Manuscript looted by Nazis to be given to Vienna Jewish community

New Jersey Journal 17 November 2003
Jennifer Friedlin

NEW YORK (AP) -- A 14th-century Jewish manuscript seized by the Nazis from a library in Vienna 65 years ago will be returned to Austria after it turned up in a New York auction house.

The Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement division is scheduled to present the rare Kabbalistic manuscript valued at over $68,000 to Jewish Community Organization of
Vienna at a news conference on Tuesday. "It is very precious for us to get these things returned," Erika Jakubovits, executive director of the organization, said Monday. Jakubovits said she first learned of the manuscript's whereabouts in March 2002 when it appeared in a catalogue of items being auctioned by the New York auction house of Kestenbaum & Company. Jakubovits said she called the auction house
and asked them not to sell the manuscript. But the auction house sold the manuscript on March 12, 2002.

Jakubovits then contacted the U.S. customs department, which stepped in and prohibited the auction house from delivering the manuscript to the buyer. In June 2002, customs officials seized the manuscript,
Jakubovits said. A spokeswoman from Kestenbaum & Company said she had no information on the auction house's decision to sell the manuscript. A spokeswoman for the Immigration division declined to
comment prior to the news conference. A description from the auction catalogue says the Hebrew manuscript is an early version of a form of the Sepher Yetzirah, or "Book of Formation," described as the "oldest and most esoteric of all Kabbalistic texts." Kabbala is an ancient Jewish mystical tradition. The catalogue says the manuscript was housed in the Kultusgemeinde Library in Vienna until it was stolen by
the Nazis. Jakubovits said the manuscript is one of 625 that were looted by the Nazis in Vienna on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938. Only six other of those documents have been recovered and given over to the Jewish Community Organization of Vienna, and none since the 1950s, Jakubovits said.
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