Wilhelm Reich Collection
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies [Contact Us]420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106-3703
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Wilhelm Reich was born October 18, 1852, in Karlburg, Hungary, in the county of Pressburg. (1) He was one of a distinguished family of rabbis, the most famous of whom was his eldest brother, Koppel. (2) The following biographical information about Rabbi Koppel Reich is provided as a likely guide to Wilhelm Reich's own parentage and upbringing.
Biographical sketches of Koppel Reich vary in some important details, but agree that he was born in Verbo (Vrbove), Hungary in 1838. The Encyclopedia Judaica states that his father was Abraham Ezekiel Reich, "rabbi of Bannewitz." (3) The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia states that his grandfather was Jacob Koppel Altenkunstadt, known as Koppel Charif. (4) The Jewish Encyclopedia states that his grandfather was rabbi at Verbo, and that he wrote "Hiddusche Yabez" on the Talmudic treatise Hullin, published in Pressburg in 1837. (5)
Koppel Reich had a wide general education. He succeeded his father-in-law as the rabbi of Sobotist (Szobotiszt) in 1860. The Encyclopedia Judaica states that twenty years later  Koppel became rabbi of Verbo, "where his grandfather had previously held office." But the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia states that he followed his father in the rabbinate of Verbo from 1872 on. (See Related Collections, page 11.)
He was elected chief rabbi of the autonomous Orthodox community of Budapest in 1889, a position that was not filled after his death. Koppel Reich was also made a royal councilor by Emperor Franz Joseph I. (4) In 1905 he presided over the convention of leaders who "drew up the regulations of Orthodox Jewry in Hungary." (3) In 1927 he became the first rabbi to represent the Orthodox Jewish community in the upper house of the Hungarian parliament, serving as its "oldest Senator." (2) All four of his sons, as well as his sons-in-law, served as Orthodox rabbis in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Koppel Reich died in 1929, soon after the death of his younger brother, Wilhelm.
In his curriculum vitae (dated 1918), Wilhelm Reich states that he "entered the then-existing rabbinical school in Verbo of his oldest brother (Koppel Reich)" at an early age. The vitae goes on to state that "at the age of 18, he entered the theological high school in Pressburg from which he received at 22 the rabbinical diploma. Afterwards, he attended the royal imperial university of Vienna, taking 6 semesters in pedagogy and philosophy." (1) Several items of correspondence in this collection address him as "Dr. Reich"; he is also referred to as "Dr. Reich" in a review of one of his books.
Marriage and Family
Wilhelm Reich had four children by his first marriage: Nathaniel, Albert, Max, and Emma. Both Nathaniel and Albert were born in Sarvar, Hungary. Wilhelm later remarried to Jenny Ellern; they had three children, Sidonie, Ernst, and Sigmund. (6) Sigmund, is briefly documented in the correspondence of Nathaniel Reich (2), and in the archives of Dropsie College (7). Further information may well be found in this collection.
According to the curriculum vitae of Dr. Nathaniel Reich, his father "intended him for the Rabbinate." Wilhelm therefore gave his son "a complete Rabbinical training in Bible, Talmud, and the other Rabbinical literature", as well as teaching him Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and Syriac "from childhood." (8) Neither Nathaniel nor Albert, however, pursued careers as rabbis.
Wilhelm Reich's vitae states that in 1875 he became rabbi to the congregation of the Sarvar county in Hungary. The materials in the Notebooks Series chronicle his work there from 1876 to 1879. In 1880 he was appointed the obberrabiner ("chief rabbi") of the Jewish community in Baden, and as such he received Austrian citizenship in the Baden district (also known as Baden bei Wien). He later became a member of the congregational school council and the poverty council, and taught the Jewish religion in the Baden middle schools. (1)
In the year 1894, the Jewish community of Neunkirchen received special ministerial permission to join the rabbinate of Baden, and Wilhelm Reich became the chief rabbi of both communities. (1) One of his responsibilities was to act as the head of the Israelitische Cultusgemeinde, the governmental jurisdiction over the Jewish community. He was to continue serving as Chief Rabbi until the end of his life. (2)
A more personal aspect of Rabbi Reich's life revealed by this collection is the likelihood that he smoked. His financial records show purchases of tobacco, and a few items in the collection have burn marks typical of those left by cigarettes.
Seven books written by Rabbi Reich have been identified (see the list below). His work as an essayist is well-documented in this collection, and three of his publications are available in the Library of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.
