Jewish Artifacts Stolen During Holocaust Taken From Auction House and in US Custody #usa #holocaust #announcements
Jan Meisels Allen
A trove of Jewish artifacts stolen from Jews in Europe are now in the hands of U.S. authorities who plan to return them to their communities of origin. They were to go on auction Kestenbaum & Company which is cooperating with the authorities. The sale involved a private collector known for trying “to rescue and preserve Jewish historical documents that would otherwise have been lost”.
The auction house said, “when provenance claims were raised, the World Jewish Restitution Organization was consulted, “after which we withdrew the property from the proposed auction".
Included in the trove are 17 funeral scrolls, manuscripts and other historic records traced to Jewish communities in Romania, Hungary, Ukraine and Slovakia.
When the auction was scheduled, a genealogy researcher, told Robert Schwartz, president of the Jewish Community of Cluj, about them. Then the Community of Cluj and the World Jewish Restitution Organization asked that the sale be halted. Schwartz cited the historic value of a forgotten relic from the city of Cluj-Napoca in Romania — a bound registry of burials between 1836 and 1899. It had an estimated value of up to $7,000 and was described as a “manuscript written in Hebrew and Yiddish … with elaborate, artistic title-page poetically extolling the three leaders of the Burial Society,” court papers said.
Law enforcement officials learned of that planned sale in February and contacted the auction house and the consignor. While Kestenbaum & Company cooperated with an investigation into the artifacts, Buckley, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security wrote in her affidavit, the auction house had sold one or more items before being contacted by law enforcement. She said Kestenbaum & Company had offered 21 manuscripts, scrolls and other items for sale. Buckley also wrote in the affidavit, dated July 20, that 17 of the 21 items were believed to be in the possession of an unnamed person on the Upper East Side of Manhattan who had consigned them for sale.
Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelin Kasulis said they “contain priceless historical information that belongs to the descendants of families that lived and flourished in Jewish communities before the Holocaust.”
Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee
Thank you for posting that. I looked a bit and found primary sources related to this.
The affidavit from the federal agent who requested the seizure is here: https://www.justice.gov/
The press release from the Department of Justice is here: https://www.justice.gov/
The affidavit lists the towns and details about each of the items, as well as their locations. They note that among the buyers is the National Library of Israel and another buyer in Israel, but that the affidavit "is not submitted in support of any seizure of any of the Manuscripts and Scrolls that may be located outside of the United States at this time".
Here is a description of one of the items:
"PINKAS. SATMAR / SATU MARE, HUNGARY. Pinkas Chevra Kadisha [Community Memorial
Volume]. (Lot 38). Manuscript in Hebrew, square calligraphic and cursive hands on paper.
Members recorded on individual pages in a large Hebrew calligraphic hand. This Pinkas is
fairly typical of the genre of Chevra Kadisha Pinkasim - but with a striking exception: it dates
to after the Holocaust years. Sixteen of the pages list members in large and striking Hebrew."
(I have no personal knowledge of this case, nor any additional information.)