November 10, 2009

Kristallnacht and the Return of a Stolen Bible

Yesterday, we hosted an event that saw the return of a 16th century bible to the Jewish community of Vienna, from which it was looted 71 years ago on Kristallnacht. Here are my introductory remarks at the ceremony:

I want to welcome you to the Museum and to this important event that marks the return of a priceless book to its rightful owners after more than seven decades. This is not the first such return of stolen property that has taken place at the Museum, and we are pleased to be host today.  We believe that, as an institution dedicated to Memory and Hope and to continuity and heritage, there could be no better place.

It is appropriate, I believe, that we recall what took place in Germany and Austria, seventy-one years ago today, on November 9 and 10, 1938.  We recall the hundreds of synagogues plundered and burned, the thousands of shops, businesses, and homes looted, their windows smashed, giving a name to this horrific night, -- Kristallnacht -- “Night of Broken Glass.”  We recall those who were forced to leave their homes and their possessions.  We recall those who were, imprisoned, beaten, driven to suicide, and murdered. And we recall the darkest history for which Kristallnacht served as portent.

We are grateful to Professor Ori Soltes for researching the provenance of the Bible that is being returned today.  Details of his research can be found in your press kits. 

The Bible being returned is more than the paper, ink and binding, or the words and frontispiece image that comprise its contents. It is a powerful symbol. 

It is a symbol of the centuries-long connection between the Jewish people and its sense of God; 

It is a symbol in the long and complex history of Jewish-Christian relations; consider that it was printed in the Ghetto in Venice at the beginning of the 16th Century.
It is a symbol of the larger love of books on the part of Jews as a People of the Book. 

It is a symbol of the immense theft of art and cultural property that was an integral part of Holocaust.  We must always remember that the Holocaust was not only the greatest murder of all time, but it was also the greatest theft.

And finally this Bible is a symbol of continuity of Jewish life and a sign that, even after more than a half century, that there can be some small measure of justice. 

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