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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Oil on board; Hans Winter (Austrian, 1853-1944); Rabbi in His Study; signed lower right; $2,350. Photo courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers
The seeds of hatred for the Jews were sown long before Hitler came into power.

“Their synagogues should be set on fire…Their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed…Let us drive them out of the country for all time,” Martin Luther said in 1543.

In driving the Jews out some 400 years later, Hitler was right about one thing, the great masses of people fell easier for a big lie than a small one.

Early Jewish victims of Hitler’s anti-Semitic crusade called themselves lucky because it convinced some of them to leave Germany while they still could. The rest stayed behind hoping things would improve.

“The pessimists went into exile, and the optimists went to the gas chambers,” was a common remark among Jews after the Holocaust.

When Adolf Hitler ran for political office he didn’t want to alienate middle-class voters who might dismiss him as a kook, so he downplayed his anti-Semitism. Even so, the Germans knew Hitler hated Jews. When he became Fuehrer, he declared a government-sponsored boycott of Jewish-owned stores. That was the beginning.

In the end, enough people to populate the city of Los Angeles were wiped out.

Smuggled out of the ghetto underneath coats came the treasured objects of Jewish cultural and religious importance. The objects, Judaica, connected the Jewish people to their past. If they were to survive, those same objects offered continuity for the future.

Collecting Judaica offers an intimate gaze into a world of ancient rituals, customs and ceremonies. Spice boxes, Etrog boxes, Kiddush cups, and Hanukah menorahs have remained consistent for centuries even though the Jews have settled all over the world.

Torah scrolls, books, and art were part of the millions of Jewish treasures looted by the Nazis in an attempt to stamp out the culture. World War II was the first war in which an army had within its ranks squads of art specialists to help.

Somehow, tangible expressions of Jewish culture and faith survived the Holocaust and found havens in homes and synagogues around the world.

There are three basic collecting areas in Judaica, Hebrew manuscripts and books, ritual objects and fine art. In terms of collecting, if an item is known to have survived the Holocaust, the value goes up. The older the better rule applies and provenance (history of ownership) is important to collectors.

Judaica, as a rule, was not produced in great quantities. So scarcity plays a role in collecting. As with other antiques, signed pieces bring more than unsigned pieces. Silversmiths from the 1950s like Ilya Schor and Ludwig Wolpert are a good example of this tenet.

It’s a huge field and collectors tend to specialize. They might collect the same object like menorahs from a particular period or region. Others collect an assortment of objects like charity containers and Sabbath candlesticks from every known period.

On June 17, Skinner in Boston, Mass., featured a fine Judaica and silver auction. Here are some current values.


Hanukah lamp; bronze; shaped back plate with central eight-sided star and lions, scrollwork sides; above oil wells; late-18th or early-19th century; 9 1/2 inches high; $1,058.

Charity container; silver; repousse; late-19th century; fruit form with foliate designs; unmarked; 7 1/2 inches high; $1,528.

Oil on board; Hans Winter (Austrian, 1853-1944); Rabbi in His Study; signed lower right; 5 3/4 inches by 7 3/4 inches framed; $2,350.

Charity container; silver; well-shaped with dome lid; made by Petr Pavlovic; Moscow; circa 1895; 5 1/2 inches high; $2,938.

Bezalel Illuminated Megillah; text finely printed on vellum surrounded by hand-colored vignettes relating to the story of Ester; Jerusalem; early-20th century; 5 7/8 inches high; $3,290.

Etrog box; silver; formed as a ribbed fruit with branch finial; St. Petersburg, late-18th century; 5 inches high; $5,875.

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