The Jerusalem District Court rejected last week a lawsuit submitted by Vienna’s
Jewish community to obtain Austrian Jewish documents from the 17th to 20th
It is a “very important decision” for the archive, Israel’s
state archivist Dr. Yaacov Lozowick told The Jerusalem Post on
The court decision “bolsters Israel’s claim” as the repository
for the Austrian archives, and the legal ruling set a precedent for the
“cultural centrality of Israel,” Lozowick said.
In 2011, Dr. Ariel
Muzicant, then head of the roughly 7,700-member Vienna Jewish community, filed a
lawsuit in the district court against the Central Archives for the History of
the Jewish People in Jerusalem, calling for the collection of Vienna Jewish
documents to be returned to the community’s headquarters.
Oskar Deutsch —
the successor to Muzicant — declined to comment on Monday and referred the
matter to the community’s Vienna-based lawyer, Daniel Neubauer. He told the Post
by telephone: “We are going to do everything that is possible to appeal the
decision. The Jewish community [in Vienna] is the rightful
If the Jewish community pursues its appeal, the case will require
Vienna’s Jews to sue the State of Israel.
Judge Gila Canfy Steinitz — the
wife of Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz — issued a four-page decision, which
dealt with the dispute between the Central Archives, located at Hebrew
University, and the Vienna community.
Lozowick issued an advisory opinion
outlining the reasons for Israel’s right to retain the documents, which played a
central role in the judge’s decision and interpretation of the 1955 law. Writing
on the Israel’s State Archivist blog in October, Lozowick wrote in connection
with his opinion: “The depositors [Austrian Jews] 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 returning.”
Lozowick told the Post that Canfy
Steinitz argued in her decision that Israel’s State’s Archive has the authority
to look at this legal dispute as a broader issue. He added that the judge
interpreted a 1955 law on archival material to mean that the opinion of Israel’s
State Archivist has professional merit in light of the law.
Gideon Weinbaum and Gilad Maoz are litigating the case for Vienna’s Jewish
community in Jerusalem.
Weinbaum told the Post during a telephone
interview that the court made a “legal error” and the judge made a technical
decision, rather than dealing with the merits of the case. The question of whom
the documents belong to still needs to decided, said Weinbaum.
Israel’s State Archive and Lozowick do “not have this type of authority” to
decide over ownership of the documents.
Asked if the Vienna community
plans to sue the State of Israel, Weinbaum said his firm is drafting the appeal
and it will be “against various organs of the State of Israel,” including the
If a party loans documents to a public institution, “it is
unthinkable that the State Archive can stop “attempts to compel a return of the
material to the Austrian community.”
The Israel State Archives blog wrote
about its advisory opinion to the court: “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.”
The leaders of Austria’s tiny Jewish
community in post-Holocaust Vienna sent the archives to Israel in the early
1950s because of the insecurity in the capital city.
Holocaust, 200,000 Jews lived in Austria.