, and when she died. Also of interest is an interview conducted with Schwerin in 1972 in which he recounted much of his life story and discussed his feelings about Jewish life in America. The folders in this subseries are arranged alphabetically by title and, within the folders, in rough chronological order.

The Education subseries spans from 1922 to 1958. It includes records from his secondary school and university in Germany, course notes and compositions from his studies toward a Master of Social Science at the New School for Social Research, course notes and compositions from his B.S. and Ph.D. studies at Columbia University, and his dissertation entitled “The Revolution of 1848 and the German Historians”. The folders in this subseries are arranged chronologically, with the documents being also being arranged chronologically within the folders.

The Lectures subseries spans 1942 to 1994. It includes lectures he delivered concerning libraries and library organization, lectures concerning German and Jewish history, and eulogies he delivered. In addition to being a law librarian, Schwerin held a Ph.D. in history and was involved in such historical societies as the Leo Baeck Institute, which focused on German Jewish history - thus the lectures on history. One lecture of particular interest is “Jewish Resistance inside Germany” (1979) as it deals with a subject relatively little is written about. The folders in this subseries are sorted chronologically. Lectures are arranged in chronological order.

The Teaching Material subseries, spanning 1954 to 1989, includes course outlines, class lecture notes, student papers, and student grades. Almost all of the documents in this subseries come from Schwerin's time at Northwestern, though there is one folder from his brief teaching engagement at DePaul University. The subseries is organized chronologically by folder and by rough chronological order within the folders.

The Correspondence subseries spans most of Schwerin's adult life, from 1931 to 1995. It includes his correspondence with friends; family; colleagues; refugee groups; German and American government agencies; historical, librarian, and law associations; and publications. It includes both mail received by Schwerin and carbon copies of his outgoing mail. The publications with which he conducted correspondence include Northwestern Law Review and The Library Journal, periodicals that he wrote articles and reviews for. His correspondence with the German government includes letters concerning reparations due him. The correspondence with the refugee groups includes both letters when he was a refugee and a recent immigrant to the U.S. and letters later asking for his support for newer refugees. The individuals with whom he conducted correspondence include: his second wife, Gertrude; his successor as Northwestern Law Librarian, Igor Kavass; Northwestern University President J. Roscoe Miller; Northwestern Law School Deans, John Ritchie and James Rahl; and his predecessor as Law Librarian, William Roalfe. Also in the correspondence subseries are recommendation letters that Schwerin wrote for students and assistants of his. Much of Schwerin's correspondence - both that with the German government and with many of his friends and colleagues - is in German. This subseries is organized alphabetically by folder and chronologically within the folders.

The Subject Files subseries, spanning from 1932 to 1995, consists of Schwerin's research files, as well as records he kept of organizations and people he was involved with. One of his areas of research of particular interest is the “Jews in Silesia Research”. There is a vast amount of information in the folders devoted to this subject - it was a research project that spanned ten years and ultimately resulted in several articles, both in English and German. Of the organizations Schwerin was involved in and kept records of, two stand out both as those that contain the most information and that were the most important in his life. Schwerin was actively involved in the Leo Baeck Institute, and thus kept a great amount of records of their activities. Schwerin was also a member of the Selfhelp of Chicago organization, a group that, besides operating a home for the elderly, also offered a scholarship for needy students. The files relating to Selfhelp of Chicago contain both general records of the organization and extensive records of the applications for that scholarship. Other subject files relate to Schwerin's research projects as well as his involvement in various organizations. He was involved in several different law organizations as well as a number of Jewish organizations. This subseries is organized alphabetically by title, and retains the original order within the folder.

The Publications subseries is further divided into three parts: Articles and Contributions, Books and Pamphlets, and Reviews. A checklist of Schwerin's publications lists his publications from 1927 to 1989. There are several kinds of materials within the publication files, including: reprints of the published articles and copies of the published books, typewritten manuscripts, correspondence with publishers, and handwritten notes by Schwerin. The published pieces and typed manuscripts make up the vast majority of the material. Some of the articles are in German, as is his correspondence with German publishers. All of the folders within each subcategory are organized chronologically, and, when applicable, in rough chronological order within the folders.

