NEW YORK (Jun. 13)
A valuable French medieval Haggadah set to be auctioned in Geneva next week was stolen several years ago from Poland, Judaica experts say.
The Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw, which last possessed the Wolf Haggadah, has alerted the police, the Polish Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Polish Foreign Ministry that the item is being auctioned in Switzerland, said Rabbi Philip Hiat, who has been in contact with the institute.
Hiat is assistant to the president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
The Wolf Haggadah, valued at half a million dollars, according to its pre-sale estimate, is expected to be the highlight of a June 19 auction conducted by Habsburg Feldman Co., the first major auction of Judaica held in Geneva.
But Hiat is calling on Habsburg Feldman to facilitate the return of the Haggadah to Warsaw.
“It should be returned to where it was stolen from,” he said.
In 1982, Hiat organized the showing of the Wolf Haggadah, along with other Judaica, in an exhibit that traveled to three U.S. cities.
The exhibit, called “Fragments of Greatness Rediscovered,” was displayed in New York’s Jewish Museum before being taken to Baltimore and Los Angeles.
Habsburg’s managing director, David Feldman, has said that the anonymous owner of the Haggadah had supplied his auction house with documentation of legal ownership.
Hiat called that documentation “pure, utter nonsense.”
The Wolf Haggadah is named for a 19th-century German collector who donated the Haggadah to Berlin’s Jewish community. It is believed that the Haggadah was confiscated by the Nazis, and ended up in Poland after World War II.
Hiat said the Haggadah was offered for sale two years ago in England, but the prospective buyer changed her mind after hearing it was stolen.
The richly illustrated Haggadah “is a very rare object, and very valuable,” said Menahem Schmelzer, professor of medieval Hebrew literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary. “My concern is that this fine piece should become accessible to the public and should be preserved.”