In the early 1950s, valuable books from the collection of the former seminary library of the Breslau Rabbinical Seminary got to Switzerland due to the SIG's efforts. During the past fifty years, the SIG has committed itself to preserving these books. Today, they are in the care of the libraries of the Jewish communities of Geneva and Zurich, where they are available to interested parties.
The Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau owes its existence to the legacy of Jonas Fraenckel (1773-1846). It was conceived as a place of learning or ‘Seminary for the Training of Rabbis and Teachers’. The first to hold the post of Director of the Department for ‘Jewish Sciences’ was Heinrich Graetz (1817–1891).
It was also Graetz who received the founding volumes for the Breslau Seminary Library, the famous Saraval Collection. In November 1938, the Breslau Seminary became another victim of Nazi violence. The library was largely destroyed and teaching activities ceased.
After the Second World War
In 1945, the advancing Allied troops discovered vast quantities of Jewish cultural assets – libraries, religious items – in Germany, which had been collected by the organisation known as the ‘Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg' from territories under Nazi influence.
In 1949, around 11,000 of the 30,000 volumes originally held in the Breslau Seminary Library were lying in the depot of the Commission on European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc. (JCR) in Wiesbaden - an institution which since the early 1940s had been engaged in preserving Jewish cultural assets.
Transfer of ownership to the SIG
Following the intensive efforts of representatives of Jews in Switzerland, these assets were eventually taken to Switzerland. However, the Hebrew Library in Jerusalem vetoed this projected action and saw to it that the remains of the former Breslau Seminary Library were distributed between the USA, Israel and Switzerland.
As a result and according to the JCR, around 6,000 volumes of the former Breslau Seminary Library became the property of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities [SIG] in 1950.
Today, some 3,400 of the library’s titles are housed both in the community library of the Jewish Community Zurich [ICZ] and in the Gérard Nordman Library of the Geneva Jewish Community [CIG]. The stocks have been inventoried and catalogued.
A glimpse of the diversity of Jewish sciences
The books transported to Switzerland open up more than five centuries (from the 16th to the 20th centuries) of Jewish learning and knowledge in all its variety. The library contains Rabbinical pronouncements and Haggadic works with edifying literature and sermons.
In addition, editions, sometimes artistically decorated, of the Tanach and the Talmud can be found as well. Mystical literature, texts on the Chassidut and philosophical writings complete the collection. The collection also preserves isolated examples of literature, poems (Piyutim) and humorous material.