In all likelihood, there are plenty of valuable Hungarian Jewish historical records all around the world — many of them presumably stolen from the local communities by unknown people. You can bid for a special package of documents these days. The Hungarian Orthodox Jewish community is now fighting for its stolen treasures.
On a private online community site dealing with the Jewish past, we came across an outraged cry for help from a researcher last week.
We contacted Mattan Segev-Frank of Israel, A Historian and Genealogy Researcher who, while working on his MA thesis on the History of the Hungarian rabbinical Reich dynasty, came across a disturbing find.
According to the expert, someone “smuggled out” for profit the religious documents that originally belonged to the Orthodox Jewish community in Budapest.
A package of 62 (!) items was announced at a public auction for this week’s Monday (February 15) at a starting price of $ 3,500. Rabbinical documents, written mostly in Hungarian and German between 1830 and 1944, include not only death and birth records, but also various treaties, private correspondences, and other ecclesiastical documents affecting members of the community. The Origin Living in Me consulted several experts, all of whom have the same conclusion:
These are invaluable treasures, which may also be based on the fact that the documents include prominent rabbinic disciples, and meaningful orthodox religious leaders with their own manuscripts and personal reflections.
Unfortunately, the archives of the Budapest Orthodox community have been on the international market for at least two decades — a staff member of the collection department of the National Library of Israel wrote to us in a letter. Dr. Yoel Finkelman, one of the curators of the Judaic department, has already experienced auctions organized to obtain Hungarian documents.
Everyone can access the Hungarian-related collection in their library at this link. Finkelman says this week’s lot is over their budget, so they won’t compete for the package. According to him, it is also strange that recently there seemed to be a proliferation of Hungarian-related documents to be sold on commercial sites, but he only said that they were “tragically fuzzy” as to what their origins might be.
Tamás Lózsy, whom we reached by telephone at his workplace in the Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community of Hungary last week, did not formulate it in such a nuanced way. Lózsy is a member of the community’s archives. He knew about the case when I called because of a community member drew their attention to the auction shortly before I contacted him.
He said there was clearly theft, though it was at least as difficult to prove as it was to determine exactly where the documents had disappeared.
Lózsy spoke in a rather determined voice about trying to mobilize everything they could in the few days before them to get the documents back. To this end, they will also look for organizations and individuals in America who, they hope, will also support the matter materially.
We also asked Lózsy some questions later in writing so that we could substantiate what was said on the phone with other statements. However, for our suggestions:
Who, when and where could steal this and other documents? Does anyone have a responsibility for this?
we did not receive clear answers.
Regarding what he thinks of the collection, Lózsy replied: “The books are various unique documents of former Hungarian Jewish funeral associations: Chevra statutes, decrees, minutes, lists of members and cemeteries, and so on.
In many cases, the establishment of the Chevras was well ahead of its communities, and the material represents invaluable Hungarian-Jewish historical value.
We thought that perhaps Dr. Yochai Ben-Ghedalia, the Jerusalem-based head of the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, based in Jerusalem, could help our clairvoyance. However, he wanted to speak with us only off the record-style. We contacted also for comment the Ministry of Diaspora via email. Until today we have not heard from them.
We do not know, and it remains a full mystery who and how were able to steal the unique spiritual treasures of orthodoxy for years.
Curator Finkelman from the National Library noted in several of our correspondence that
presumably the thieves did not commit their deeds recently, but in the past, it can now be almost ruled out that they may ever be held accountable for their theft.
PS: Anyone who would help the Budapest Orthodox to regain their values can contact Tamás Lózsy at :
+36 1 351-0524 or 1074 Budapest Dob utca 35.