Page 56 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Zafren
48
to do its utmost to keep confidential the identity of the consignor,
to play down—some say to obscure—the previous ownership of
the books and manuscripts and to focus attention on one manu­
script—later two—as the only real significant items.
From April to June 26, 1984, the pre-auction period, there was
a growing crescendo of activity behind the scenes, in reaction to
the announcement of the forthcoming sale and in reaction to the
reaction. When Douglas C. McGill, a
New York Times
reporter,
wrote the first of a series of articles on June 19, only a week before
the sale, he made public some of the hectic activity, but there was
much more going on than any single person knew at that time. Ac­
tually, art historians Cissy Grossman and Dalia Tawil issued a re­
lease to the press on June 14, stressing that “Jewish community
property. . . may not be sold for personal gain. . . . Such property
must be reinstated in appropriate Jewish institutions”; but the
“press” did not publish it.
McGill reported that “some Jewish groups have questioned the
legality of the sale,” and he named the Anti-Defamation League of
B’nai B’rith and the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization
(JRSO), “which was empowered by the U.S. Military Government
in postwar Germany to receive heirless property.” Both organiza­
tions expressed the fear that the books might have been stolen or
confiscated by Nazis. McGill also noted that many of the books
and manuscripts had formerly belonged to the Hochschle fuer die
Wissenschaft des Judenthums. Interestingly, he then thought that
only 33 of the 62 lots in the sale had come from the Hochschule;
and, later in the affair, Sotheby’s was accused of disguising and oth­
erwise obscuring which books had been and which had not been in
the Hochschule. McGill sometimes wrote of 31 books and others
calculated other totals from the ambiguous hints in the catalog.
Even by August 15, Judge Robert E. White still spoke without cer­
tainty of “about 59” books and manuscripts.
What McGill did not report in that first article was the intense
level of speculation about who the consignor was and the negotia­
tion between Sotheby’s and the Jewish Theological Seminary for a
private sale, before the auction, of the two prize manuscripts.