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.

October 16, 2012 22:36
3 minute read.
Austrian Jewish community head Ariel Muzicant.

ariel muzicant 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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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 headquarters.

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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.”

The ISA 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 returning.”

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 ours.”

“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 comment.”

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 said.

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 environment” there.

“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 material.

Meanwhile, the Austrian media reported Tuesday that Arab artists boycotted a music event in Vienna and Graz because of an Israeli logo.

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 concerts.

The organizer of the festival, Vienna Acts, expressed “incomprehension” over the boycott.

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