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Fate of 14th-century Haggadah Now in Hands of Swiss Judge

The fate of a valuable medieval Haggadah is moving from the auction floor to the courtroom.

A Swiss judge will rule Monday whether the contested Wolf Haggadah will goon sale that same evening, or whether will go on sale that same evening, or whether the sale will be stopped, in order to give those claiming ownership of the Haggadah time to submit their pleas.

Marek Potovsky, spokesman for Habsburg Feldman auction house, said the 14th-century manuscript, valued at about half a million dollars, is being claimed by three parties.

Two of the claimants are the Jewish communities of East and West Berlin. The third is the Polish government, representing the Warsaw’s Jewish Historical Institute.

Court sources said Judge Vladimir Stemberger will meet Monday with attorneys representing the various claimants and then decided if the sale should proceed.

The possibility remains that the Haggadah could be sold that same evening, along with other Judaica scheduled to be auctioned.

The controversy over the Haggadah’s ownership stems from its mysterious history.

Albert Wolf, a German Jew, reportedly donated the manuscript to Berlin’s Jewish community around the turn of the century. The Haggadah disappeared during World War II and turned up in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw in 1946.

In 1982, the Haggadah was part of an exhibit shown in three U.S. cities, entitled “Fragments of Greatness Rediscovered.”

Shortly afterward, it was allegedly stolen from the Historical Institute.

Heskel Toporowitch of Tel Aviv, Habsburg Feldman’s consultant on the Haggadah, disputes this version of the Haggadah’s history.

Toporowitch claims the manuscript belonged to a small synagogue in Berlin, where it disappeared during World War II. No one knows, he said, what happened to it next.

Toporowitch, who is in Geneva for the auction, said he did not believe that either the East or West Berlin Jewish community or the Polish government had a legitimate claim on the manuscript.

Habsburg Feldman spokesman Potovsky told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency the auction house “shall obviously abide by the court’s ruling.”

(JTA staff writer Allison Kaplan in New York contributed to this report.)

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