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ORAL PRESENTATION PAPER FOR HOLOCAUST-ERA ASSETS
The Nazi program for the destruction of European Jewry consisted not only of the physical extermination of the Jewish people and the looting of their property and assets but the obliteration of the contribution of Jews in all facets of European life – from
culture to science to philosophy and lastly but just as importantly to the Nazi regime, the decimation of the Jewish religion, heritage and culture. For example: the Nazis collected the Judaica of Bohemia and Moravia which the Nazi intended to be studied here in Prague at the Nazi proposed Museum of the Extinct Race
The issue of looted Judaica includes Tashmishey Kedusha and Tashmishey Mitzvah –
such as Torah and other handwritten Scrolls, religious books; ritual and ceremonial objects; Jewish objects for daily life, and Archives and Libraries of Jewish organizations and Jewish life.
The existence of Jewish life in the Diaspora since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE and the accompanying persecution of the Jews by the kingdoms and later states in which they lived during a 2000 year period of exile greatly influenced the scope of looted Judaica. For example:
; With the destruction of the Temple as a central focus of religious yearning – the
dual foci of religious and ritual life became the synagogue and the home -–
thereby increasing the religious objects held by individual families and
; Due to the destruction of centralized Jewish leadership of the Sanhedrin, Jewish
legal rulings were based upon decisions of Rabbis – often residing in different
countries. These didactic discussions on issues of Jewish law, which formed the
basis of Jewish religious life, resulted in an explosion in the number of Jewish
books – particularly after the invention of the printing press. Rabbis worldwide
wrote and published Jewish responsa (tshuvot) in books that became the basis of
Jewish religious life and learning and of important Jewish libraries throughout
; The fact that Jews were regularly expelled from their places of residence or had
limitations upon constructing ornate synagogues often resulted in a proliferation
of a significant number of elaborate portable objects (i.e, ritual and ceremonial
objects, ketubot, megillot, manuscripts) and books by communities and families. .
Consequently, on the eve of the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis there were hundreds of thousands, of items of Judaica (ritual items, ceremonial objects, books and Torah and Megillah scrolls) held by European Jews and Jewish communities.
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Some of this Judaica was simply destroyed, and some was looted in a systematic way by the organs of the Nazi regime. In addition to what was taken by the Nazis and their allies, at the end of the war there was also Judaica that simply remained abandoned as the result of the murder of its owners. Of that looted and/or abandoned, some of the Judaica were rare pieces individually crafted, or written, for communities or wealthy families, while others were mass-produced books or objects.
After the war, these items ended up scattered throughout the world. In some countries, the Judaica that remained in the country was the result of murder and/or flight of its Jewish citizens or alternatively, the Judaica was “foreign” (Judaica from other countries)
- Judaica that was brought there by the Nazis or even as the result of the Allies returning Judaica to the country in which it was thought to originate (but not being able to return it to the original individual and communal owners).
In some cases there were attempts by countries to return the Judaica to individuals or Jewish communities but in other cases, especially in Eastern Europe, the governments deposited large amounts of Judaica with governmental entities. For example, in Poland the government deposited large amounts of Judaica with the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, and in the Soviet Union, the government deposited huge collections originally from Jewish libraries into state libraries in Minsk and elsewhere and placed archival collections in the Osobyi Arkhiv (Special Archive) in Moscow, now part of the Russian 1State Military Archive (RGVA). [Some of these items in Moscow were brought by the
Soviet Trophy Brigades.]
Some Judaica is currently also located in countries in which there was no Nazi occupation but is there as a result of the distribution of heirless Judaica to Jewish communities in areas of the Western world to which Holocaust victims migrated in the immediate postwar period.
The question to be addressed is ….what is to be done now, sixty years after the end of the Shoah?
Inventory and Classification
Since so little is known about the current whereabouts of looted Judaica, all countries should make an initial inventory of possibly looted Judaica in their governmental institutions (national, provincial or municipal) including institutions under quasi-government control..
In order to assist with the development of such efforts, the Claims Conference/WJRO at the beginning of 2009 made public a Descriptive Catalogue of Looted Judaica with
1 For a full description of the spoliation of Judaica and restitution attempts after World War II, please see the “Overview: Historical Background” in the Descriptive Catalogue of Looted Judaica, pp. 9-33,
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coverage of 47 countries and listings of archives and experts and a bibliography (http://forms.claimscon.org/Judaica/).
