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Budapest Rabbinical Seminary

(est. 1877)

The characteristic of Rabbi Emil Davidovič’s book collection is that almost all of the last rightful owners of the books it contains are to be located in Czechoslovakia of the "First Republic" and in the then German Reich.

Therefore, at first it seemed surprising how 17 identified copies of the Budapest Rabbinical Seminary had found their way into this collection so far. This fact can be explained by the special position of the "Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia" in the last 12 months of the Second World War.

Cultural property, which the Nazis sought to protect from Allied air raids, was moved to remote regions (mines or remote castles). Occupied Czechoslovakia was also considered an area to which looted Reich German libraries had been shipped. Some castles in the Sudenten area and the so called ghetto in Theresienstadt served as storage sites. In parallel, property belonging to Jewish citizens of the “Protectorate” was gathered en masse in Prague - this was done via the so-called "Treuhandstelle" (trusteeship office). Cultural and academic institutions were kept running despite the war, as long as they were not banned, and this included the Jewish Museum in Prague. The Nazis took advantage of the existing infrastructure and the know-how of the employees there, and thus tens of thousands of expropriated objects were incorporated into the museum's holdings under duress, including arts and crafts, documents, ritual objects, but above all books.

Thus, from the point of view of the occupying forces, it seemed obvious that the books looted by the SS in Budapest in 1944 should first be taken to the "Protectorate", in order to be transferred to one of the Reich-German institutes for "enemy research" after the supposed German victory.

In a lightning-fast action, Hungary was invaded on March 19, 1944.  Building on his previous experience, Adolf Eichmann had also been entrusted with the task of organizing the deportation of Hungary's Jewish population to the death camps. In addition, countless Hungarians were deported to the German Reich for forced labor. In Czechoslovakia, too, the expansion and construction of armaments factories was planned in which Hungarian forced laborers were to be employed.

For official reasons, but possibly also for personal reasons, Eichmann showed an interest in Hebraica and Judaica. The occupation with "enemy research" was a prestigious field of activity and provided Eichmann, among others, with the authority to acquire the necessary material. This also explains why Eichmann had the library catalog handed over to him from the already reputable Budapest Rabbinical Seminary and selected several hundred volumes, which he presumably had shipped directly to the "Protectorate".

The day after the invasion of Hungary, Hermann Krumey and Dieter Wisliceny, who were responsible for the practical implementation of the deportations, summoned the officials of the Jewish communities in Hungary to Budapest in order to set up a kind of Jewish Central Council, or “Judenrat”. This council, comparable to the "Council of Elders" in Prague, was to work for the occupiers and act as an interface between them and the (forced) members of the community.  Eichmann also appeared before the Central Council and gave a speech: "In passing, Eichmann remarked that for his part he was very interested in Jewish objects and libraries. Since 1934 he has been dealing with Jewish issues and speaks Hebrew well. He will visit the Jewish museum, where many antiquities are kept, and the libraries, he should be appointed a guide...Everything that is claimed will be recorded down to the smallest, later it will be returned or compensated on the basis of the inventory...after the war the Germans will again become the old good-natured people and will again allow everything as before..." (Shorthand recording of Eichmann's speech by Dr. Ernő Boda (translation of retranslation); see below: Levai, p. 79 f.)

Eichmann's calculation in these words was primarily aimed at having a de-escalating effect on the Central Council and its functionaries and thus on the entire Jewish population of Hungary. A revolt was to be prevented by using all tactical means. Whether Eichmann's interest in Jewish cultural property was hypocritical or not does not change the act of looting itself, but it can shed light on his motives and methods.

The rabbinical seminary - founded in 1877 as the Landes-Rabbinerschule - was confiscated by the National Socialists, and teaching was suspended. Instead, the building served as a prison and transit camp for Budapest Jews. Even before the capitulation of the German Reich, the seminary was able to reopen its doors. In the few months between the closure and reopening of the institution, the Nazis, with the support of the Hungarian authorities, murdered over 560,000 Hungarian Jews.

Shortly before the end of the war, the roof of the seminary collapsed after an air raid and a large part of the remaining inventory was destroyed - subsequently also due to weather conditions. It took until the 1970s for Dr. Otto Muneles in Prague to identify several hundred books from the seminary and publicize their "discovery". The return finally took place during and after the "Velvet Revolution".

The books identified in Heidelberg reached the Federal Republic of Germany as early as the 1960s and can now supplement the holdings of the "Eichmann loot" in Budapest. The other remaining copies are now scattered around the world and can be found in libraries and auction catalogs, among other places.

Among the volumes now restituted were 4 Hebrew prints of the 16th century, which belonged to the most important copies of the Heidelberg library. These, as well as the other books, can contribute not only to their physical return itself but also to the history of science and the history of the Rabbinical Seminary, they contain not only handwritten annotations but also dedications and ownership notes of their previous owners.

