Judge Orders Auction House to Freeze All Assets from Sale of a Collection of Judaica Books

A state Supreme Court judge yesterday ordered Sotheby’s auction house to freeze all assets from the sale last June of a collection of rare Judaica books and manuscripts thought to have been destroyed by the Nazis in World War II.

Judge Robert White also ordered that a trial be held to determine the rightful owner of the manuscripts, dating from the 13th through 19th centuries, and that the intemational auction house make available to Attomey General Robert Abrams, who brought the suit against Sotheby’s, a list of all individuals who purchased materials at the June 26 auction.

The court action by White is the latest development in the running battle between the auction house and the Attomey General’s office. The auction was contested when Jewish organizations questioned the ownership of the materials, many of which came from a rabbinical seminary in Berlin, The College for the Scientific Study of Jewish Culture.

It was revealed just two weeks ago in an affidavit filed by Sotheby’s that the alleged owners of the items are Dr. and Mrs. Alexander Guttmann. Dr. Guttman, 82 years old, is a professor at a rabbinical seminary in Cincinnati. He has claimed he was given the books from the Berlin seminary to smuggle out of Germany and is the rightful owner of the materials.

CLAIM TO OWNERSHIP IS QUESTIONED

In his II-page written decision yesterday, White appeared to question Guttmann’s claim to ownership of the materials. White also appeared to question whether he was given the materials or whether he was to only smuggle the materials out of Germany.

“Upon the totality of the evidence presented thus far, it seems likely that Dr. Guttman was one of many individuals who, in the Mosaic tradition, was charged with the safe transmission of the law and culture of the Jewish people,” White wrote.

In concluding his decision, White added: “There is every indication that rather than share these master works with other scholars upon his arrival in this country, he actively concealed their existence. These actions are not consistent with a firmly held belief in his rightful title,” White said.

No date has been set for the trial. Sotheby’s said it will comply with the request For all the names of the purchasers to be supplied to the Attorney General’s office.

The Attorney General’s office said it “is pleased by the decision, and intends to proceed immediately” with gathering further information from the auction house.

Sotheby’s, meanwhile, also indicated it was satisfied with the court’s decision, saying, “We look forward to providing as much information as possible.”

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