“Packing One’s Library:” Professor Emeritus Samuel Sandler donates collection to Regenstein

Prof. Samuel Sandler, a retired faculty member of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Chicago, taught the history of Polish literature. As of late, he has been busy packing his library, all six thousand (or more) volumes of them. They will be sent from his home in Chevy Chase to the University of Chicago Regenstein Library as a gift.  Once this long and arduous process is complete, they will expand and enrich the Polish book collection and, by extension, the Regenstein’s Slavic Collection.
To my knowledge, Professor Sandler’s collection is one of the largest private corpora of books owned by a Polonist in the US and its size guarantees that our faculty, students and visitors will be greatly facilitated in their research. Moreover, because of the particularly sophisticated and specialized quality of Professor Sandler’s library, even visitors from Polish universities will find the collection valuable.  From the onset, the thematic core of his collection were classics of Polish poetry and prose, literary criticism and the newest (at the time) literature. Thus, the reader will find in the collection the full editions of Jan Kochanowski, Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Slowacki, Aleksander Fredro, Zygmunt Krasiński, Cyprian Kamil Norwid, Władysław Syrokomla, and Henryk Sienkiewicz; these editions are accompanied by  related constellations of analytical and critical works.

Professor Sandler began to collect books early in his life and under especially dire circumstances, during his youth in the Łódź Ghetto. [1] In the Ghetto there was a bookseller named Wolański, who upon his resettlement to the Ghetto took there a cartload of books and for a while had a bookstore of sorts. One could buy or even borrow a book from him for a small fee in German currency; he even lent books for free to those individuals whom he trusted. And, as Professor Sandler had said, he was among them, at that time only a fifteen-year old boy from the local orphanage. Years later, at the close of the war, he started to accumulate books in full earnest, after passing the exam for entry to the newly created Łódź University. In retrospect, the most salient factor in his book collecting was their significant usefulness, their necessity for someone whose chosen profession is literary studies.

One has to realize that completing the core of such a book collection was in those years difficult, exorbitantly expensive and often to the detriment of other material needs. However, Professor Sandler’s name as a book collector was already known in bookstores throughout the country, initially in Łódź and later in Wrocław, as well as in Warsaw, where he subsequently lived and where he assisted in launching new institutions of higher learning or reviving those ravaged by the war. [2] Up until 1969, at the time he left Poland, these booksellers informed him about some of their valuable acquisitions. Afterwards, he continued purchasing books in Polish bookstores in Israel, England, and the US. It is no wonder that in every apartment or house in which he lived, books occupied all the available space in every room, co-habiting with him and his family.

By his own admission, he enjoyed acquiring rare editions of older Polish literature and criticism; these pleasures sometimes did not last long, but sometimes they were more permanent. Such was the case with collecting the Polish series of Biblioteka Narodowa (National Library), which he co-edited between 1953 and 1969. Together with Professor Jan Hulewicz, a Polonist and historian of education, he published about three hundred volumes of Polish and foreign literary classics in the series.

It goes without saying that parting with his books makes him a bit sad. For there are among them books which he had read numerous times due to teaching obligations, but also some that he donated without reading at all; since he does not espouse to Walter Benjamin’s conviction that books do not have to be read but should be touched, this deepens his melancholy. And there is yet another, entirely subjective core to his collecting of books–his bond with them. To put it in his own words: “I’d say, there are about six hundred volumes to which I am particularly attached and would like to keep.”[3]

Bożena Shallcross

The University of Chicago


[1] Email exchange, December 24, 2018.

[2] Samuel Sandler and Przemysław Kaniecki, „Płynność. Rozmowa z profesorem Samuelem Sandlerem o początkach Instytutu Badań Literackich PAN” (Fluidity. Interview with professor Samuel Sandler about the beginnings of the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences), Teksty Drugie, 2014: 2, pp. 265-283.


[3] Email exchange, July 8, 2018

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