The Justice Department says it's recovered funeral scrolls, manuscripts, community records, and other priceless historical items stolen from Jewish people during the Holocaust that were thought to have been "lost for all time." The 17 artifacts dating from 1840 were taken from Jewish communities in Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, and Slovakia, where members "had been gathered in ghettos, robbed of their property and deported to Nazi death camps," the US attorney's office in Brooklyn said in a statement, per the New York Times. Some documents include the names of community members deported to Auschwitz, per NBC News. “Absent any provenance or documentation of conveyance from any survivors of those communities, there is no legitimate means by which the manuscripts and scrolls could have been imported into the United States,” said the office.
Brooklyn auction house Kestenbaum & Company had offered 21 items for sale in February before a genealogy researcher recognized one as a Jewish burial register from what is now Cluj-Napoca, Romania, which had existed in that country as of 1936, per the Times. The community joined with the World Jewish Restitution Organization to demand a halt of the sale. Four items are believed to have been sold to buyers in upstate New York and Israel before the auction house withdrew the remaining items. US authorities intend to return the items to the communities, though an affidavit notes the seller has repeatedly demanded compensation. The auction house claims the seller, a "scholarly businessman," "rescued these historical records at a time when they were tragically left abandoned in countries" that were suppressing Jewish people. (Read more artifacts stories.)