Page 17 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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will be relatively short and because the documentation to which
I have had access is certainly not complete. What I have used
is what I collected as events unfolded — the auction catalog
itself, news releases, various m emoranda o f the p lain tiff and
the defendants, depositions, affidavits, court orders, and, o f
course, my files, especially o f the affairs o f the Judaica Con­
servancy Foundation .3 Furthermore , given the focus on the
Conservancy Foundation, I will naturally concentrate on those
facets o f the multi-faceted background that are, in my opinion,
most relevant.
On April 13, 1984, Rita Reifs column in the
New York Times
entitled “Auction” mentioned that Sotheby’s would be auc­
tioning on Ju n e 26 a fifteenth century illuminated Hebrew Bible
m anuscript from Prague. Sotheby’s George Snyder is quoted
as saying that “In the 20th century, the work changed hands
several times” and that “the identity o f the owner was unknown
and that all negotiations had been conducted th rough agents.”
R e if s article was probably the first public notice o f the upcom ­
ing sale, and it included the first cryptic sign tha t Sotheby’s
meant to do its utmost to keep confidential the identity o f the
consignor, to play down — some say to obscure — the previous
ownership o f the books and manuscripts, and to focus attention
on one manuscript — later two — as the only real significant
From April to Ju n e 26, 1984, the pre-auction period, there
was a growing crescendo o f activity behind the scenes, in re ­
action to the announcem en t o f the forthcom ing sale and in re ­
action to the reaction. When Douglas C. McGill, a
New York
repo rte r , wrote the first o f a series o f articles on Ju n e
19, only a week before the sale, he made public some o f the
hectic activity, but there was much more going on than any
single person knew at that time. Actually, a r t historians Cissy
Grossman and Dalia Tawil issued a release to the press on Ju n e
14, stressing that “Jewish community p roperty . . . may not be
sold for personal g a in . . . Such p roperty must be reinstated in
3. The documentation for this article is in these footnotes and, to the extent
possible, right in the text.