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Guttmann / Sotheby's Case Collection

Identifier: AR 6570

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains the materials of attorney Ernst C. Stiefel relating to the Guttmann/Sotheby's case. These include selected pleadings from the case The People of the State of New York v. Sotheby Parke-Bernet et al. (Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, 42255/84), including the full deposition transcripts of Guttmann, attorney Hermann Simon, and Sotheby's expert George Snyder. Also found here are Ernst C. Stiefel's case file, which includes correspondence, notes, and photocopies of articles and documents, as well as clippings, mostly from the New York Times, about the case.


  • 1907-1984
  • Majority of material found within 1984


Language of Materials

This collection is in English, with some German.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open to researchers.

Access Information

Readers may access the collection by visiting the Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center for Jewish History. We recommend reserving the collection in advance; please visit the LBI Online Catalog and click on the "Request" button.

Historical Note

Professor Alexander Guttmann was Hauptdozent at the Lehranstalt für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin. In 1938, he fled to the United States, smuggling with him the most valuable of the Lehranstalt's library books. In the United States, he became a professor at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio.

On June 26, 1984, Sotheby's auctioned a lot of rare and valuable Hebrew manuscripts and books, on behalf of an anonymous owner, for over one million dollars. The New York State attorney-general filed suit to block completion of the sale, pending determination of rightful ownership of the materials. The anonymous owner was soon revealed to be Dr. Guttmann, and he admitted that these were the Lehranstalt books he had transported from Germany in 1938. The case hinged on whether Guttmann was given the items as a gift or whether they were simply entrusted to him for safekeeping. In 1985, the case was settled, with those books not publically accessible being recalled from the sale and placed with public institutions. The remaining sales were ratified, and Guttmann received about $900,000.

Attorney Ernst C. Stiefel was retained by the State of New York to help investigate the conditions surrounding Guttmann's removal of the books from Germany.


0.5 Linear Feet (1 box)


This collection contains the materials of attorney Ernst C. Stiefel relating to the Alexander Guttmann/Sotheby's case. The case revolved around a 1984 Sotheby's auction of Hebraica from the Lehranstalt für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin that had been brought from Germany to the United States by Guttmann in 1938. The materials include pleadings, clippings, and Stiefel's files.


The folders are in alphabetical order. The pleadings were arranged in chronological order. The case file is in its original order, but split into three folders due to size.

Digitization Note

The collection was digitized in its entirety. Access to box 1 folder 1 is restricted to on-site access only due to copyright. Researchers with questions regarding suppressed materials may contact the LBI Archivist at

Related Material

The LBI Archives holds the Ernst C. Stiefel Papers (AR 5230)

The Alexander Guttmann Papers at the American Jewish Archives also contain information about this case.

The Yeshiva University Museum, also part of the Center for Jewish History, holds the Sotheby's auction catalog.

Processing Information

Materials were placed in acid-free folders and reboxed in a new archival manuscript box. Duplicate clippings and pleadings were removed.

Guide to the Guttmann / Sotheby's Case Collection undated, 1907-1984 , bulk 1984 AR 6570
Processed by Kevin Schlottmann
© 2013
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Processed as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation. Digitized as part of the CJH Holocaust Resource Initiative, made possible by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States