The Articles and Contributions subcategory, spanning 1934 to 1989, contains articles that Schwerin wrote for periodicals, as well as books that he contributed to, either as a writer of a chapter or as one of several editors. He was one of a number of contributors working under Herbert Strauss on Jewish Immigrants of the Nazi Period in the U.S.A., Vol. 2: Classified and Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles on the Immigration and Acculturation of Jews From Central Europe to the USA Since 1933 (1981). As with his lectures, some of Schwerin's publications are library-related while others are historical. Several of the historical articles written by Schwerin deal with the Jews of Silesia, a subject near to Schwerin's heart, as he was himself a Silesian Jew. His article, “Die Juden in Schlesien: Aus ihrer Geschichte und ihrem Beitrag zu Wirtschaft und Kultur” [The Jews in Silesia: Their History and Their Contribution to the Economy and Culture] (1980), was translated into English; that translation is present as well, under the title “The Jews of Silesia: An Attempt to Assess Their History and Their Economic and Cultural Activities”.

One library related article of interest is “The Elbert H. Gary Law Library at Northwestern University”, that Schwerin wrote with William Roalfe for The Law Library Journal in 1953, as it presents a short history of the law library.

Books and Pamphlets, dating between 1947 and 1989, includes Classifications for International Law, the book that gained Schwerin great acclaim and respect among American law librarians. All three editions of the book are kept together, defying strict chronological order for the sake of convenience for the researcher. Also among his books and pamphlets is Northwestern University School of Law - A Short History, 1859-1959, which he co-authored with James Rahl, as well as a short history he wrote of the Selfhelp of Chicago organization. His other books concerned, again, both historical and library-related matters.

The last subcategory, Reviews, consists of book reviews Schwerin wrote for various periodicals. This subcategory spans from 1934 to 1988. The longer reviews are listed under the name of the book they are reviewing, while the shorter reviews are kept together, organized either according to the periodical in which they appeared or according to the year in which they were printed. All of the short reviews that appeared in The Library Journal are in one folder, while Schwerin's review of Justice and Nazi Crimes: A Collection of German Sentences Concerning National Socialist Murder Crimes is in its own folder and is listed accordingly. The folders that contain multiple reviews are organized in rough chronological order.

Gertrude Schwerin:

The Biographical subseries of Gertrude Schwerin's papers starts even before her birth, spanning the years 1907 to 1993. This subseries includes her birth certificates, citizenship papers, passports and papers from Nazi Germany, diaries, C.V.'s, family information, books of her poetry, her profiles from Who's Who, and other personal records. Gertrude Schwerin was a prolific poet, as is evident from the great number of books of poetry, in German, present among her papers. The papers are organized alphabetically by folder and within the folders by rough chronological order.

The Education subseries of Gertrude Schwerin's papers spans from 1932 to 1948. It consists of certificates and reports from the universities she attended, as well as her study books and a record of her training and experience. Gertrude Schwerin's primary area of study was modern languages, which she would use later in her job as a translator, and which is demonstrated by the records of her schooling. The folders in this subseries are organized chronologically, as are the documents within the folders.

Correspondence, dating between 1926 and 1995, consists mainly of letters to and from friends and family, though there are a few organizations as well. Some of the correspondence was not actually conducted by Gertrude Schwerin. Grete and Ralph Morris, for example, sent letters to Kurt after Gertrude died. However, because the bulk of their total correspondence with the Schwerins was with Gertrude Schwerin, those last few letters have been included in Gertrude's rather than Kurt's correspondence subseries. Similarly, condolence letters for Gertrude's death to Kurt remain among Gertrude's correspondence. The correspondence subseries is organized alphabetically by folder and chronologically within the folders.

The Publications subseries spans from 1951 to 1991. Most of her publications were articles written for a few different newspapers and for her apartment complex's newsletter. She wrote many articles for the German-language Jewish newspaper, Der Aufbau; most of them were profiles of notable people in the German Jewish community. With her apartment complex's newsletter, The Malibu Monthly, she was the head staff writer and wrote a regular column entitled “One of us” in which each month she profiled a different member of the community. The subseries is organized chronologically by folder and chronologically within the folders.

