Jan Meisels Allen
The Jewish community of Cluj, Romania and the World Jewish Restitution Organization (https://www.wjro.org.il/) has asked US Brooklyn-NY based auction house Kestenbaum & Company to halt the sale of a 19th century handwritten burial registry that it believes was stolen during the Holocaust. The memorial register is a record of Jewish burials in the city between 1836 and 1899. Bidding of the registry was scheduled for 18 February along with 16 other documents. The register is known as the Pinkas Klali D’Chevra Kadisha. The register is written in Hebrew and Yiddish. “Given the historically delicate nature of the items that are entrusted to us to handle, we take the matter of title to be one of the utmost importance,” Daniel Kestenbaum, the founding chairman of the auction house, wrote in an email. “Consequently, in respect to recently acquired information, manuscripts were withdrawn from our February Judaica auction.” The seller has agreed to discuss the matter further with the restitution organization, he said. It is valued between $5,000 and $7,000 USD.
Zoltan Tibori Szabo, the director of the Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Cluj, said he is counting on the consignor’s good will. If made available to researchers, the newly discovered register will provide scholars with the names of the ancestors of those who were deported, he said.
The register was spotted online by a genealogy researcher, Robert Schwartz, president of the Jewish Community of Cluj. Schwartz is a Holocaust survivor from Cluj. The Jewish community of Cluj currently has about 350 members and they argued in their letter that the registry was “illegally appropriated by unidentified persons”. The community argues that because it was stolen, it “falls under the provisions of the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty and the 2009 Terezin Declaration”.
Besides its historical and artistic value, Schwartz is convinced the register would help in the task of reconstructing the past of a community that saw most of its archives destroyed or pillaged during the Holocaust.
This would fall under the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty and the 2009 Terezin Declaration, which was signed by 46 states including the US, Romania and Hungary, under whose administration Cluj was during most of WWII, the treaties provide for the restitution to their rightful owners of goods illegally appropriated by states or their citizens. “According to the aforementioned peace treaty, they should be returned to the ‘community of survivors’, in this case, the Jewish Community of Cluj,” the letter from the community says.
The city of Cluj-Napoca – known as Kloyzenburg in Yiddish, Klausenburg in German, and Kolozsvár in Hungarian, was home to more than 16,000 Jews before 1944, when 18,000 Jews from the city and its surroundings were deported and most of them killed at the Auschwitz death camp.
Today, Cluj is the fourth-largest city in Romania.
Schwartz is an eminent chemist. He also asked the auction house to halt the sale of a similar register of the births and deaths of Jews from nearby Oradea. In his letter to Kestenbaum and Co. he said, “private institutions like Kestenbaum have “a responsibility to make certain that claims to recover Nazi-confiscated property are resolved expeditiously” and cited international agreements on returning Nazi-looted cultural property and Holocaust-era assets.
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Thank you to several Jewish genealogists who forwarded the article to me for sharing.
Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee