Jewish Burial Records Among Items Seized by U.S. Authorities


A historical record of Jewish burial records from the present-day Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca It is among the artifacts seized as part of a confiscation by authorities in New York who plan to return the objects to their respective communities.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said Thursday that World War II

“There is no legitimate means by which the manuscripts and scrolls could have been imported into the United States unless there are any transport documents or sources from survivors from these communities,” the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn said in the seizure notice.

Acting US attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis said in a statement that the items were “illegally confiscated during the Holocaust” and contained “invaluable historical information”.

All of the items were put up for sale earlier this year by Kestenbaum & Company, an auction house in Brooklyn that specializes in Judaica, officials said. The New York Times reported in February that Kestenbaum had offered 17 items, including the burial record, and subsequently withdrew from sale. This withdrawal came after requests from an extradition organization and the leadership of the Jewish community in Romania.

In a statement submitted to the court as part of the search warrant application, Department of Homeland Security special agent Megan Buckley wrote that Kestenbaum & Company has offered 21 manuscripts, scrolls and other items for sale. He added that nearly all of them are believed to have disappeared or were “appropriated by individuals or organizations” to whom they had no legal rights, during or just after the Holocaust.

“They represent invaluable cultural religious artifacts that must be properly returned to the survivors of the original Jewish communities,” Buckley wrote.

Buckley also wrote in his affidavit dated July 20 that 17 of the 21 pieces were believed to belong to an anonymous person who had shipped them for sale on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Shortly after Kestenbaum & Company listed the items for sale, a genealogy researcher noticed one in particular, a burial record handwritten in Hebrew and Yiddish and known as the Pinkas Klali D’Chevra Kadisha.

The researcher described the item to Robert Schwartz, head of the Jewish Community of Cluj. Later, the Cluj Society and the World Jewish Compensation Organization demanded that the sale be stopped, with Schwartz citing the record’s historical value and saying the auction house was “illegally confiscated by unidentified persons”.

Kestenbaum & Company accepted the request, He tells The New York Times in an email message: “We see the title issue as one of the most important.” The auction house added that the auctioneer, whom Kestenbaum describes as a “scientific businessman” who has been acting for years to preserve historical artifacts, agreed to further discuss the matter with the restitution organization.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Law enforcement learned of the planned sale in February and contacted the auction house and the sender. While Kestenbaum & Company was collaborating on an investigation into the artifacts, Buckley wrote in his affidavit that the auction house sold one or more items before contacting law enforcement.

Buckley added that although the person sending the items for auction is also cooperating, authorities are concerned that it may not last long.

“The sender has repeatedly expressed that he feels he should be compensated for owning manuscripts and scrolls that add to the government’s concerns about possible liquidation,” he wrote. “In fact, the sender has repeatedly made clear his intention to sell the manuscripts and scrolls to international buyers.”

Material confiscated by the government includes records from cities that were largely destroyed in the Holocaust. The US attorney’s office said members of the communities from which the scrolls and manuscripts were taken were “assembled in ghettos, their property stolen and deported to Nazi death camps, where the majority were killed.”

Holocaust survivor Schwartz was born hiding in a cellar after his pregnant mother escaped from the city ghetto.

He told The Times earlier this year, “Very few people belonging to the community have survived World War II.


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