A historical register of Jewish burial records from the modern Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca. is one of the artifacts that have been recovered as part of a seizure by authorities in New York, who plan to return the items to their native communities.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn on Thursday announced the seizure of 17 Jewish funeral scrolls, manuscripts and other records they describe from Jewish communities in Romania, Hungary, Ukraine and Slovakia during World War II.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn said in the forfeiture announcement, “In the absence of any sources or documents from any survivors of those communities, there is no lawful means by which the manuscripts and scrolls can be imported into the United States.” Was.”
Acting US Attorney Jacqueline Kasulis said in a statement that the items were “illegally confiscated during the Holocaust” and contain “priceless historical information”.
Officials said all the items were put up for sale earlier this year by Kestenbaum & Co., an auction house in Brooklyn that specializes in Judica. The New York Times reported in February that Kestenbaum offered 17 items, including a burial register, and then withdrew from sale. This withdrawal came after a request by a restoration organization and the leadership of the Jewish community in Romania.
In an affidavit submitted to court as part of an application for a search warrant, Megan Buckley, a special agent for the Department of Homeland Security, wrote that Kestenbaum & Company offered 21 manuscripts, scrolls and other items for sale. Had it. He said that almost all of them had disappeared or were believed to have been “confiscated by persons or entities” who had no legal rights during or after the Holocaust.
“They represent priceless cultural religious artifacts that must be properly returned to the survivors of their native Jewish communities,” Buckley wrote.
Buckley also wrote in the July 20 affidavit that 17 of the 21 items believed to have been in the possession of an unidentified person on Manhattan’s Upper East Side who had sent them for sale.
Soon after the items were listed for sale by Kestenbaum & Co., a genealogy researcher specifically created a burial register handwritten in Hebrew and Yiddish and known as the Pincus quali d’Chevra Kadisha.
The researcher told Robert Schwartz, the president of the Jewish community of Cluj, about the item. Then the community of Cluj and the World Jewish Restoration Organization called for the sale to be halted, with Schwartz citing the historical value of the register and telling the auction house that it had been “unlawfully appropriated by those who did not identify has gone.”
Kestenbaum & Company requested, Telling The New York Times In an email message: “We consider title matter to be extremely important.” The man who put the items up for auction – described by Kestenbaum as a “scholarly businessman” who had worked for years to preserve the historic artifacts – was asked to discuss the matter further with the restoration organization. agreed to, the auction house said.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Law enforcement officers learned of that planned sale in February and contacted the auction house and consignee. While Kestenbaum & Company cooperated with the investigation of the artifacts, Buckley wrote in his affidavit, the auction house had sold one or more of the items before it was contacted by law enforcement.
Buckley said that although the person sending the items up for auction was also cooperating, officials were concerned it would not last.
“The consignor has repeatedly expressed that he feels that he should be compensated for the manuscripts and scrolls, which contributes to the government’s concerns of possible liquidation,” she wrote. “Indeed, the consignor has repeatedly stated clearly his intention to sell the manuscripts and scrolls to international buyers.”
The material confiscated by the government includes records of cities that were destroyed in the Holocaust. The US Attorney’s Office said that members of the communities from which the scrolls and manuscripts were taken “were gathered in ghettos, looted their property and sent to Nazi death camps, where most of them died”. Were.”
Schwartz, a Holocaust survivor, was born hiding in a dungeon after his pregnant mother fled the city’s ghetto.
“Very few people from the community survived World War II,” he told The Times earlier this year, calling the burial register “very precious to the history of our community.”