Judaica – Overview

Facilitating restitution of Judaica plundered during the Holocaust is a priority for the Claims Conference/WJRO.  Extensive efforts at returning objects and items of Judaica — historical and literary materials relating to Judaism — to their original owners started immediately after the end of the Shoah; the task is far from completed, even so many decades later.

Objects of Judaica looted during the Holocaust are defined in two ways:

  • Objects that carry a quality of holiness (tashmishey kedusha) or are essential to the performance of a particular ritual or commandment (tashmishey mitzvah)
  • Archives and libraries, not only including ceremonial Jewish items, but also items relating to Jewish organizations and Jewish life in general

We currently focus on gathering data about such items known to be in non-Jewish hands, especially in places, such as parts of Eastern Europe, where such Judaica may be at risk. Information about the location of items is the first step in saving them.

Reporting and Research

The Claims Conference/WJRO has compiled a Descriptive Catalogue of Looted Judaica, which provides a worldwide snapshot of what is known concerning the fate of Judaica destroyed by Nazi Germany and its allies.

In 2009, 47 nations, observer countries, and relevant non-governmental organizations, including the Claims Conference and the WJRO, convened for the Prague Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets. Among the reports prepared by the Claims Conference/WJRO was Holocaust Era Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property: A World-Wide Overview, which recommended actions to be taken by participating nations to address the challenges in restitution of looted assets. The report was based on the Descriptive Catalogue of Looted Judaica.

The Claims Conference/WJRO published a Handbook on Judaica Provenance Research: Ceremonial Objects. As of April 2019, thanks to the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media the Handbook is also available in German as “Handbuch Judaica Provenienz Forschung: Zeremonialobjekte“.

The Claims Conference/WJRO has undertaken to work with the National Library of Israel to catalog and identify all Hebrew and other Jewish-language books and manuscripts known to have been looted that are in Croatia, which lacks sufficient expertise in cataloging in those languages to be able to identify what the country has. As of late spring 2017, the National Library of Israel (NLI) completed its work, having examined 6800 items for which the Jewish Community of Zagreb provided scanned images of the title and other relevant pages. For more information, see “Identification and cataloging of Hebrew and other Jewish books and manuscripts looted during the Holocaust that are now in the collection of the Jewish Community of Zagreb.”