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Israel Museum Sued By Heirs Over “Stolen” Manuscripts

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem is being sued by the heirs of the alleged owner of a 14th century Hebrew manuscript over illegal ownership.

The heirs of Ludwig Marum have filed a lawsuit in a New York state court against the museum. The suit said that the manuscript belonged to Marum, who received it as a wedding gift. Ludwig Marum was a Jewish-German politician and a fervent opponent of the Third Reich. In 1934 he was killed – supposedly by the Nazi party. The suit further claims that the Israel Museum had purchased the manuscript in 1946 for $600 (the equivalent to $9,000 today). However, the transaction was a backroom deal and no evidence of its providence was presented. This is important since the manuscript’s whereabouts between Marum’s death in 1934 and the deal in 1946 is unknown.

Israel Museum, Jerusalem

The object in question is a 14th century Hebrew manuscript given the name Bird’s Head Haggadah. Believed to have been created in southern Germany, it is an Ashkenazi Passover Hagaddah – a ritual text volume used in religious events. It is considered to be the oldest surviving manuscript of its kind and is worth more than $10 million today. The dispute began in 2016 when the heirs first started trying to seek compensation for the manuscript, which they believed to be in ‘illegal possession. They claimed that the museum have ignored their requests and even destroyed a document establishing the Marum family’s continued ownership of the manuscript.

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The Israel Museum, on the other hand, refuted the claims. They claimed that Marun’s daughter Elizabeth approved the museum’s possession of the manuscript in 1984. It must be noted that this is the first lawsuit against an Israeli museum over the illegal possession of artefacts from Holocaust survivors.