Seventeen funeral scrolls, manuscripts and community records looted from Eastern European Jewish communities during the Holocaust were seized by the US Justice Department on Thursday.
The artifacts were confiscated from a Brooklyn auction house that had put them up for sale, along with a consigner and a buyer, the Justice Department announced.
Three additional artifacts are believed to be in Israel and one in Upstate New York.
“The Scrolls and Manuscripts that were illegally confiscated during the Holocaust contain priceless historical information that belongs to the descendants of families that lived and flourished in Jewish communities before the Holocaust,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kasulis in a statement. “This office hopes that today’s seizure will contribute to the restoration of pre-Holocaust history in Eastern Europe.”
Among the items were scrolls and manuscripts containing information from Jewish communities in Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine dating back to 1840. The documents will be returned to those communities, said Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
“The members of those communities from which the scrolls and manuscripts were taken had been gathered in ghettos, robbed of their property and deported to Nazi death camps, where the majority of them were killed,” said the Justice Department. “After the end of World War II, surviving members of the communities returned to find their homes ransacked and buildings emptied of property.”
The items include prayers for the dead, memorial pages, lists of deceased members of the community, rules and regulations for society, the identity of religious leaders, and in some instances the names of Jews who were deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz.
“The manuscripts and scrolls were confiscated by individuals who had no right to do so during and after the Holocaust,” said the Justice Department. “Absent any provenance or documentation of conveyance from any survivors of those communities, there is no legitimate means by which the manuscripts and scrolls could have been imported into the United States.”
The items were seized on Thursday from Kestenbaum and Company Brooklyn auction house, which specializes in Judaica, reported the Washington Post.
Until recently, it was assumed that the “priceless” artifacts had been “lost for all time,” said Megan Buckley, the Homeland Security agent who wrote the affidavit to seize the items.
Kestenbaum auction house said that it is supporting the government’s investigation and attempt to solve “this meta-historical problem.”
In February, a federal investigation uncovered that the auction house had placed the 21 items up for sale.
At the time, the auction house suspended the sale of a document that the Jewish community of Cluj, Romania said was a 19th-century ledger from its burial society that had been stolen during the Holocaust. The World Restitution Organization had urged that the auction not go through.