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U.S. seizes Jewish funeral scrolls, manuscripts thought 'lost for all time' in Holocaust

The Justice Department announced the recovery of historical documents taken from Jewish communities in Romania, Hungary, Ukraine and Slovakia during World War II.
Stolen Torah Scrolls
A U.S. soldier examines one of hundreds of Jewish Torah scrolls stolen from all over Europe by Nazi forces in Frankfurt, Germany, on July 6, 1945.Irving Katz / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

The Justice Department on Thursday announced the seizure of 17 funeral scrolls, manuscripts and community records that were looted from Eastern European Jewish communities annihilated in the Holocaust more than three-quarters of a century ago.

The artifacts were found through a New York City auction house that offered them for sale, the Justice Department said in a statement.

According to an affidavit in the case, "until they were recently discovered as being offered for sale at the Auction, the Manuscripts and Scrolls were believed to have been lost for all time."

In addition to the 17 seized items, four other items are believed to have already been sold to buyers in Israel and upstate New York.

One item, prosecutors wrote, was a manuscript containing ancestry records for a Jewish community in the city now known as Cluj-Napoca in Romania.

Contemporaneous records established that the manuscript existed in Romania in 1936, "shortly before the Holocaust had begun."

"The fact that there was no record of the memorial book being in the city of Cluj after the Holocaust, like all other movable property of the Jewish Communities during the Holocaust, indicates that it was stolen from its original owners and not located until it surfaced in the Auction," the affidavit states.

The recovered scrolls and manuscripts, investigators said, included "prayers for the dead, memorial pages and/or the names of deceased members of the Jewish Communities, operating rules of the society, society member payments, obligations, society regulations, the identity of society religious leaders, and, in some cases the names of the society members who were deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz."

Investigators learned that the items were for sale at the Brooklyn auction house in February, according to the statement. The affidavit for seizure was submitted Tuesday.

Jacquelyn Kasulis, the acting U.S. attorney for Eastern New York, said that the seized material "belongs to the descendants of families that lived and flourished in Jewish communities before the Holocaust" and that she hoped the recovery will "contribute to the restoration of pre-Holocaust history in Eastern Europe."

Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent-in-Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh said, "We are fortunate to be part of the team that is able to return these artifacts to their rightful Jewish communities."