Published in 1875, Chuth Hamschulosch is a group of three addresses which he delivered in the synagogue in Sarvar, Hungary. In 1888, he published Patriotische Reden, containing patriotic speeches in honor of the 40th year of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. In 1900, he published a second Patriotische Reden in honor of the Emperor's 70th birthday.
His book of essays on biblical, talmudic, social and historical issues, Culturfragen, was published in 1889. According to his vitae, he also established a weekly periodical publication in 1894 called "Der Reichsboter" ("The Imperial Messenger"), in which he published German translations of the Talmud.
At one time it seems he planned to write a series of books to be called Das Prophetische Schrifttum, treating "...the prophetic oracles from the historical point of view, with especial use of Herodotus, the Maccabean histories, and Josephus." (9) The first volume of this projected series, Jesaias (Isaiah), was issued in 1892, and may have been the only one published.
Appearing in 1905, Nach Osten! (To the East) is a travelogue of Reich's visit to Palestine. His book Beruhmte Juden-gemeinden des Osmanischen Reiches (Famous Jewish communities of the Ottoman empire) was published in 1913. His vitae also lists two articles published "in the war year, 1914"; these are "Osterreichische Zuversicht" (Austrian Confidence) and "Der Kaiser Betet" (The Emperor Prays).
The range of Wilhelm Reich's interests as an author seems to have had some influence over his son Nathaniel's choice of vocation. In his vitae, Dr. Reich notes that he "resolved to make my life work a collection of data wherever found in Oriental records.... to write a complete history of the Jews in the Ancient Orient." (8) It is also worth noting that one of Wilhelm Reich's sons, Sigmund, had settled in Palestine by the 1920s. (2)
Wilhelm Reich died of heat stroke in 1929 at the age of 76, a few weeks short of his fiftieth anniversary as Rabbi of Baden. His son Nathaniel was en-route from America to visit him at that time, and so missed his father's funeral. In a letter to Cyrus Adler, Dr. Reich expressed his deep grief over his father's death; he also related in detail what he had been told about the funeral:
"...All the Christian church officials, Catholics Protestants, etc. of Vienna and Baden-near-Vienna came into the Synagogue in full ornate dress, also the governor, the Mayor of Baden, the heads of the Districts; all streets through which the funeral went were officially lighted, and all stores (Jewish and Christian) closed. He was beloved by the Jews and Christians alike, he was 'Honorary Citizen' of the City (Freedom of the City), had the highest orders of the Old regime and was just [about] to receive the highest order of the Republic when he died.... Even the heads of the anti-semitic party participated in the funeral because he was beloved by everybody..." (2)
Having arrived too late to see his father again, Dr. Reich stayed in Baden to supervise the dissolution of his parents' home. He arranged for his sister Sidonie, then living in Lubeck, Germany, to care for their ailing mother. While in Baden attending to these matters, he learned of the death of his uncle, Rabbi Koppel Reich.
BOOKS BY WILHELM REICH
1. Chuth Hamschulosch: Drie gottesdienstliche vortrage gehalten in der Synagoge zuSarvar. Budapest, Dessauer's Buchdruckerei und Lithografie, 1875.
2. Patriotische Reden: Herausgegeben zum 40 jahrigen Regierungs-Jubilaum Sr.Majestat des Kaisers Franz Josef I. Baden, 1888.
3. "Culturfragen" vom biblisch-talmudischen, socialen und geschichtlichen Standpunkte. Vienna, Ch. D. Lippe, 1889. [NOTE: This title is in the library of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.]
4. Jesaias. Exegetische-kritische Studien vorzuglich auf historischer Grundlage. Vienna, Oskar Frank's Nachfolger, 1892. [NOTE: This title is in the library of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.]
5. Patriotische Reden: Herausgegeben als weiters folge zum 70 geburtstage Sr. Majestatdes Kaisers Franz Josef I. Baden bie Wein, Israelitische Cultur-Gemeinde, 1900.
6. Nach Osten!: Eine Judische Gesellschafttsreise nach Palastina. Frankfurt am Main, J. Kauffman, 1905. [NOTE: This title is in the library of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.]
7. Beruhmte Judengemeinden des Osmanischen Reiches. Frankfurt am Main, J. Kauffman, 1913.
The collection ranges in date from the 1870's (and perhaps earlier) through 1929. The majority of the material dates from 1876 to 1929. It consists almost entirely of sermons, financial ledgers, essays and drafts of publications created by Rabbi Wilhelm Reich, and of correspondence which he received. Most of the collection is written in German, Yiddish, and/or Hebrew, with some instances of Hungarian. At least two items are in French, and three are in English.
