30 April 2007

Seeking heirs in Israel

From Ha'aretz, a story about thousands of pieces of Judaica, hundreds of art works, half a million books - all owned by Holocaust victims - which are in Israel, held by state institutions, private museums and synagogues.

The Company for Locating and Retrieving Assets of Holocaust Victims is asking for all of the items so it can attempt to locate the heirs. If they cannot be found, the company will sell the items and distribute the funds to groups aiding Holocaust survivors and institutions which remember the Holocaust.

The items were transferred to Israel after World War II by the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRSO), formed by the Jewish Agency, Joint Distribution Agency, World Jewish Congress, Agudat Yisrael and others.

The JRSO archive has disappeared and little is known about it, according to the article, but the paper obtained summaries of JRSO management debates, some prepared by the JRSO executive secretary, the historian and political theorist Hannah Arendt.

Most of the items JRSO handled came from a huge buried treasure of looted Jewish property that was discovered by the United States Army in salt mines near Wiesbaden in central Germany.

One summary says that, "in July and August 1949, 211 crates were sent from Germany containing 10,400 ritual items." About half - 97 crates - were sent to Israel, 83 to New York, 16 to Europe and 25 damaged ritual objects were sent to be melted. "In Wiesbaden, 45,000 to 50,000 volumes from Jewish-German institutions and 1,100 rare books are waiting to be sorted," it says.

JRSO looked for the items' owners only in some cases. In the case of a giant book collection dubbed the "Baltic Collection," estimated to number more than 16,000, JRSO decided to try to locate only the heirs of five or more books. The rest were distributed to institutions and organizations and 45 crates were sent to the Jewish National and University Library for two years.

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