The Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives (HJMA) and the National Library of Israel (NLI) have announced the joint purchase of seven Hungarian Jewish artifacts from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The historical documents include thousands of thousands of birth, death, marriage and other records from six Jewish communities. A number of the records mention prominent Hungarian Jewish community members. A substantial portion of the documents contain information from the period immediately before the Nazis occupied Hungary.
The documents have not been digitized in the past or been made available elsewhere. They are considered invaluable for historical and genealogical research.
The items first appeared in the auction listings of a Jerusalem auction house in August 2021. They were removed from the sale at the bequest of activists and Jewish heritage organizations.
The HJMA and NLI have promised to digitize the documents, making the high resolution scans available for free online, while properly preserving the physical documents in archival storage.
“We are convinced that privately held Jewish community heritage documents should ultimately reside in public archives and libraries. Sale or donation to such public institutions is the ideal permanent solution. Only professional archives with an active digital presence and a dedication to the preservation of Jewish heritage can properly care for these documents. We encourage all those who hold such artifacts to approach the NLI, HJMA, or other professional archives for a similar arrangement,” HJMA and NLI said in a joint statement.
They added: “These are not the kind of documents that should be kept in private hands, inaccessible to the public.”
They mentioned that during 2021, several similar items on auction had been removed for reasons of provenance, and even seized by the police.
“This has had the tragic but unintended consequence of distancing heritage documents from public ownership and protection. Items that are at risk of seizure by law enforcement agencies will remain hidden, and they will therefore not be preserved and digitized by professional archives,” they said.
“Law enforcement should be involved only in cases of clear evidence of theft, rather than a general concern about provenance after the tragedies and triumphs of modern Jewish history. ‘Return’ of such documents to towns without large Jewish infrastructures, professional archival storage, an accessible digital presence, or without continuity with Jewish communities that once lived there is also not a good long-term solution.”
(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Rosh Hashanah in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)