New York – Investigators have seized historic artifacts stolen from Eastern European Jewish communities during World War II that were set to be auctioned in the United States, federal officials said Thursday.
New York-based auction house Kestenbaum & Company was due to sell 17 19th-century funeral scrolls, manuscripts and community records before they were seized off the back of an “extensive” investigation, a Justice Department statement said. The artifacts were looted “in the midst of our world’s darkest of times” during the Holocaust from Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine, Peter Fitzhugh, special-agent-in-charge at the Department of Homeland Security’s investigative arm, said in the statement. “We are fortunate to be part of the team that is able to return these artifacts to their rightful Jewish communities,” Fitzhugh added. Law enforcement learned in February 2021 that the Brooklyn-based auction house was selling the objects, rich in information dating from 1840 up to the start of World War II.
They include prayers for the dead, community rules, names of religious leaders and in some cases, the names of community members sent to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Their sale was suspended at the request of the Jewish community in the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca and the World Jewish Restitution Organization, a group founded after the fall of communist regimes in Eastern Europe and specialized in the restitution of stolen Jewish property.