Generally, Judaica can be classified into four categories:
(a) Torahs and other handwritten scrolls;
(b) “rare” or “museum-quality” Judaica (as it is clear that these items are of
important historical, artistic and cultural significance to the Jewish people);
(c) archives and libraries of Jewish organizations and entities;
(d) “other Judaica items” – items that were mass-produced or printed and of which
there are a number of similar items in circulation.
Institutions holding possibly looted Judaica should attempt to classify the Judaica they hold into the above four categories.
In some cases this is already commencing. For example, numerous holdings of Judaica that were looted in Hungary during the Nazi era but subsequently brought to Nizhny Novgorod (formerly Gorky) are scheduled to be examined and classified by the Russian State Library of Foreign Literature. With assistance from the Claims Conference, the Russian State Library of Foreign Literature is in the process of creating an inventory with the intention of producing a catalogue of the holdings.
In cases where the institution does not possess staff with the expertise necessary to differentiate between these types of Judaica, there should be an group of accredited experts who are able to assist the institutions with this task.
It is imperative that both the inventory and classification commence immediately and once completed is publicly available. Once this classification has been completed, each institution can then proceed to the vital task of provenance research.
It is critical for there to be provenance research on museum-quality Judaica. The current state of provenance research on Judaica ranges from very extensive – for example, as in
the National Library of Austria – to, in most cases, very little. In part this is due to the focus to date on paintings and other objets d’art. The following principles should guide
; Efforts should be made to research as much as possible the provenance of all
items identified by experts as unique or rare items of Judaica; and to make the
results publicly known, preferably over the Internet.
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; Provenance research should be the responsibility of governmental institutions as
well as of Jewish and non-Jewish private institutions. The Association of
European Jewish Museums (AEJM) and the Council of American Jewish
Museums (CAJM) have both passed resolutions in this regard. It is hoped that the
institutions under the control or influence of the states participating in this
Conference will also proceed with this task.
; Instruction guides and manuals on how to do provenance research on Judaica
should be developed and made available over the Internet. At present there is
nothing comparable to the AAM Guide to Provenance Research in regard to 2Judaica. The AEJM has begun to plan for the creation of such a manual, and
both AEJM and CAJM have begun to hold training workshops for provenance
research. These should become publicly available.
Other Principles for Looted Judaica
“Torah Scrolls” and other handwritten ritual scrolls throughout the world should be internationally registered.
Torah scrolls occupy a unique place in the spiritual heart of the Jewish people and their use needs to be in accordance with the beliefs of their former Jewish owners. Because Torah scrolls look alike and can be resold at relatively high prices, they are subject to theft and to black market operations that cross borders. International registration systems exist that provide ways of uniquely identifying Torahs and have been proven to greatly reduce theft in those countries where they have been implemented. The Claims Conference/WJRO has been working to make more widespread international registration 3of Torahs possible at little or no cost. Hopefully such registration can also be a step
towards resolving the incongruous situation that currently pertains in a number of countries where there is a resurgence of Judaism but congregations have to import Torahs while at the same time large numbers of Torahs are kept by Government repositories in the very same countries.
“Unique” Items – Jewish archives or libraries or “rare” ceremonial or ritual objects
All attempts should be made to return these to the original owners – e.g., the archives of
various Jewish organizations and institutions. In addition, where the unique items comprise books, archives or libraries but the institution no longer exists, they should be held by an appropriate institution and made available for research by qualified researchers.
2 Yeide, Nancy H. Akinsha, Konstantin. Walsh, Amy. The AAM Guide to Provenance Research.
Washington: American Association of Museums, 2001.
3 So far discussions have been held in particular with representatives of all the Jewish communities of Ukraine and with the State Committee on Archives of Ukraine in this regard.
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For “rare” ceremonial or ritual items, these items should be subject to public display (together with appropriate recognition of the history of the object) at an appropriate institution.
Furthermore for items under disputed ownership a system should be developed to circulate such Judaica internationally with appropriate guaranties from judicial seizure. Due to the Holocaust and its aftermath, there are numerous situations in which the ownership of Judaica is or is likely to be disputed and where it is desirable to make items of Judaica accessible to scholars and the public in more than one country. As discussed in the Working Group on Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property in preparation for the Prague Holocaust Era Assets Conference, a system to circulate such Judaica internationally with appropriate guaranties from judicial seizure may be the best way to handle such matters and may also induce countries to make their Judaica holdings more publicly known. Such circulation must ensure that the items are held securely and appropriately.
