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An exhibit featuring an array of materials - including letters, photos, Nazi-era documents - detailing the history of Vienna's Jews opened in the Austrian capital late Tuesday.
The documents, some of which date as far back as the 19th century, are part of an extensive archive belonging to the Jewish Community Vienna. The archive - described as a "unique historical document in the German-speaking world" - was officially founded in 1816 but contains material from as far back as the 17th century.
Located at the Jewish Museum Vienna in the heart of the Austrian capital, the exhibit also includes World War II-era material that surfaced by mere chance in 2000, when members of the Jewish Community in Vienna stumbled across some 800 boxes and dozens of wooden cabinets while preparing to turn a building over to new owners. On closer inspection, it turned out the boxes and cabinets were filled, among other material, with about half a million documents detailing the lives of Jews during Nazi times.
Part of that find is now on display in Vienna, in addition to a selection of other material stored at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem since the 1950s.
Since 2002, the Jewish Community Vienna and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington have been working together to preserve the material found in 2000 on microfilm for a wider collection that will include about 1.5 million Holocaust-era documents stored in Jerusalem.
Examples of what visitors can see as they stroll through the exhibit include an identification card for a Jewish woman dating back to 1939, a form listing the confiscation of objects of value dated 1938 - and even a newspaper clipping with an anti-Semitic sticker dating back to 1889.
Dan Ashbel, Israel's ambassador to Austria, was one of the high-profile guests at the opening.
"Here with this archive ... whoever is connected to this Jewish community that was one of the largest of the German-speaking Jewish communities before the Shoah, whoever is connected to it, will be able to find their roots," Ashbel said.
Unlike other Jewish communities in Germany and Austria, the Jewish Community Vienna continued to exist during the Nazi era until the end of October 1942, according to press material provided by the museum. From May 1938 onwards, it took care of tens of thousands of Jews and organized their emigration; starting in February 1941 it was forced to participate in the deportation of the remaining Jewish population.
The exhibit runs from July 4 to Oct. 21.
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