Both the topical content of the collection, comprising the papers of an Austro-Hungarian rabbi, and its dates (ranging virtually unbroken over six decades from the late 19th through the early 20th centuries), are significant. The systematic destruction of entire Jewish communities in Germany, Austria, Hungary and other European nations by the German Third Reich during WWII has made such materials scarce. In 1939, in the city of Vienna alone, 42 synagogues were destroyed, and "the library and archives of the community [were].... transported to Berlin." (10)
The depth of the collection adds to its desirability for research use. Rabbi Reich was a methodical man who seems to have believed in the adage "waste not want not." After his death, his papers were kept in Philadelphia by an equally methodical man, his son Nathaniel. There can be little doubt that this collection would have been lost if it had remained in Baden.
The collection will be of particular interest to those studying Jewish life in Western Europe during this time period; perhaps the most useful material for this purpose is that in the Financial Records Series. Because of Wilhelm Reich's pivotal role in the Jewish community of Baden, those researching that locality may find it a rich source of information. It also provides a rare insight into Wilhelm Reich's rabbinate, his religious and philosophical thought, as well as his historical and social interests. The collection may also reveal something of the general rabbinic practice of that era.
Most of the collection is written on small pieces of paper, usually made from larger sheets. A number of documents are written on pieces torn from printed letterhead, and on the back of other documents. Many of the items are folded and sewn, but the majority are loose sheets with no page numbering. This makes it imperative that special care be taken in handling the material, to prevent disarranging the contents of each folder.
There is a draft copy of Rabbi Reich's book Beruhmte Judengemeinden des Osmanischen Reiches in the Notebooks Series. There is also a draft which appears to be part of his proposed series, Das Prophetische Schrifttum; this may be a draft of the one volume which is known to have been published (Jesaias). Traces of his other books, particularly the titles Patriotische Reden and Culturfragen.... are likely to be found in the collection among the various essays in the Topical Group and the Notebooks Series.
Because Wilhelm Reich's papers became the property of his son Nathaniel, these two collections were acquired simultaneously by Dropsie College (the parent organization of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies) after Dr. Nathaniel Reich's death. The extent to which the two men's papers were mingled during Dr. Reich's lifetime cannot be known. For this reason, it is perhaps likely that certain papers now kept in the Nathaniel Reich Collection. should more properly be housed with his father's papers. The reverse, while less likely, is also possible.
The collection is arranged in three distinct groups: Topical, Chronological, and Unidentified. The researcher should note that these three groups are organized in different ways.
The six Topical series are Commentaries on Biblical Passages, Sermons for Festivals, Commentaries on Talmud, Works on History and Philosophy (chiefly essays), Correspondence, and Rabbinate. These series were established during the initial processing of the collection, and the title of each is self-explanatory.
The two Chronological series are Financial Records and Notebooks. These series were established during the second phase of processing. The bulk of the collection is divided between the Topical Group, and the Notebooks Series in the Chronological Group. The following descriptions explain the rationale for this "split level" arrangement. For more information, see the Processor's Note.
It is possible that much of the material in the Topical Group pre-dates the rest of the collection. Both the notebooks and financial records were found to be substantially complete from 1876 to 1929. In addition, those materials were found in a fairly stable chronological order. All of this suggests that the remaining material (now arranged by subject) may also have been found in a similar order, and may date from an earlier period in Rabbi Reich's life.
During the second phase of processing, a set of 23 notebooks was discovered among the Center's unprocessed collections. This set was recognized as belonging to the Wilhelm Reich papers. It would appear that these notebooks had been separated from the rest of the two related Reich Collections long before they were first processed.
The notebooks range in date from 1876 to 1929. One is a bound volume; all of the others contain loose holographic materials, arranged in roughly chronological order. Their contents appear to include the full range of materials found in the Topical Group. It appears that this is the manner in which Rabbi Reich himself kept these records. Whenever possible, the order in which these materials were found has been left undisturbed. Exceptions include over-sized items, photographs, and some items that were moved from one notebook to another on the basis of their date. The cover of each of these notebooks has been retained in the collection as an aid to the identification of the contents.
Financial Records Series
Judging from the condition of the notebooks when found, the material which comprises virtually the entire Collection was originally kept together in a simple chronological arrangement, with no divisions by subject. The sole exception seems to have been the Financial Records, which were found bundled together apart from the rest of the material. Significantly, these, too were in chronological order.