“Other Judaic” Objects – Many of the ceremonial objects and books that were looted
were mass produced and cannot be linked to a specific individual or community. For these items, it is our recommendation that
(a) the fact that the item is looted be recorded when the item is on display or by the
institution using the item or, if a book, in a stamp in the inside of the book. The
unique origin of the item will then be recognized for all time and will pay tribute
to the Jews and Jewish communities that were destroyed; and
(b) the looted item should be held in an appropriate place and used in an appropriate
manner. The item should be kept by an appropriate entity in a place befitting its
religious and cultural significance.
It should be noted that in cases where it is clear where a collection as a whole came from, including the mass-produced items in the collection, the previous owners would have the right to receive ownership of the entire collection.
Looted Judaica and Provenance Issues
The following represents a sample of the information available for a number of countries potentially holding significant Judaica. For a more comprehensive and detailed overview, please see the Claims Conference/WJRO Descriptive Catalogue of Looted Judaica at
A number of provenance research projects in Austria have focused at least in part on
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Judaica holdings. Some Judaica objects have been restituted by Austria‟s Ministry of Culture following research conducted by the Commission for Provenance Research and a positive
recommendation by the Restitution Committee. The database of the National Fund of the
Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism (National Fund) provides an online
listing of art objects “which might have been, according to latest provenance research, seized under the National Socialist regime.” The database does not provide a separate
listing for Judaica, but a few Judaica objects can be found in various categories.
The Jewish Museum of Vienna has been conducting provenance research on most of its holdings, but is currently still working on the remaining part of the collection. Past research
has shown that the Museum, which is not the legal successor to Vienna‟s pre-war Jewish
museum, holds 50% of the collection of the pre-War museum, while the other 50% has been lost. Some of the ongoing research is on private donations – e.g., objects from the
Max Berger collection. In addition, provenance research has been carried out on the Jewish
Community‟s library holdings, which, like the ceremonial objects, are on permanent loan to
the Jewish Museum. Preliminary research indicates that due to restitution errors after the war, part of the Community‟s holdings today do not correspond to the holdings of the original library.
It is not known to what extent provenance research is being conducted on Judaica holdings
in Austria‟s state and regional museums.
Libraries in Belarus, in particular the National Library of Belarus (NBB), hold books and
other Judaica looted by the Nazis and their allies from a number of Jewish communities in Europe. Many of these books have not been identified or catalogued. Specific library collections known to be held by the NBB include the Library of Jewish Societies of France (“Bibliotheque „Efim Pernikof‟”) and the libraries of prominent French Jewish families, such as that of the Rothschild family. Some books stemming from Yugoslav Jewish communities, as well as a few books from the Jewish Sephardic community in Salonika are
also held in Belarus.
In addition to books, Jewish religious artifacts are in various archives and museums such as
the State Museum of History and Culture of Belarus in Minsk. Torah scrolls are known to
be in the State Historical Archive of Belarus, the Historical Museum of Mogilev, and the
Historical Museum of Vitebsk., and presumably are to be found in other state institutions
It is not known whether any provenance research is being conducted on Judaica held in
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Large numbers of Jewish ritual objects, books and other individual and communal Jewish property resulting from Nazi looting policies in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia as well as elsewhere are located in the Czech Republic.
The Jewish Museum in Prague has been conducting provenance research on most of its holdings, including its library collection (based on owner‟s marks, dedications, ex libris, and
other provenance clues). As part of the Museum‟s continuous research efforts, war-time
inventories and postwar catalogues are being digitized. According to the Museum‟s “Preliminary Report for the Holocaust Era Assets Conference”
(http://www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/avice25.htm) the Museum currently does not have any
registered institutional claims but is working on one individual claim for artworks involving
46 prints and drawings by Hella Guth.
