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Auction house suspends sale of 19th-century Jewish burial records
A bound memorial register of Jewish burials in the city between 1836 and 1899 was one of 17 documents offered for, and then withdrawn from sale, at Kestenbaum & Co., a Brooklyn auction house that specializes in Judaica.

by Catherine Hickley



NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Under Nazi rule in 1944, some 18,000 Jews were deported in six trains from the city of Cluj-Napoca in modern-day Romania to the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. They nearly all perished. Jewish homes, offices, archives and synagogues in Cluj were ransacked and possessions were looted, including books and historical records, leaving behind scant trace of a once-vibrant, mainly Hungarian-speaking community.

Today, decades after many of the few Holocaust survivors emigrated, the Jewish community there numbers just 350 and possesses little evidence of its history.

But this month a rare relic of Cluj’s Jewish past surfaced at a New York auction house. A bound memorial register of Jewish burials in the city between 1836 and 1899 was one of 17 documents offered for, and then withdrawn from sale, at Kestenbaum & Co., a Brooklyn auction house that specializes in Judaica.

The withdrawal came at the request of the Jewish Community in Cluj and the World Jewish Restitution Organization, who asked that the sale of the burial register, listed in the catalog for the Feb. 18 auction and known as the Pinkas Klali D’Chevra Kadisha, be canceled.

The register, handwritten in Hebrew and Yiddish with an elaborate title page extolling the leaders of the burial society, was spotted online by a genealogy researcher who alerted Robert Schwartz, president of the Jewish Community of Cluj.

“Given the historically delicate nature of the items that are entrusted to us to handle, we take the matter of title to be one of the utmost importance,” Daniel Kestenbaum, the founding chairman of the auction house, wrote in an email. “Consequently, in respect to recently acquired information, manuscripts were withdrawn from our February Judaica auction.”

Zoltan Tibori Szabo, director of the Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Cluj, said he is counting on the consignor’s goodwill. If made available to researchers, the newly discovered register will provide scholars with the names of the ancestors of those who were deported, he said.

“Usually if a person dies, he is remembered by his community and his family,” he said. “But in the case of hundreds of thousands of Jews in Eastern Europe, there was nothing left of them — even their documents were robbed and disappeared. You cannot reconstitute the history of a community without documents. We don’t even have a list of their names.”

© 2021 The New York Times Company










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