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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, February 27, 2024 | Back issues
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Looted Ancient Texts Heading Back to Vienna

MANHATTAN (CN) - A 1516 Hebrew Bible and commentary that Nazis seized on Kristallnacht in 1938 will be returned to the Jewish Community of Vienna, Customs officials said Monday -- 71 years to the day after the Nazis unleashed their program of violence against European Jews.

The manuscripts were written in the Jewish ghetto in Venice. They contain commentaries by major medieval rabbis such as Rashi, Kimche, Nachmanides and Gersonides, Georgetown University Professor Ori Soltes said at a press conference at announcing the return of the manuscripts.

The manuscripts were listed for public auction in New York in June, but when Customs officials discovered their provenance, the auction house and the Swiss consignor agreed to return them to their rightful owners. Kestenbaum & Co. listed the manuscripts under the description "Bible: Venice. Bomberg, 1516-1517."

Nobel laureate Elie Weisel spoke Monday, as did Jewish Community of Vienna President Ariel Muzicant, who said Austrian Jews call Nov. 9 the day of the "November pogrom," finding Kristallnacht too "nice" a name for it.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said he was moved by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel's observation that Nazi soldiers could both "love poems and kill children." Nazis looted vast collections of art that still regularly produce lawsuits, many of them in New York, where the major galleries are.

"Each repatriation of a work of art constitutes an act of remembrance and an act of redemption," Bharara said.

The director of the Jewish Museum recalled Wiesel's statement that the Holocaust was "not only the greatest murder of all time, but also the greatest theft."

After the ceremony, ICE special agent James T. Hayes was asked who smuggled the looted Bible into the U.S. and the status of his litigation. Hayes gave no identifying information about the smuggler, but said the agency would not prosecute him, as he was not aware that the manuscripts had been stolen.

"I think it's so important to show that good supersedes evil," said Austrian diplomat Ernst-Peter Brezovsky, even if it "sometimes takes an awfully long time."

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