Yesterday the government submitted to the State Duma, parliament's lower house, a federal bill to cede to Hungary a book collection from the Calvinist college library of Sarospatak. The library received it in 1960 from the Nizhny Novgorod Art Museum.
The books found themselves in the Soviet Union quite soon after World War II, and reached the museum with a collection of paintings the 49th Army brought from Hungary in 1945 as it came to be stationed in Gorky (the then name for Nizhny Novgorod), said the librarian Novosti interviewed.
The library received nine hundred books in Latin, English, Hungarian, German and French. As library personnel were registering the acquisitions, a specific stamp caught their attention. Oblong and narrow, barely legible, it was found in 131 volumes. The stamp was eventually tracked down to a Calvinist college established in Sarospatak in the 16th century. The librarians came on another three stamped books later on, and catalogued all the 134 separately.
Theological books make the bulk of the collection, all of great artistic value. The college placed the rarities in a major Budapest bank for storage as soon as World War II started.
As the war was coming to an end, Captain Pyotr Yegorov, Soviet commandant of Sarospatak, prevented the college library from ransacking. If Hungary regains the books, it has pledged to immortalize his name, though, to all appearances, the 134 books had been removed by the time he rescued the library, remarked RIA Novosti's interlocutor.
When Mikhail Kasyanov, then Russia's Prime Minister, was visiting Hungary in September 2003, the prospects to cede the library to its original country came under debate.
The acting Russian law on WWII cultural trophies removed to the USSR, and presently in Russian government ownership, stipulates them ceded back in four instances in case they were formerly owned by Holocaust or other Nazi victims, religious communities or countries that did not fight the USSR in the war. The Sarospatak library certainly qualifies, and may be returned to Hungary with relevant procedures, a Russian Culture Ministry official told RIA Novosti.