Additional provenance research is being carried out by the Czech Republic‟s governmental
institutions, with information on objects with provenance gaps being noted in “The Database of Works of Art from Property of Victims of the Holocaust.” The database
holds approximately 3,400 looted works, including Jewish ritual objects. A brief survey of
the database shows that probably more than 380 religious objects are held in Czech
government museums. These objects include , , rare Hebrew books and manuscripts, Torah
scrolls and ceremonial objects including bibles, paryer books and legal texts. The database
lists 42 manuscripts that were originally from the Jewish seminary in Wroclaw that were
deposited in the National Library of the Czech Republic. These manuscripts have since been restituted to Wroclaw. Similarly, 40 manuscripts and incunabula stemming from the Saraval Collection that were identified in the National Library were subsequently restituted to Poland. Prague‟s National Library, the “Clementinum,” holds books that either belonged
to the “Terezin collection” or that were looted by the RSHA.
Provenance research is being carried out on Judaica holdings in cultural institutions in the Czech Republic. Some restitutions have already taken place.
In 2002, the Lithuanian government returned more than 309 Torah scrolls and megillot that had been hidden during World War II to world Jewry at a ceremony in Vilnius.
However, the government has not yet returned Torah scrolls remaining in Lithuania‟s
National Museum and in the National Library of Lithuania. The National Library of
Lithuania‟s Judaica Catalogue provides over 1,500 bibliographic records of prints in Hebrew and Yiddish published in Lithuania (from the beginning of Jewish book printing in 1789 to 1940). The largest single bloc of Jewish books now part of the Library belonged to
the “Hevrah Mefitse Haskalah”, the biggest Jewish library that operated under the Jewish
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community in Vilnius. The National Library also holds library records that originally
belonged to the Yeshiva Telz as well as to YIVO.
It is not known whether any research is being conducted on these or other Judaica objects held by cultural institutions in Lithuania.
Looted Judaica is in many cultural institutions throughout Poland. For example, the
Jagiellonian University Library (Biblioteka Jagiellonska; http://www.bj.uj.edu.pl holds the
remnants of Krakow‟s Jewish libraries. Other looted Judaica is in the Jewish Historical
Institute in Warsaw, the Warsaw National Museum, the Krakow Historical Museum and
elsewhere. A problem in assessing which Polish museums may hold looted Judaica is that, while most museums have inventories of their collections (which are almost never
accessible to outsiders), Judaica is very often not even catalogued.
The Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw holds over 11,000 Judaica pieces, most of which
were transferred to it by the Government of Poland. Some of these objects came in the late
1940s from former German territories, such as Lower Silesia, Breslau/Wroclaw and Western Prussia. The Institute holds objects from Berlin‟s Jewish Community, from the
Jewish Community in Vienna, several hundred objects from Greece, as well as some files
from Paris regarding what was taken from Jews in Paris. The Institute also holds objects
from Maidanek and Auschwitz.
The Museum of the History of Polish Jews has created a Judaic Collection Database that
lists Torah scrolls and other Judaica objects currently held in museums and other
institutions in Poland. However, the database is not publicly available. In general, even though provenance research may have been conducted in some Polish cultural institutions, the results are not generally accessible.
Much Judaica looted by the Nazis and their allies was among the vast numbers of items brought to Russia by the Soviet Trophy Brigades. The largest holdings of Judaica in Russia are in the Special (Osobyi) Archive (TsGOA, TsKhIDK 1982-1989), now part of the
Russian State Military Archive (RGVA), Moscow. These include historical archives of
Jewish international organizations, of Jewish political organizations and parties as well as papers of Jewish intellectuals. The holdings originally included part of the archive of the Alliance Israelite Universelle (series of records from the Paris headquarters, the Vienna Allianz and the Alliance from Brussels), of the B‟nai Brith Order (archives of lodges from
Germany, Austria, Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece and Czechoslovakia), and of the Zionist organizations and parties (from France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and
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Greece). Most material that was or is currently held in the Moscow archive was initially
gathered by the National Socialist movement in their effort to create a Research Institute on the Jewish Question in Frankfurt and, to a lesser degree, for possible display in the projected “Führermuseum” in Linz. In addition to the holdings of the RGVA, Judaica
brought by the Trophy Brigades is known to include Torahs that were transferred to the Historical Museum in Moscow, Hungarian Judaica that was transferred to libraries and museums in Nizhnii Novgorod, among other institutions and locations.