This Series consists of a number of annual "ledgers," similar in format to the rest of the collection. They were written on various pieces of paper, often torn from larger sheets, which were then folded and sometimes sewn together. Like the Notebooks Series, these ledgers range in date from 1876 to 1929. Together, they form an unusually complete and detailed record of the personal finances of a Western European rabbi throughout that period. They are also likely to illuminate the finances of the two principal communities which he served, Sarvar, Hungary and Baden bei Wien, Austria.
The ledgers include entries for both expenditures and income. Typical expenses include such items as purchases of clothing, tobacco, or postage, gifts to charity, and monies given "to my wife," perhaps for housekeeping. Frequent sources of income were payments for such services as officiating at a wedding or providing a birth certificate, as well as his salary, and gifts of money from various individuals.
This material was found in a separate location from the rest. While not all the items in this group have been positively identified, there are sufficient similarities in physical format, handwriting, and subject matter to warrant the inclusion of the material in this collection. Many of the items in this group are sermons, while others appear to be essays. Three of the items in this group are in English, one of which appears to be in the hand of Nathaniel Reich. These materials are not arranged in any systematic order.
Container List, explanation
The container list that follows is only a rough inventory of the contents of the collection. The number of separate leaves (not pages) in each folder is noted in parentheses. When known, the date is also given. The notation "Undated" indicates that the date is unknown or uncertain. Many of the items are dated in Hebrew.
The notation "with summaries by Jonathan Weiser" indicates that Mr. Weiser has supplied brief summary information about the contents of that folder.
Where possible, notes are made of the languages in which the materials in each folder are written, or presumed to be written:
E : English
F : French
G : German
H : Materials written in Hebrew and/or Yiddish
O : Other languages (primarily Hungarian)
Y : Materials written in Yiddish and/or Hebrew
The material found in each of the loose notebooks in the Notebooks Series fills several folders. These are arranged in the same order in which they were found. This order is indicated by sequential letters following the date: A, B, C, etc.
This collection was acquired together with the Nathaniel Reich Collection in 1944
Assistance in identifying Hungarian-language materials was received from Dr. Edward Breuer, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Help in translating items in the Financial Records Series was received from Dr. Sol Cohen, Collection Development Librarian of the Center for Judaic Studies. Mr. Arthur Kiron, Manuscripts Curator and Assistant Archivist of the Center, provided translations of material in the Notebooks Series. Mrs. Judith Leifer, Reference Librarian of the Center, also furnished translations of German-language publications. Miss Greta Beck and Mrs. Leifer together translated Rabbi Reich's vitae, with assistance from Dr. Yosef Burg. Additional assistance was received from Mr. Thomas Scharf of Vienna, Austria.
This collection was first organized in 1988-89 by Jonathan Weiser, Library Assistant. He first segregated the material into two distinct collections: the papers of Dr. Nathaniel Reich and his father Rabbi Wilhelm Reich. He then organized a portion of Rabbi Reich's papers according to broad subject categories. Judging from the notebooks and financial records, it appears that the original order of all this material was chronological.
The collection was processed a second time in 1992-93 by Judith Robins, Archivist, who retained Mr. Weiser's subject schema for all but the Notebooks Series and the Unidentified Group. She would like to acknowledge her debt to her predecessor for his extensive and useful work.
This collection presents great difficulties in terms of legibility. The majority of the material is thought to be in Rabbi Reich's hand, which is often illegible; so much so, that it has proven difficult to determine even the language in which some items were written (e.g.: German or Hungarian). Another hindrance, during the second phase at least, has been the processor's lamentable ignorance of the Yiddish language.
Still another problem is inherent in the format of this collection. The great majority of the items were written on small scraps of paper, most of them without page numbering. The processor was often able to deduce that certain loose leaves belonged to a single document, based on such evidence as the type and size of the paper, matching folds, etc.. But even in a single, sewn document there are often variations in the type of paper and color of ink used. So it must be assumed that a proportion of the loose sheets in various documents (such as the multiple pages of a single letter or sermon) may have been separated from one another.
A third phase of processing, conducted by persons knowledgeable in Yiddish and the other relevant languages, is certain to yield far more valuable results than have been achieved to date. Until such time as this may be done, the researcher will be obliged to search carefully for the integral materials in all these languages.
NOTE: Great care must be taken when handling this material to prevent disarranging the contents of each folder.
- University of Pennsylvania: Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies
- Finding Aid Author
- Judith A. Robins (Archivist)
- Finding Aid Date
- Use Restrictions
Great care must be taken in handling this material to prevent disarranging the contents of each folder
Box 7 also contains some material in this series
Oversized correspondence is in Box 7
Some items from this series are in Box 7