Vienna's Jewish Archives to Stay in Israel, Court Rules

Jerusalem archives to pay for digital copies for Viennese community; some artifacts to be loaned to Jewish museum in Austrian capital.

Michal Fattal

The archives of the Jewish community in Vienna will remain In Israel, but a digital copy will be sent to the community there. However, several of the original documents in the archives will be loaned to a Jewish museum which is under construction in Vienna. These were the recommendations of the Supreme Court in a ruling handed down on Tuesday.

The ruling followed an unprecedented petition filed in 2011 by the Jewish community in the Austrian capital against the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, located in Jerusalem. The community demanded the return of thousands of documents that relate its history from the 17th century until the end of the Second World War. The Viennese community deposited the documents in Jerusalem after the war out of concern for their safety, and they remained there since that time. The community claimed that the documents were only given on loan, and now that a Jewish museum is being built in Vienna they want them returned.

The Jerusalem archives refused, claiming that the documents were given in perpetuity. The District Court rejected the petition, accepting the Jerusalem archives’ contention. It based its decision on the opinion of the state archivist, who stated that Israel is the cultural center of the Jewish people.

The Viennese community appealed to the Supreme Court. Earlier in the week Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Hanan Melcer and Neal Hendel delivered their ruling. They started by stating that this issue was a historically sensitive one.

The judges asked the two sides to come to an understanding, whereby the documents stay in Israel and the community receives a digital copy, at the Jerusalem’s archives’ expense. They proposed that arrangements be made to loan some of the original documents to the Museum of the Jewish Community in Vienna, once it is completed. The Jerusalem archives have agreed while the Viennese Jewish community has not yet responded.