Family Says Museum's Priceless Passover Manuscript Is Rightfully Theirs

They claim it was stolen during Nazi rule
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 21, 2016 4:40 PM CDT
Family Says Museum's Priceless Passover Manuscript Is Rightfully Theirs
The Birds' Head Haggadah.   (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The Birds' Head Haggadah—the oldest illustrated Passover manuscript in the world and one of its most intriguing—has been a prized possessions of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem for the past 70 years, the AP reports. Now the grandchildren of a Jewish lawyer killed by the Nazis say the 700-year-old Haggadah belongs to them. The grandchildren, led by 75-year-old Eli Barzilai, don't want Israel's most important museum to return the manuscript, but they do want compensation—less than $10 million, according to the Art Newspaper —and a plaque noting their family's ownership of the manuscript. The museum doesn't dispute the Haggadah was owned by Ludwig Marum for a time until 1933. It's what happened after that's a mystery.

Marum was arrested by the Nazis and died in a concentration camp in 1934, the Jewish Press reports. A coworker who remembered the Haggadah, which features illustrations of humans with bird heads, from Marum's office saw it was in the museum's possession and decided to investigate. The museum told him it bought the manuscript from a Jewish immigrant for $600. The immigrant said he got it from a Jewish doctor, but the doctor denied it, and the trail went cold. Barzilai says that's because the manuscript was stolen from his family. The museum wants documentation from Barzilai showing what happened to the Haggadah between 1933 and 1946. The family has hired an American lawyer recently portrayed by Ryan Reynolds in the film Woman in Gold to represent them. (A painting looted by Nazis recently turned up in an Ohio home .)

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