Family says its famed medieval Passover haggadah was stolen by the Nazis

Pages from the Birds’ Head Haggadah. Credit: Google Cultural Institute/Israel Museum via Wikimedia Commons.

( The grandchildren of a German-Jewish lawmaker say that the famous Birds’ Head Haggadah, a medieval copy of the Passover haggadah that is currently on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, was stolen from their family by the Nazis.

Calling the Nazis' stealing and subsequent selling of the haggadah a “long-standing illegal and moral injustice,” the family members have enlisted E. Randol Schoenberg—the lawyer made famous by Ryan Reynolds in the film “Woman in Gold” for his role in the legal battle that restored Gustav Klimt's paintings to their Jewish heir—to help them secure compensation for what occurred.

The family has agreed that the manuscript can remain in the Israel Museum, where it is currently being displayed in a special Passover exhibit, but asks that the museum pay the family compensation and rename the manuscript in its name—or face a lawsuit. The haggadah is believed to have been sold to an institution that later became the Israel Museum.

“We want a compromise,” said Jerusalem resident Eli Barzilai, 75, who is leading the legal demand on behalf of his cousins in the U.S. and Germany.

The Birds’ Head Haggadah was written in southern Germany around the year 1300 by someone who identified only as "Menahem." The manuscript has long stumped historians because of its unusual illustrations. Marc Michael Epstein, a Vassar College professor and author of the book "The Medieval Haggadah," called the manuscript “as mysterious as the Pyramids of Giza, the monoliths of Easter Island, or Mona Lisa’s smile.”

Barzilai said his grandfather received the manuscript as a wedding gift from the family of his bride, Barzilai’s grandmother. His grandfather, Ludwig Marum, was a lawyer who served in Germany’s parliament and opposed Hitler. He later died in a concentration camp. A lawyer for the Israel Museum acknowledged that the Marum family owned the Haggadah “for a period of time up until 1933,” the Associated Press reported.

Posted on April 21, 2016 .