U.S. seizes Jewish funeral scrolls, manuscripts thought ‘lost for all time’ in Holocaust

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The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday the seizure of 17 funeral scrolls, manuscripts and community records that were looted from Eastern European Jewish communities annihilated in the Holocaust nearly a century ago.

The artifacts were found through a New York City auction house that offered them for sale, the Justice Department said in a statement.

According to an affidavit in the case, “until they were recently discovered as being offered for sale at the Auction, the Manuscripts and Scrolls were believed to have been lost for all time.”

In addition to the 17 seized items, four other items are also believed to have already been sold to buyers in Israel and upstate New York.

One item, prosecutors wrote, was a manuscript containing ancestry records for a Jewish community in the city now known as Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

Contemporaneous records established that the manuscript existed in Romania in 1936, “shortly before the Holocaust had begun.”

“The fact that there was no record of the memorial book being in the city of Cluj after the Holocaust, like all other movable property of the Jewish Communities during the Holocaust, indicates that it was stolen from its original owners and not located until it surfaced in the Auction,” the affidavit states.

The recovered scrolls and manuscripts, investigators said, contained “prayers for the dead, memorial pages and/or the names of deceased members of the Jewish Communities, operating rules of the society, society member payments, obligations, society regulations, the identity of society religious leaders, and, in some cases the names of the society members who were deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz.”

Investigators learned the items were for sale at the Brooklyn auction house in February 2021, according to the Justice Department statement. The affidavit for seizure of the items was submitted Tuesday.

Jacquelyn Kasulis, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said the seizure “belongs to the descendants of families that lived and flourished in Jewish communities before the Holocaust” and added that she hoped the recovery will “contribute to the restoration of pre-Holocaust history in Eastern Europe.”

Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent-in-Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh added that “we are fortunate to be part of the team that is able to return these artifacts to their rightful Jewish communities.”

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