In terms of provenance research, extensive efforts have been made to describe the cultural losses of Russia as a result of World War II (for a variety of reasons little is known concerning Russia‟s losses of Judaica, though the database www.lostart.ru of the Federal
Agency for Culture and Cinematography does list a few such items), but there have been fewer efforts to describe foreign Judaica looted by the Nazis and their allies that is currently located in Russia. The latter have mostly been done in cooperation with foreign institutions: for example, the Catalogue of Manuscripts and Archival Materials of Jüdisch-Theologisches Seminary in
Breslau Held in Russian Depositories (Project Heritage Revealed. Moscow: Rudomino, 2003).
Restitution of archives from the RGVA to the governments of France, Belgium, the
Netherlands, and Luxembourg – as well as planned restitution of archives to the
government of Austria - has included Jewish archives that have subsequently been returned
by the respective governments to individual hers and communities, while the Austrian Rothschild Archives were returned directly to the Rothschild family.
So far as is known, no provenance research is being conducted on Judaica objects other than archives held in the cultural institutions of the Russian Federation, and no Judaica objects other than archives have been restituted. It is unknown whether Judaica objects were among those items returned by the Soviet Union to the communist governments of
Eastern Europe in the 1950s and 1960s.
There is no central database that lists Judaica looted by the Nazis and their allies that is held in Ukrainian cultural institutions, but various local projects exist that try to document the
very large number of Jewish artifacts held by various Ukrainian museums, libraries and
Although provenance research is not generally conducted, some information is nonetheless available. For example, the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine has made an online
listing of more than 400 Jewish silver ritual objects in its collections that were originally
used by Jewish communities in Kyiv, Zhytomir, Vinnitsa, Belopolie, Elisavetgrad, Lohvitsa, Meldzhibozh, Tul„chin, Odessa, Kherson, Yampol„, Volochisk, or were owned by former
Jewish museums in Odessa, Chernovtsky or Lvov. Central to the collection are the Torah crowns, 39 in total, with a special one made by Zhitomir masters in 1875. The museum also holds Torah scrolls, 50 rimonim, some 100 Torah shields, 50 yadim (Torah pointers), 5
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Chanukah lamps, 7 oil lamps, and more than sixty bsamin or godes. (Without further provenance research, it is not possible to distinguish what was taken by the Nazis and their
allies from what was nationalized by the communists.)
Ukrainian government archives, museums, and libraries hold a large number of Torahs and
other ritual scrolls confiscated from synagogues. A list of Torahs compiled by the State
Archives of Ukraine indicates that a total of 679 Torahs are held in Ukrainian archives, 105
Torahs are held by museums under the Ministry of Culture, and one Torah is held by a library under the Ministry of Culture. Some of these Torahs – mostly Torah fragments -
held by the State Archives of Ukraine have recently been turned over to the Jewish
communities of Ukraine.
Archives and libraries hold large collections of Jewish records, manuscripts, and books. In
particular, the National Vernadsky Library of Ukraine holds about 150,000 Jewish books as
well as many manuscripts.
So far as is known, with few exceptions no provenance research is conducted on the Judaica objects held in cultural institutions in Ukraine. However, German and other archival records concerning the looting in Ukraine and elsewhere have been made available.
The United Kingdom received 19,082 books, 245 museum pieces, 66 synagogue pieces and
12 Torah scrolls from the JCR after World War II. The Jewish Museum in London is one
of the institutions holding these items.
The National Museums Directors Conference‟s searchable list of objects with incomplete
provenance for the period 1933 to 1945 also lists museums with Judaica holdings: for example, the Victoria and Albert Museum lists two Judaica objects with gaps in their
provenance. The British Library holds eleven or twelve thousand books seized from German libraries and institutions between June 1944 and 1947 that may include looted Judaica. Libraries at major universities, such as the Cambridge University Library, the
Trinity College and Girton College libraries and the Bodleian Law Library at Oxford University hold vast Judaica collections.
Up to 1,564 Torah scrolls were sold in 1963-64 by the Czechoslovak state and what was then the State Jewish Museum in Prague to the Westminster Synagogue. From Westminster
Synagogue in London, where the scrolls were renovated under the auspices of the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust, over 1,400 of the scrolls have been entrusted on loan to Jewish and non-Jewish organizations around the world, of which more than 1,000 are in the U.S.A.
However, all Torah scrolls remain the property of the Trust. While the majority of the
scrolls are currently entrusted to synagogues and other Jewish institutions, some were placed with universities and libraries, including the Royal Library Windsor and the White