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$1.5 Million Worth of Rare Judaica Changes Hands at Auction in Geneva

Judaica dealers and collectors from Europe, Canada and the United States bid on nearly a million and a half dollars worth of Judaica here on Monday night, at an auction organized by the Habsburg Feldman house.

But the item that was to have been the highlight of the auction, the 14th-century Wolf Haggadah, did not go up for sale, though the manuscript was on display.

The Haggadah is in the hands of a Swiss judge, who has yet to sort through competing claims of ownership submitted by four separate parties.

The Jewish communities of East and West Berlin, the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw and an anonymous private individual are all claiming the Haggadah, which is valued at about half a million dollars.

The anonymous individual is the private dealer who brought it to the sale. According to a Habsburg Feldman spokesman, the dealer had been unaware the Haggadah was stolen from the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw in 1987.

Judge Vladimir Stemberger says he hopes to establish the Haggadah’s rightful owner in one month’s time.

The Habsburg Feldman auction, held at the Hotel des Bergues, was Geneva’s first major sale of Judaica. It is said to have been the most important Judaica sale since 1975, when Sotheby’s held an auction in Zurich.

The highest bid Monday night was for a hand-wrought silver Chanukah menorah from Russia, dating from 1846. The lamp fetched about $117,000.

A Haggadah, printed in 1568, in Padua, Italy, was sold for about $44,000. An Italian silk curtain for a Torah ark, dating from 1755, brought approximately $47,000.

Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim, director of the Jewish Art Museum in Jerusalem, said collectors are fascinated with European Judaica, because so little of it survived the Holocaust.

He said that rare Judaica is also in high demand, because Jews today want to have some of their own history in the home.

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