A Storied Work Of Survival – The Teleki-Bolyai Library: The Opening Of Another Chapter (Part Four)

Like so many institutions reliant upon a single person for their raison d’etre, the Teleki Library began to slowly degrade after the death of its founder, Count Samuel Teleki De Szek in 1822. Count Teleki had spent the final decades of his life ensuring that the library was properly cataloged and stored. For this role he had hired Targu Mures’ (Marosvasarhely) first librarian ever, Jozsef Szasz, to act as both caretaker and administrator of this extraordinary collection, both for preservation and scholarly purposes. Upon his death, Count Teleki left the library to his heirs, but designated the Transylvania Reformed Church as overseer of the collection. As the 19th century progressed the library became less a working institution than a sort of museum. Books were purchased that were not in line with the exacting standards set forth by the Count.

This situation was less than ideal. It was also not what Count Teleki had in mind when he envisioned the library as an educational tool. A year before World War I began, a foundation was established by one of the Teleki heirs to administer the library. This was supposed to help keep the library faithful to its original purpose. Little did anyone know at the time that Transylvania was on the verge of an unprecedented era of radical upheaval that would be brought about by warfare and radical ideologies. By the end of the decade, Transylvania would no longer be part of Hungary. Elite families, such as the Teleki’s, would feel a loss of power and prestige as the region now became a part of Romania. This would have only mild ramifications for the library.

On the Cusp of Change - The Teleki Library in 1942

On the Cusp of Change – The Teleki Library in 1942

Stolen By The State – Nationalization As Theft
It was not until after the Second World War that the library was confronted by the nightmare of communist control. Communism would also consume many of Count Teleki’s descendants, some of whom would suffer within the same walls that housed his incredible collection of books and prints. Romania’s communist party, with the assistance of Soviet occupation authorities, had been tightening their grip on the nation, including Transylvania, following the war. By 1948, they had complete control over the government and could enact whatever measures they saw fit. One of their main goals was nationalization. Nationalization in the context of postwar Communism was code for rampant theft. Everything would now be owned, or more to the point stolen, by the state. Aristocrats, such as those with the Teleki name, had the most to fear. They were targeted as class enemies. The Communists had a monopoly on violence. They could take whatever they wanted and that is exactly what they did.

The Teleki Library was soon nationalized. As for the Teleki family members who lived in or around Targu Mures they were robbed of nearly everything they owned by the communist state. Some were deported to labor camps, while others were humiliated by being forced to live in dire circumstances on the fringes of society. Chief among their woes was a lack of adequate housing which the communist government refused to provide them. This was how some of Samuel Teleki’s descendants came to inhabit a closet in the library. Another descendant took it upon himself to rob the library of several valuable treasures prior to fleeing westward. He took with him one of the most famous books in the library, the Corvina, the only Codex from the famed library of Matthias Corvinus. It would eventually end up in the United States. The library’s worst years were in the late 1940‘s and early 1950’s, but a troublesome situation also persisted to a lesser extent throughout the reign of Romania’s Communist Party.

For Future Generations - Teleki-Bolyai Library

For Future Generations – Teleki-Bolyai Library

A Rare Discovery – The Marginal Note Of Marosvasarhely
During these dark days the library was not kept anywhere close to the standards of Count Teleki’s original plan for the institution. Ironically, it was also during this time that the library acquired several collections from shuttered monasteries, churches, gymnasiums and private collections. One of these was the Library of the Reformed College in Targu Mures along with the Bolyai Museum holdings that celebrated the life and work of the father-son mathematical geniuses Farkas and Janos Bolyai. These items were combined with the existing holdings to create the Teleki-Bolyai Library as the institution is still known today.

The Reformed College library collection also provided the Teleki Library with its most famous holding, the Codex Koncz, a 14th century Latin copy of the Bible which had been discovered in 1860. The Codex Koncz itself is rare enough in its own right, but its most unique aspect only turned up in 1955. That was when two librarians at the Teleki Library came across a fifty-five word inscription in what has come to be known as the Marginal Notes of Marosvasarhely. It is the sixth oldest record of the Hungarian language. A rare find made all the rarer by its placement within the Codex. This is certainly the type of find that a passionate bibliophile like Count Teleki would have loved.

Flourishing Afterlife – A Library Open To Everyone
The library managed to survive the long dark night of communism that claimed so much of the aristocratic legacy in Transylvania. The fact that this massive collection of books outlasted the regime had much to do with indifference and neglect. The regime had better things to do then persecute old books. The library would not experience a rebirth until after 1989, when Romania’s communist state collapsed. This offered the Teleki-Bolyai Library a new lease on what has become a flourishing afterlife. Some of this rebirth took place outside of Romania in Basel, Switzerland where Teleki family members who had long ago left Transylvania created a foundation to support the library.

In 1999 the same type of organization was created in Targu Mures. It, along with several other state cultural entities, helped fund the complete restoration of the Wesselenyi House in which the library is stored. Today anyone interested in accessing the Teleki-Bolyai Library’s 200,000 volumes can do so in a reading room open to all. The fact that these reservoirs of knowledge are open to the public speaks volumes about the legacy of Count Samuel Teleki De Szek and the library he bequeathed to his beloved Transylvania.