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Press Release

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Return To Polish Government Of Stolen Architectural Drawings Of Historic Synagogue

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Angel M. Melendez, Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), announced today that five stolen architectural drawings created in 1896 of a historic synagogue in the city of Lodz, Poland (the “Drawings”), will be returned to the Polish government.  The Drawings were taken out of a larger set housed at the Polish state archive in Lodz in around 1999, and the identity of the thief or thieves remains unknown.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “A part of Poland’s cultural heritage and historical record were stolen from their state archive 20 years ago.  Now, thanks to a New York couple who are doing the right thing, and to HSI for doing its typically excellent work in this field, these important drawings are being returned to the government of Poland.”

HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Angel M. Melendez said:  “On the heels of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, returning these drawings to Poland that represent a piece of human history the Nazis attempted to erase underscores the importance of preserving our world history through cultural patrimony for future generations.  We continue to pursue criminals who steal and traffic property that belongs to the peoples of the world, while returning those items found to their rightful owners, in this case, Poland.”

The ink-and-watercolor Drawings depict the interior, exterior facades, and floor plans of the Stara Synagogue, which used to stand on Wolborska Street in Lodz.  The Stara Synagogue was originally built in 1809 and moved to a new building around 1859 and 1861.  The Drawings were made by the prominent Lodz architect Adolf Zeligson in connection with significant renovations to the synagogue that began in around 1897.  The Stara Synagogue was later burned down during the Nazi occupation in around 1939, and no trace remains.     

Almost 10 years after the theft, the Drawings were put up for sale by an international auction house and were purchased by a Manhattan couple, Meredith Berkman and Daniel Mintz. After Ms. Berkman and Mr. Mintz were informed that the Drawings had been stolen from the Polish state archive, they readily and voluntarily agreed to turn over the Drawings to HSI so that they could be returned to Poland. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and HSI are now sending the Drawings back to the Polish government.

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Mr. Berman thanked HSI’s Cultural Property, Art, and Antiquities Group for their handling of the investigation.  He also thanked Ms. Berkman and Mr. Mintz for their assistance and cooperation.  The case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorney David Zhou is in charge of the case.          

Updated June 21, 2019

Asset Forfeiture
Intellectual Property
Press Release Number: 19-197