Jews of Berlin Authorized Sale of Haggadah, Auction House Says

A Swiss auction house said Thursday that it had received permission from the Jewish community of West Berlin to put a valuable 14th-century Haggadah up for sale.

But Judaica scholars say the French Haggadah, valued at about $500,000, disappeared from the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw several years ago and is stolen property.

The richly illustrated Wolf Haggadah is scheduled to be sold here Sunday by the Habsburg Feldman auction house, in what is believed to be the first major auction of Judaica in Geneva.

Marek Pototsky, a spokesman for the auction house, said Dr. Vera Bendt, the legal representative of the West Berlin Jewish community, had come to Geneva and refuted any possible ownership claim that could be made by the Warsaw institute, where the manuscript was kept during World War II until it allegedly was stolen.

The Haggadah was originally given to the Berlin Jewish community by Albert Wolf, a 19th-century German Jew. It disappeared from Berlin during the Nazi era and resurfaced in Poland after World War II.

In New York, Rabbi Philip Hiat, assistant to the president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said Thursday that the Berlin community has no claim on the Haggadah.

Hiat, who organized the exhibition of the Haggadah in the United States in 1982, argues that the Haggadah should be returned to the Warsaw institute, its rightful owner.

PLANNED DISPLAY IN JERUSALEM

The Habsburg Feldman spokesman said that the Haggadah’s anonymous owner and Bendt had agreed that the Haggadah would be auctioned on behalf of both parties.

Following the sale, Habsburg Feldman is to make a special request to the buyer that the item be displayed in the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem for a period of two years, spokesman Pototsky told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

But Hiat said it was unlikely the library would agree to such an idea, since library officials are aware of the Haggadah’s removal from the Warsaw collection.

“If his proposal is accepted,” Hiat said, “the Jewish National Library will become party to what is known as a theft.”

Hiat said the Haggadah is among 227 items that have disappeared from the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.

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