Russia Returned Thousands of Historical Records

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (06/23/2009)   

Vienna – A full truckload of files transporting historical records left Moscow for Vienna in mid-June. Russia returned to Austria valuable historical records which Russian troops had looted during WW II. Today Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov handed over two files to his Austrian counterpart Michael Spindelegger as a symbolic gesture representing several tons of freight. The approximately 11,000 “fascicles“ (technical term for “bundles of files“) are by no means all of them. Others are still being kept in Moscow, awaiting restitution.  

The Nazis had confiscated the archives during WW II, had them transported to Berlin and from Berlin to Silesia, where they finally fell into the hands of the Russian troops. As reported by a member of the Austrian Foreign Ministry, Stephan Vavrik, for a long time it was unclear whether the documents still even existed. Not until the 1990s were Austrian historians able to obtain access to the “special archives,“ stored in Moscow, where they were inspected. Gerhard Jagschitz and Stefan Karner published the book, “Beuteakten aus Österreich“ (“Looted Austrian Historical Records“) in 2006. 

Since 2007 Austria and Russia have been in negotiations over restitution. Vavrik stated that the boxes were “ packed and ready for transport“ as early as 2008, but pick-up was delayed. On June 10, the records were handed over in the Austrian Embassy in Moscow, and the truckloads began their journey to Vienna where they will be inspected in the Austrian National Archives. As announced by the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an exhibition has been scheduled for autumn.  

According to Vavrik, there are still “three large blocks“ of material belonging to the Jewish Community (IKG), the Free Masons and those of Paneuropa-Union still awaiting restitution. The IKG, together with experts, have viewed the material and the concluding report is currently available. However, “negotiations are still being conducted“ according to Vavrik. “Politically, it is certainly not a problem,“ and the Foreign Ministry is convinced that there are only technical questions that need to be clarified. The material could most likely be returned by 2010.  

“Two large restitution questions still remain open:“ The first involves the so-called Pehlewi Papyri housed in the National Library; the other concerns the 1,665 books that belonged to the Esterházy Private Foundation which were taken from Eisenstadt in Burgenland and transported to the USSR in 1945. “We have been working on this very sensitive historical issue for years,“ said Vavrik.  

But for the time being, one can feel very happy about the truckload full of files that have been returned, since it was not a “self-understood matter,“ emphasized Vavrik. “Until now there were very few objects which have been restituted by other countries; in fact, this is the first larger inventory of archival records.“ Today’s ceremony, which entailed Lavrov symbolically presenting two documents dating back to the years 1937 and 1938, should serve as a “signal“ with a symbolic effect.