New Jewish Sources Found
Fifty-five years after World War II, the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien (IKG; Jewish Community Vienna) made a startling discovery.
During a routine inspection in 2000 of one of its older buildings, IKG officials found a vacant apartment filled with documents in wooden cabinets and 800 cardboard boxes, covered with decades of dirt, dust, and mold. Closer examination revealed that these materials included a cache of approximately 500,000 Holocaust-era pages of reports, letters, emigration and financial documents, deportation lists, card files, books, photographs, maps, and charts detailing the final years of the once-largest German-speaking Jewish community in Europe and representing a substantial and long-forgotten part of the archive of the Viennese Jewish community.
IKG officials were thrilled by their discovery. Officially, the archive of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien, including the Holocaust-era records, had been transferred in the 1950s to The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP) in Jerusalem. The IKG has surmised that the material found in the apartment was gathered towards the end of the war by members of the community, placed in storage, and then moved several times until it was forgotten.
The IKG quickly packed up and transported the records to the newly established Holocaust Victims’ Information and Support Center, primarily to assess the material for immediate use in pending restitution and compensation claims. In addition, the Historical Commission of the Republic of Austria was given access to the records in order to conduct historical research into the expropriation of Jewish assets in National Socialist Austria.
Coincidently, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) had recently surveyed Germany’s regional, municipal, and institutional archives for Holocaust-era records and found a significant number of Jewish-community records of the period. Thinking that the same might be true in Austria, the Museum contacted the IKG about locating and microfilming its surviving Jewish-community records.
The IKG invited staff from the International Archival Programs Division (IAPD) of the Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies to view the newly discovered materials. Improper storage had left many deteriorating, crumbling, and disordered documents. It was immediately apparent that this unique and fragile collection was important to preserve for use by both survivors and scholars.
As a result, the USHMM and the IKG agreed in 2002 to cooperate in microfilming the entire collection. In preparation, IKG staff—with financial assistance from the Museum—organized and categorized the materials, removed harmful components (such as staples and paperclips), and stored the documents in acid-free archival containers. The IKG and the Center’s IAPD staff also developed a bilingual, descriptive archival scheme and entered record groups into a preliminary database. Microfilming began in July 2002 and continues today.
The USHMM and the IKG also signed a Tri-lateral agreement with the CAHJP in November 2003 to microfilm the 1.5 million pages of Holocaust-relevant records of the Jewish community of Vienna stored in Jerusalem.
Once the component projects in Vienna and Jerusalem are completed, the entire Holocaust-relevant archival collection of about 2 million pages will be made available for research at the USHMM in Washington. Without a public archive, the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien is currently not able to make the materials accessible in Austria. Plans exist, however, to make these records available in the future at the proposed Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies (VWI).
The microfilming of both the Vienna and the Jerusalem component collections would not be possible without the generous financial support of the following institutions and private individuals:
- Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Inc. (Claims Conference)
- Nationalfonds der Republik Österreich für Opfer des Nationalsozialismus (National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism)
- The Benjamin and Seema Pulier Charitable Foundation
- Descendents of Egon and Frieda Fried
- The Gerber Foundation
- Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien, which is providing crucial staff resources and expertise towards the implementation of the project.