GENEVA (Jan. 16)
After weighing competing claims of ownership, the Supreme Court here has decided that the rare Wolf Haggadah belongs to the Jewish community of Berlin.
The court ruled last week that the Hagaddah should on no account be restituted to those who had unjustly appropriated it, and said its rightful owner was the Jews of East and West Berlin.
The court upheld a ruling last month by the Geneva Tribunal of the First Instance, which ruled that “no other party can offer a more likely claim” to the manuscript than the Berlin Jewish communities and the World Jewish Congress, which is representing them.
The two groups are opposed in their claim by the government of Poland, where the Hagaddah had been housed in the Jewish Historical Institute since World War II.
The WJC has tried to settle the matter with the Polish government out of court, but its attempts have so far been to no avail.
The value of the illuminated Hagaddah, which probably dates to 13th-century France, is estimated at between $1 million and $1.5 million.
The Geneva court will keep custody of the Hagaddah and levy court costs against Poland and the private individual whose attempted sale of the Hagaddah at a Geneva auction house last June, prompting the case.
The seller, Nathan Hecht of Montreal, had remained anonymous until last month. He has been represented in transactions by an American Jew, Bery Gross of Brooklyn.
Gross was ordered to pay court costs of 1,500 Swiss francs, or almost $1,000. The Polish government was fined the same amount.
Hecht told Reuters news service in December that he bought the manuscript for hard currency through an agent in Poland. He said he bought it in good faith and did not believe it was stolen.
The WJC stepped in on behalf of the Jewish communities of East and West Berlin and succeeded in having the Geneva courts seize the Hagaddah to prevent its auction in June.
Judaica experts, learning of the intended auction, cried foul, saying the Hagaddah had been stolen from Warsaw Jewish institute.
The Haggadah was willed to the Berlin Jewish community in 1907 by Albert Wolf, a prominent German Jew. It was displayed in the Jewish Kunstmuseum until 1938, when it was confiscated by the Nazis, along with thousands of other pieces of Judaica.
It was discovered by Russian troops in 1944 in Glodzko, Poland, which had been Upper Silesia in Germany before the war. The Russians turned it over to the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.
It remained there until 1984 or 1985, when it supposedly disappeared.