Description of the Additions, Boxes 31-35

The additions to the papers of Kurt Schwerin are arranged in six boxes and cartons and include photograph albums and scrapbooks.

Four of the photograph albums document the personal and family activities of Gertrude Dosenheimer, later Schwerin's wife, between the years ca. 1913 and 1937. Schwerin's early photographs and those he collected with Gertrude fill another fourteen albums and date from 1919 through 1992. These albums feature photographs of various sizes and formats along with picture postcards. The images reflect the personal and professional interests of the Schwerins; a considerable portion relate to their frequent journeys both within the United States and abroad. Each album is numbered and dated and includes within its front cover a summary identification of the contents.

Seven scrapbooks date between 1936 and 1995 and for the most part contain clippings and photocopies of newspaper or other periodical articles by and about Schwerin. The articles typically pertain to professional matters in librarianship, to the history and cultural affairs of the Jewish community of Breslau, and to the concerns of Jewish expatriates from Germany. Like the photograph albums, the scrapbooks are numbered, dated, and include summaries of their contents.

A number of oversized and three-dimensional objects have been separated from the Schwerin papers. His diplomas from the New School for Social Research (1940) and from Columbia University (1944 and 1955) have been transferred to the University Archives' collection of like items. Filed with the diplomas and printed on strips of cloth are a poem and a song written in commemoration of the 1857 wedding of Schwerin's great-grandparents, Samuel and Linna (Littauer) Schwerin. Other objects, listed below, have been transferred to the University Archives' artifacts collection.


Federal Republic of Germany: Officer's Cross, Order of Merit: medal, pin and presentation case

Badge: Reichstag Besuch in Berlin

Tallit and kippah (prayer shawl and head covering) with velvet bag

Wooden dish decorated with heraldic crest and the name Schwerin

Northwestern University School of Law Building and Endowment Campaign: medallion and presentation case

Northwestern University School of Law: paperweight

Silver tray presented to Schwerin by colleagues at the Northwestern University School of Law, 1970

Northwestern University luggage tag

Plaque: Columbia University $200 Million Campaign, 1970

Napkin ring engraved "Gertrud"

Bookmark engraved with initials G[ertrude] S[chwerin]


  • 1902-1995


Conditions Governing Access

Parts of this collection may contain sensitive materials (Box 7, Folders 10, 11, and 13; Box 8, Folder 1; Box 18, Folders 10-15; and Box 19, Folders 1-24); consultation with University Archivist required prior to use. This collection is stored off-site and requires two business days advance notice for retrieval. Please contact the McCormick Library at or 847-491-3635 for more information or to schedule an appointment to view the collection.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is stored at a remote campus location and requires two business days advance notice for retrieval. Please contact the McCormick Library at or 847-491-3635 for more information or to schedule an appointment to view the collection.


35.00 Boxes

Language of Materials



Kurt Schwerin was principally known as a law librarian. After writing the well respected volume Classification for International Law his role as a leading figure among American law librarians was established. In 1948, he came to the Northwestern University Law Library to help develop the foreign law collection. Under his supervision, the foreign law collection would become one of the leading collections of its kind in the country. The Kurt Schwerin Papers fill thirty archival boxes, spanning Schwerin’s life, from 1902 to 1995. This collection is split into the papers of Kurt Schwerin and the papers of his wife, Gertrude Schwerin.

Arrangement Note

The papers are arranged into subseries by general subject, then chronologically arranged.

Method of Acquisition

The Kurt Schwerin Papers were donated to the University Archives by Ilona Hartman as Accession Numbers 95-207, 96-56, and 99-83 on December 27, 1995, March 19, 1996, and June 3, 1999, respectively.

Separated Materials

Approximately one and a half cubic feet of extraneous or duplicate material were discarded. One book, Das Deutsch Soziale Drama (1949), by Gertrude Schwerin's aunt, Elise Dosenheimer, was given to Northwestern University Library.

Processing Information

Main series processed by Peter Kimball, summer 2001. Additions processed by Kevin B. Leonard; November 15, 2001.

Guide to the Kurt Schwerin (1902-1995) Papers, 1902-1995
Peter Kimball
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Library Details

Part of the Northwestern University Archives Repository

Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US