An auction house was preparing to sell them: 17 funeral scrolls and manuscripts stolen from Jewish communities in Eastern Europe during World War II were seized by New York investigators, said Thursday (July 22). Brooklyn Federal Attorney’s Office.
“The recovery of these scrolls and manuscripts dating from the XIXe century, stolen during the Holocaust in Romania, Hungary, Ukraine and Slovakia (…) is the culmination of a long investigation into cultural property, and we are fortunate to be able to return these objects to their legitimate Jewish communities ”, said one of the investigators, Peter Fitzhugh, of the US Department of Homeland Security, quoted in a statement.
Investigators learned in February 2021 that a Brooklyn auction house had put these items, rich in information and dating from 1840 until the start of World War II, up for sale: prayers for the deceased, community rules, names religious leaders, and sometimes the names of community members who were deported to Auschwitz.
The sale was suspended at the request of the Jewish community in the Romanian city of Cluj and the World Jewish Restitution Organization. This organization, created after the fall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, specializes in the return of stolen Jewish property.
Among the objects found is a hardcover book from Cluj, with a large pre-war Jewish community. According to documents recorded in court, investigators found mention of this document in a book published in Cluj in 1936, but no more traces after the Holocaust, suggesting that it was stolen from its owners. Given the absence of any documentation, “These scrolls and manuscripts could not be legitimately imported into the United States”, underlines the press release.
A total of 17 scrolls and manuscripts were seized from the specialist auction house Kestenbaum & Company. If the latter cooperated with the justice system, the investigators preferred to seize the objects for fear that she would be tempted to part with them.
“There are buyers all over the world for these objects, which can be easily sold or transferred and thus frustrate government efforts to return them to the survivors and descendants of these communities.”, they write in a document filed in court.
The prosecutor’s office gave no indication of when the items could be returned.