Jan Meisels Allen
Jewish Communal Documents Removed from Book Bindings Beginning of the 16th Century (Bidsirit)
It was previously reported on this forum last month that a trove of pre-Holocasut Jewish records were confiscated by federal prosecutors about to be auctioned by Kestnbaum & Company in Brooklyn, New York. The ledgers were called pinkasim from commuities in Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, and Slovakia. Beginning in the 16th century, rabbis in that part of Europe started to keep these hand-written records of births, marriages, and deaths, with some of the books “illuminated” by artists. This was not the only incident as reported The Times of Israel.
The article talks about while these auctions are lawful, a “loophole” so that people pass on these types of items to official institutions and not hoard them. He is concerned that such books remain in private collections, and a need for international regulations which acknowledge European Jewish community books and douments as cultural heritage items. This is not a universal understanding that laws can rescue pinkasim from private collections.
During and after the Holocaust, thousands of pinkasim collections were stolen, lost, or abandoned. Unlike real estate and artwork stolen by Nazi Germany, however, pilfered pinkasim never got much legal or media attention.
The postwar fate of pinkasim was largely determined by regulations in each occupation zone. In areas occupied by the United States, for example, regulations helped ensure pinkasim were returned to surviving Jewish communities or sent to centers of Jewish learning in Israel, the United States, and elsewhere.
In Soviet-occupied areas, however, few Jewish communal books were restituted in this manner.Centuries-old ledgers that were never meant to be the property of an individual — but belonged to communities at large — fell into private collections.
To address the issue, officials should increase awareness of existing declarations and protocols. For example, he said, 47 countries endorsed the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust-era Assets and Related Issues. In that 2009 agreement, governments agreed to “emphasize the importance of providing restitution for communal and individual immovable property,” according to the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO).
Inspired by a U.S. campaign called “Reclaim the Records,” Israeli genealogist Mattan Segev-Frank wrote to the ministry on behalf of “The Israeli Genealogy Hub,” a Facebook group he founded with 3,400 members. The letter urged the government to disclose genealogical records and censuses, as well as to create publicly accessible indexes.
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Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee