Skip to comments.Stolen Israeli historical documents on sale in US
Posted on 05/13/2003 1:10:52 PM PDT by yonif
A number of valuable historic documents stolen from some of Israel's leading research institutions, including the Weizmann and Jabotinsky institutes, are being offered for sale in the United States, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Antiquities expert John Reznikoff, who owns and operates University Archives, an antiquities dealership in Westport, Connecticut, told the Post on Monday that "all the major archives in Israel are being looted, and the items are ending up here in the US. Jewish culture is being sold for pennies on the dollar, and there's a general malaise at the institutions in Israel about the situation.
"I'm very sad and angered that there isn't better security in place; there have been major thefts. I myself am in possession of letters written by [Chaim] Weizmann, [Ze'ev] Jabotinsky, and Albert Einstein, which were transferred to me for preview before sale, and when I called the relevant institutions in Israel I was told that the documents were in fact part of their collection. The documents were given to me to sell, but it is my intention to repatriate them," said Reznikoff. Dr. Tuvia Friling, Israel's national archivist, confirmed that "original documents from the Jabotinsky Institute are for sale in the United States." He was unwilling to provide more details "so as not to interfere with the ongoing police investigation."
Friling said the investigators are attempting to ascertain whether the documents cited by Reznikoff were in fact stolen from the Jabotinsky Institute. The institute, based in Tel Aviv, houses more than 800 files with over 1,000 documents, publications, and photographic material relating to Jabotinsky and other Revisionist Zionist leaders. Researchers and visitors are able to view originals and make copies of materials they wish to remove from the premises.
Amira Stern, archive manager at the Jabotinsky Institute, commented only that there are suspicions that items from its collection have been stolen, but exactly which have yet to be determined.
Stern notes that security at the institute is not comparable to a place like the US National Archives in Washington, where stricter precautions and larger budgets provide more protective measures.
"Security at the institute is understaffed," Stern said, "and if someone needs to go to the toilet, and leaves watch for one moment, then people who want to steal will always find a way." Stern added that "at this point it seems that the documents [in the US] were probably removed from the archives illegally."
Friling concurred, noting "as the archive doesn't allow original documents to be removed one may only remove a photocopy from the archive if that turns out to be the case we will do all that we can to deal with the culprit to the fullest extent of the law and will exert all efforts to return the stolen items to Israel. The world will then see that thefts such as these cannot go on with impunity."
Friling insisted that Israel would not buy back the stolen documents but would "get in contact with the seller and explain that the goods were stolen, and hope that there would be good people willing to help us secure the return of the Jabotinsky documents."
The Weizmann Institute also confirmed that items from its archives had been stolen. "We know that a number of documents have been stolen and we don't want to give out details which could hurt the ongoing investigation. Our main goal is to get back the stolen goods, so we have tried not to publicize the thefts," said Yivsam Azgad, Weizmann Institute spokesman.
Reznikoff said that one of the letters that reached him is written from Weizmann to Harry Truman commiserating about world politics; another is from Albert Einstein to Weizmann in which the physicist asks Israel's first president, "How does it feel to be the chosen of the chosen?" Reznikoff puts the value of that letter at $20,000.
Reznikoff said he had recently been offered three letters, penned by Jabotinsky early in the previous century. "In our market, content is what drives price," he said. He was offered the letters for $400 each, while he said that their market value was closer to $3,000 $4,000. "This has been going on for at least a few years," Reznikoff recounted; "I've been trying to get the police involved, because we are pretty sure that a certain very wealthy Israeli collector has been sending people to steal for him. We cannot let this happen and have a casual attitude about it."