Before their return, the books were on display for the last time in an exhibition at the HfJS. On April 26, the handover to the responsible persons of the seminar took place there. It was a special honor for us to have Dr. Balázs Tamási give a lecture on this occasion, which he dedicated to the history of his institution and its library.

The following books were restituted and it cannot be ruled out that more will be identified in the future in the still unprocessed holdings of our library:

Melamed, Raphael Hai: The Targum to canticles according to six Yemen mss. Compared with the "Textus receptus" as Contained in de Lagarde's "Hagiographa chaldaice", Philadelphia 1921.

Scholz, Paul: Die heiligen Alterthümer des Volkes Israel. 2, Die Cultuszeiten und Cultushandlungen des Volkes Israel, Regensburg 1868.

Bacher, Wilhelm: Die Bibelexegese Moses Maimuni's, Strasbourg 1897.

Weiss, Adolf: Mose ben Maimon. Führer der Unschlüssigen, Leipzig 1924.

Giesebrecht, Friedrich: Die Geschichtlichkeit des Sinaibundes, Koenigsberg 1900.

Zweig, Arnold: Neun Holzschnitte zu ausgewählten Versen aus dem Buche Jeschu ben Elieser ben Sirah / Jakob Steinhardt, Berlin 1929.

Sonnenfels, Alois von: Sendschreiben des hochedelgebohrnen Herrn Aloysius von Sonnenfels...über zwey hebräische Wörter Chartumim und Belahatehem…, Vienna 1786.

Kennedy, James: The note-line in the hebrew scriptures. Commonly called Pāsēq, or Pěsîq, Edinburgh 1903.

Duckesz, Eduard: Chachme Ahw. Biographien und Grabsteininschriften der Dajanim, Autoren und der sonstigen hervorragenden Männer der drei Gemeinden Altona, Hamburg, Wandsbek, Hamburg, 1908.

Ḳazim, Shemuʾel ben Mosheh:  ספר מקור חיים : ביאור על התורה , Mantua 1559.

Also mentioned in Lelio Della Torre's (pre-owner) catalogue:, Nr. 389, Scan 27.)

ben Yitsḥaḳ, Shelomoh u.a.: תלמוד בבלי. עם פירוש רשי ותוספות ופיסקי תוספות ורבינו אשר ופירוש המשניות מהר"מבם

מסכת מגילה / מסכת פסחים, Venice 1548/49 + 1549/50.

Compare another copy of this edition in the NLI:

Haarbrücker, Theodor Friedrich: Rabbi Tanchum Jeruschalmi. Arabischer Commentar zum Buche Josua, Berlin 1862.

Tsahalon, Yom Tov: ספר שאלות ותשובות, Venice 1694.

Schück, Bernat: דת ודין  Religion und Staat. Eine Studie, Temesvár 1904.

Bloch, Moses: Die Civilprocess-Ordnung nach mosaisch-rabbinischem Rechte, Budapest 1882.

Maimonides, Moses: משנה תורה (vol. 3), Venice 1574.

Maimonides, Moses: משנה תורה (vol. 4), Venice 1576.

(This copy contains no provenance marks regarding Lelio della Torre but it may be the copy which is mentioned in his catalogue:, Nr. 292, Scan 22)

Selected literature / sources

Carmilly-Weinberger, Moshe (ed.): The Rabbinical Seminary of Budapest 1877-1977. A Centennial Volume, New York 1986.

Cesarani, David: Adolf Eichmann. Bürokrat und Massenmörder. Biografie, Berlin 2004.

Gerlach, Christian and Götz Aly: Das Letzte Kapitel. Realpolitik, Ideologie und der Mord an den ungarischen Juden 1944/1945, Stuttgart and Munich 2002.

Grendler, Paul F.: The Roman Inquisition and the Venetian press 1540-1605, Princeton 1977 (also regarding the burning of the Talmud - the one copy mentioned above survived).

Lévai, Jenő (ed.): Eichmann in Ungarn. Dokumente, Budapest 1961.

Remete, László: Egy visszahozott hadizsákmány [A repatriated war booty]. In: Magyar Könyvszemle [Hungarian book review] 109 (1993) S. 419-429.

Scheiber, Sándor: Zsidó könyvtárak sorsa a német megszállás alatt [The fate of jewish libraries during the german occupation]. In: Magyar Könyvszemle [Hungarian book review] 86 (1970) S. 233-235.

Torre, Lelio della: Catalogue de la bibliothèque hébraico-judaïque de feu Monsieur le professeur Lelio Della Torre, Padua 1872.

Zschommler, Philipp: Eichmann in Budapest, Weblog Retour – Freier Blog für Provenienzforschende [Internet], 12.04.2022,

Fabian hand book: (dort auch weitere Quellen)

Article in Menora Egyenlőség 1979:

Article in Newyorki Figyelő 1979:

Report on the return of the books on the website of the Budapest Seminary.

(Text: Ph. Zschommler)