The Tel Aviv District Court issued an injunction against the sale of a letter written by a young girl killed in the Holocaust after her surviving relatives sued to prevent a prominent Haredi activist from bringing it to auction.
The letter, one of several that was set to be auctioned off as a lot on Tuesday evening, was written by Rachel Mintz, a Jewish girl from Poland, when she was 11 years old. It described life in 1937 Poland and her desire to immigrate to Israel.
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 and 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 into the hands of a merchant who sold them.
From there they came to Dudi Zilbershlag, a Haredi businessman, activist and journalist 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 it 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 the family and judge’s request to transfer the letter to Yad Vashem.
During an initial hearing, the judge, Erez Yakuel, asked Zilbershlag: “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?”
“I want you to understand that this letter is not just a collectible item. It’s a personal, family memory, maybe the last one ever of our family member who perished in the Holocaust,” Edva Lotan, Mintz’s niece, wrote on Facebook.
“I sincerely ask to stop the sale of this letter and help us ensure that it does not go into private hands, but will be kept in a place that honors my aunt’s memory.”
In response, Zilbershlag stated that stopping the sale would cause him “irreparable” financial damage. This, however, did not stop the judge from calling a halt to the sale and ruling that Zilbershlag must negotiate with the family to find a solution.
“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.
“The appropriate place for these historical and delicate pieces is in reputable and professional institutions such as Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, where they can be thoroughly researched, expertly preserved and ultimately utilized as historical testimony for the purposes of research, education and commemoration,” it said. “Yad Vashem has contacted the person holding the letters, and explained that their proper place is in the Yad Vashem Archives.”
Yad Vashem emphasized that Zilbershlag was not an employee of the institution.
“He serves in the directorate and council committees,” a spokesman said. “These positions are via political appointment and on a volunteer basis.”