Hungarian documents purchased to protect the past

September 6, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives (HJMA) and the National Library of Israel (NLI) have announced the joint purchase of seven documents from the 19th and 20thcenturies, related to Jewish life in what is now Hungary.

These documents include thousands of birth, death, marriage and other records from six different Jewish communities, including a number pertaining to prominent Hungarian Jewish figures, and many from the Holocaust period – immediately prior to the Nazi occupation and following the war.

Not available anywhere else or yet digitized, these documents will present valuable contributions to historical and genealogical research.

After appearing in the catalogue of a Jerusalem auction house in August 2021, the items were removed from auction at the request of activists and organizations dedicated to the preservation of Jewish heritage. Following the joint purchase, the NLI and HJMA have committed to digitizing and making high-resolution scans of these documents freely available on the internet, as well as preserving the originals under the highest standards of archival storage.

The National Library of Israel and the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives share a commitment to public ownership of Jewish and European heritage.

In a joint statement, the library and museum said: “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.

These are not the kind of documents that should be kept in private hands, inaccessible to the public.”

Over the course of 2021, several similar items have been removed from auctions, and even been seized by law enforcement. 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. 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.

Documents acquired through the joint purchase:

  • Pinkas Hevra Kadisha (Ledger of the Burial Society) of Ujhel (Sátoraljaújhely), during the years of the Second World War (1942-1946)
  • Pinkas Hevra Kadisha of Mishkoltz (Miskolc) (1934-1942)
  • Marriage Register of Mishkoltz (Miskolc) (1851-1881)
  • Register of Births and Cicumcisions from Putnok (1858-1884)
  • Register of Births and Circumcisions from Onod (1886-1913)
  • Pinkas Hevra Kadisha of Debrecen (1896, 1946-1948)
  • Ledger of Income and Expenditures of Bussermin (Hajdúböszörmény) (1910-1943)


2 Responses to “Hungarian documents purchased to protect the past”
  1. Robert Gescheit says:

    I am incredibly proud & thrilled at having been involved in the saving of these valuable manuscripts, especially the 163 year-old Putnok Jewish birth register which contains records of many of my family members who lived in Putnok, Hungary in the 19th century.

  2. mdlewis999 says:

    Fortunately many of the 19thC Hungarian Jewish Community Lists did not suffer this “theft”. At least 100,000 births, marriages and early age deaths have been transcribed by JewishGEN (one of the transcribers is a well known Sydney dweller). I have used them to accurately sketch out my wife’s genealogy back to the start of the 19thC. Also, noting all the great uncle/aunts and a generation further back.

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