Stolen burial register of Romanian Jewish community found at NY auction

The stolen memorial book from the  Jewish community in Kolozsvár/Cluj-Napoca from the 19th century was found at a New York auction. It is still a question as to how it got to America. The people responsible for the auction noticed the 19th-century notebook at the last moment among some old Jewish manuscripts.

The document disappeared around the 1940s, so it arrived in America definitely without the consent of the community. The register, or pinkas in Hebrew, has a starting price of USD 4,000. According to estimates, it could sell for some USD 5,000-7,000.

On the one hand, the item is a very valuable document because it records 50 years of the happenings of the Jewish community from the time of its founding in 1836; it is also valuable as a piece of art due to its beautiful design.

Fortunately, the Jewish community of Kolozsvár found out about the pinkasz, and the owner has now protested against the auction as well.

The Jewish community sent a letter to the auction house, which reminded them: The Jewish community in Kolozsvár/Cluj-Napoca, which consisted of 16,000 people, was deported to Auschwitz in May of 1944; most of them never returned home and the locations where the Jewish community carried out its events were ruined and robbed.

Very few official documents survived in cemetery chapels, basements and attics, while most of the community’s archives disappeared. The community thus noted in its letter to the auction house the value of the object itself as well as its historical value to the community, as it is a document that disappeared during the Holocaust.

As stolen property, the pinkasz must be returned to the surviving community according to the Peace Treaty of Paris of 1947 and also according to the Terezin Declaration of 2009 in which the signing countries (among them the U.S., Romania and Hungary) agreed that any stolen objects of value would be returned to their rightful owners.

The community called for the withdrawal of the register from the auction and stated that they had informed the world organization dealing with the restitution of Jewish property (World Jewish Restitution Organization) in the hope it would help them successfully return the stolen property to the Jewish community in Kolozsvár.

Secular notebooks

Pinkas in modern Hebrew means “notebook.” In medieval Jewish communities, associations, institutions, and private individuals registered their operations in these volumes.

The mohels, Jews trained in the practice of brit milah (the covenant of circumcision) registered the name of children they circumcised in the pinkasz; businessmen registered their commercial avtivities; students wrote their lessons; and Kabalists registered their sins and dreams. The pinkasz was different from a book with religious texts, a sefer, because a pinkasz was originally just a book of blank pages, and its owner would make entries from time to time.

Featured photo: foter.ro

Author: Blanka Székely