Vienna’s Jewish archives to remain in Israel’s hands
State archivist rejects legal claim of Austrian Jews to transfer the archives of Vienna’s Jews back from Israel.
Austrian Jewish community head Ariel Muzicant. Photo: Courtesy
Israel’s state archivist issued a decision on Monday rejecting a legal challenge
from Austria’s Jewish community to transfer the archives of Vienna’s Jews from
Israel to the Austrian capital.
In May 2011, Dr. Ariel Muzicant, the
former head of the 7,500-member Vienna Jewish community, filed a lawsuit in the
Jerusalem District Court against the Central Archives for the History of the
Jewish People in Jerusalem, calling for the collection of Vienna Jewish
documents between the 17th and 20th centuries to be returned to the community’s
Earlier this year, the Jerusalem court deferred the legal
authority of the case to the state archivist.
According to a Monday entry
from the English-language blog of the Israel State Archives (ISA), “the main
findings of the decision are that the collection was originally transferred as a
permanent loan (permanente Leihgabe). A permanent loan is not an oxymoron, but
rather a procedure used rather often by museums and sometimes by archives when
the owner of an important cultural artifact wishes to transfer it forever to a
cultural institution, while retaining some connection to it.”
blog added that according to the documentation on the Vienna collection, “the
depositors felt they were strengthening the cultural importance of the young
State of Israel as the center of the Jewish people; they were proud about their
contribution; and they had no intention of the collection ever
The blog concluded that because the collection’s current
location in Israel “offers adequate access to researchers, such as the present
Jewish community in Vienna cannot immediately offer, there is no justification
for the removal of the collection.”
The row between Israel and Vienna’s
tiny Jewish community created friction last year.
Muzicant stressed to
The Jerusalem Post at the time that the items in the disputed collection “are
“They belong to us, and when times were difficult, we sent them to
Israel as a loan,” he said. “Now we are trying to retrieve documents from six
different countries and build a Jewish archive for them in Austria, and the
archive in Jerusalem is ignoring us.”
In response to a Post query,
Muzicant’s successor, Oskar Deutsch, wrote on Tuesday that “we have not been
informed about the decision, and because of this reason we cannot
According to the ISA blog, the Vienna Jewish community was
Europe’s second-largest before the Holocaust.
“After the Shoah only a
small remnant remained. The leaders of the remnant decided, in the early 1950s,
to transfer their library, the archives of the community, and various other
cultural possessions, to the newly founded State of Israel,” it
Austria’s pre-Holocaust population numbered 200,000. The Nazis
eliminated Austrian Jewry between 1938 and 1945.
Samuel Laster, an
Israeli-born journalist living in Vienna, told the Post on Tuesday that it was
“good and important” that the archives remain in Israel. “Israel remains the
advocate of Jews around the world,” he said.
Laster said there was a
“lively Jewish community with a future” in Vienna. He said the community was
better off devoting its efforts to the “living Jews in an ambivalent
“The life of Jews in Austria is also a permanent
loan,” he said.
The ISA blog links to the archivist decision, which is
written in Hebrew, denying the Vienna community’s claim to the
Meanwhile, the Austrian media reported Tuesday that Arab
artists boycotted a music event in Vienna and Graz because of an Israeli
According to an Austria Presse Agentur article, the Palestinian
Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) initiated a
boycott of the “Salam.Orient” event because the Israeli embassy was listed as a
sponsor. The Israeli Embassy financed the appearance of a Tajikistan Israeli
music group at the festival. The protest resulted in the cancellation of three
The organizer of the festival, Vienna Acts, expressed
“incomprehension” over the boycott.