(New York, NY) July 30, 2021: Following international requests, including a letter sent by the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), the Genazym auction house agreed to cancel the sale of the sacred Ledger of the Chevra Kadisha of Tomashvar (Timisoara), until the issue of ownership can be resolved. The auction was initially scheduled to take place in Israel on Wednesday, July 28.
“WJRO welcomes the withdrawal of the sacred Ledger of the Chevra Kadisha of Tomashvar (Timisoara) from auction that was supposed to take place on July 28 by Genazym in Jerusalem. However, it is clear that further investigation is needed, and the artifacts must be held and not returned to the consignor until we can jointly review the provenance and the issue of ownership can be resolved in an expeditious manner. These treasures are a precious window into a past that was destroyed in the Holocaust and a chapter of history that must never be forgotten. We are asking the appropriate Israeli authorities to look into the matter,” said Gideon Taylor, Chair of Operations, World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO).
Romania's Ambassador to Israel, Radu Ioanid, also appealed to the auction house to urgently freeze the sale of the artifacts that disappeared during the Holocaust.
A copy of the auction announcement can be found here.
The Jewish Community of Timisoara in Romania was the original owner of the Ledger of the Chevra Kadisha of Tomashvar. This Ledger is one of the oldest Pinkasim of a Jewish Community in Romania and is a handwritten memorial register of the City of Timisoara's Jewish burials. The item was lost to the Community similar to the ways in which the Pinkasim of other Jewish Communities were lost during the Holocaust and are of great historical value to the Jewish Communities.
On Thursday, July 22, US Federal Prosecutors in Brooklyn announced that the US Department of Homeland Security had seized 17 Jewish funeral scrolls, manuscripts and other records, taken from Jewish communities in Romania, Hungary, Ukraine and Slovakia during World War II. All of the items had been offered for sale earlier this year by Kestenbaum & Company, an auction house in Brooklyn that specializes in Judaica. The US Department of Homeland Security first became involved with this matter in February 2021, upon receiving a request from WJRO to stop the initial auction of many of these artifacts, which ultimately resulted in the July seizures.
A link to the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York press release about the seizures can be found here.
The first Jews settled in Timisoara in the 17th century. At the end of the conflict between the Austrians and the Turks, a Jewish Community life quickly developed including both Sephardic and Ashkenazic. The community—like so many others—was virtually destroyed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. In 1947, 13,000 Jews lived in Timisoara, Romania. Currently, approximately 600-700 Jews live in the city.