Friday, March 18, 2011

In the news: JewishGen BOG Co-Chair Karen Franklin

BY TANYANIKA SAMUELS from the New York Daily News

Karen Franklin

When a large, silver Seder plate was donated to the Derfner Judaica Museum in Riverdale in 2001, genealogist Karen Franklin, the museum's director at the time, knew she had to learn its history.

"If it was looted, we had to give it back," she said.

The story of the Seder plate would unfold in twists and turns over the next 10 years and it would join the long roster of Nazi-era items that have become Franklin's life work.

Franklin has traveled the world tracking down art pieces and possessions stolen from Jewish homes in Germany during World War II. She returned Wenesday to the Derfner Judaica Museum on the campus of The Hebrew Home to share some of those stories.

"Returning something that belonged to a family who lost it during the Nazi era is one the the most fulfilling things that I do," Franklin told a rapt audience of nearly 40 community members and Hebrew Home residents.

In 2006, she was called on to find the heir to 12 paintings on display at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. The museum had put on a special exhibit called "Looted, but from Whom?" It was the Dutch government's attempt to return the stolen items.

Franklin managed to track down an engagement announcement online for a relative of the family who originally owned the paintings. Through her work, the family received about $300,000 in compensation.

When a woman from Philadelphia donated the Seder plate to the Derfner Judaica Museum in 2001, Franklin had no idea it would spark a decade-long hunt that took her to Germany and Israel.

It turned out that the plate was taken from a Jewish home by a German soldier, but under surprising circumstances.

The soldier was married to a Jewish woman, who was the only survivor of her family. He rescued the plate and it was handed down through the family, winding up with the woman from Philadelphia, a distant relative to the soldier.

"People ask 'Was it worth all that effort for a plate that couldn't cost more than $200?'" she said. "And I say 'It doesn't matter if it's worth $200 or $2 million. If you're returning something to a family member, it is priceless.'"

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