The Shmooze

Is It Immoral To Re-Steal Previously Looted Holocaust Memorabilia?

By Michael Kaminer

  • Print
  • Share Share

For a Jewish visitor to Poland, is it moral to steal souvenirs that may have themselves been looted from Jewish homes during the Holocaust?

Not according to yesterday’s Ethicist column in the New York Times Magazine. “Traveling in Poland, I visited antique stores offering Jewish items — menorahs, mezuzas — that seemed more than 65 years old,” wrote Randy Malamud of Atlanta. “[I] found myself unable to pay for what was probably stolen property. Part of me wishes I had stolen (liberated?) some of them. Would that have been justified?” In his response, Ethicist scribe Randy Cohen quoted Marilyn Henry, a Jerusalem Post columnist who “has written much about such sad relics.” Cohen advised that “while the items may have been looted during the Nazi era, they may have been treated as legally ‘abandoned’ when the family was deported; they may have been sold at fire-sale prices by the original owner/family to raise funds to flee; they may have been held with the best of intentions by neighbors in anticipation that a Jewish family would return, and the family did not return.”

Cohen also reminded his reader that the Polish shopkeepers may not have been “culpable” in acquiring the objects they were selling. “The enormities that befell the owners of these objects occurred before all but the most elderly of these shopkeepers could have been involved,” he wrote. “But even if a shopkeeper was knowingly trading in contraband, that would not justify your theft. Instead, you should report such matters to the authorities.”

There could even be “unintended consequences if we all forswear buying Judaica so steeped in suffering and death,” Cohen wrote. Agnes Peresztegi, director of the Commission for Art Recovery, Europe, told him in an e-mail that “it would not serve our purposes to eliminate the market, because if silver Judaica cannot be sold due to the issues of questionable ownership, they may get melted for the silver.” Peresztegi told Cohen that putting these items “to their intended use can be an honorable commemoration.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Ethicist, Holocaust, Nazi, New York Times, Poland, Silver

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.