A prominent businessman is set to hand over a letter written by a young Jewish girl killed in the Holocaust to the Yad Vashem memorial museum after a court stopped him from bringing it to auction.
Dudi Zilbershlag agreed to give the letter to the national Holocaust memorial museum on condition that relatives of the slain girl will publicly never seek ownership of the letter, according to a report by Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site.
Zilbershlag is also demanding that Rachel Mintz’s surviving relatives issue an apology to Yad Vashem.
Last week, the Tel Aviv District Court issued an injunction against the sale of the letter after Mintz’s surviving relatives sued Zilbershlag to prevent him from selling it at auction.
The letter, one of several that were set to be auctioned off as a lot last week, was written by Mintz, a Jewish girl from Poland, when she was 11 years old. It described life in 1937 Poland and her desire to immigrate to Palestine.
Mintz was the the youngest of five brothers and sisters. Her older brothers fled east and survived the Holocaust while she and her mother remained in Poland and hid. They were eventually murdered after a Jew from the town informed the Germans of their hiding place. She was 16.
The letter was found along with other letters sent by Jewish children from Poland that were intended to be delivered to children at a school in Haifa. The school principal took the letters home, and after his death, they ended up in the hands of a merchant who sold them.
From there they came to Zilbershlag, a businessman, journalist and ultra-Orthodox activist who is a member of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum council. He in turn offered them to the Dynasty auction house.
When Mintz’s remaining family found out about the sale, they say they asked that the letter instead be placed in a public institution such as Yad Vashem, but the auction house denied their request. The family sued for custody of the letter but at an initial hearing, representatives of the auction house offered to sell it to them for $10,000. They declined a request by the family and judge to transfer the letter to Yad Vashem.
“Some items should never find their way onto an auction block,” Edva Lotan, Mintz’s niece, wrote in a Times of Israel blog post on Monday. “It belongs in a relevant archive or museum that will honor my aunt’s memory.”
“I sincerely hope that the seller understands the value of preserving these personal letters in a suitable museum or archive,” Lotan wrote.
During a hearing last week, Judge Erez Yakuel scolded Zilbershlag for not complying with the family’s wishes: “Is it because you are part of Yad Vashem that I should teach you to do a mitzvah and present Yad Vashem the letter instead of selling it?”
Zilbershlag countered by saying that stopping the sale would cause him “irreparable” financial damage. However, the judge rejected his argument, halted the auction and ordered him to negotiate with the family to find a solution.
Zilbershlag was criticized by Yad Vashem last week for his attempts to sell the letter. The museum’s management called on him to donate it the archives instead.
“It is morally unacceptable and highly distasteful that anyone should trade in personal items, artifacts or documents of Holocaust victims or from the Holocaust era,” Yad Vashem said in a statement.
On Sunday, family members went back to court, complaining to the judge that they were unable to contact Zilbershlag to negotiate the fate of the letter.
A day later, Zilbershlag said that he intended to turn over the letter to the Yad Vashem’s archives.
“I offered the items as a donation provided that the letter in question not be handed over to the family, because at first they were demanding it for themselves,” he told Zman on Monday. “It wasn’t until lawyers got involved that they amended their demands and said they wanted it donated to Yad Vashem.”
“I also think they need to apologize to Yad Vashem as well, because in some interviews they tied the institution to the private sale of artifacts, which has caused more than a little damage,” Zilbershlag said.
Zman reporters said they found no evidence of Mintz’s family members publicly speaking of Yad Vashem as Zilbershlag had alleged.
In a statement to Zman, a spokesperson for the family said they were pleased that Zilbershlag agreed to donate the letter to Yad Vashem, and denied they had ever sought to keep it for themselves.
“Yad Vashem is the right place for the letter; there it can be preserved, researched and used to commemorate our dear family member who perished in the Holocaust. We hope this affair will spur authorities to regulate the preservation of historical artifacts.”
“We never demanded to have the letter; we just wanted it to be preserved at Yad Vashem or at another museum,” the family added.
A version of this article appears on The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, Zman Yisrael.