Saturday, January 21, 2012
The Saga of the Music Librarian's worst nightmare will now play out in civil court
My endeavor, the sale of music antiquities is a rather dignified and rarefied field. While we all hear about the scandals which go on in the World of sports, entertainment and historical autographs, there is rarely an issue in the music World. That all changed in 2008. Since 2006, I had been watching an E-Bay vendor sell a huge cache of musical autographs on their site. It was noticeable, as this never-ending supply was coming from Israel, a Country where I have very few customers. I suppose someone might have compiled a collection in Europe and brought it after the War, but that was unlikely, as the refugees had very little when they arrived in Israel. This was a veritable gold mine. Anyhow, my interest was really piqued when the seller began listing known Nazi collaborators, both musical and a few non-musical. In other words things the vast majority of Israeli's would not want in their homes. He was also listing items which appeared to be items from the Israeli Philharmonics archive, like a signed photograph of Arturo Toscanini dedicated to the orchestra, letters to the orchestra from musical luminaries and numerous pristine broadsides which would not have survived in that condition unless placed in a professional archive. As his prices were very high, I waited until he listed something unfamiliar to him at a low price and I bid and won the item. In this case it was a letter by the Jewish conductor, Hermann Levi. Levi was the Kappellmeister of Munich and the first to conduct Wagner's opera "Parsifal." I immediately sent a payment to the seller. The transaction then became what can be described as murky. The seller sent me an e-mail that he was having issues and could not send the item right away. After several e-mails threatening to report this activity to E-Bay, he relented and the item arrived with a letter on his letterhead apologizing for the confusion. I examined the letter once received and immediately saw library markings which further aroused my suspicions. After making phone calls to several colleagues whom I knew had transacted business with him, I found one who had purchased a manuscript which they traced to the Music Department of the National Library of Israel at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. They had actually been in communication with the archivist, but as yet had not provided the name of the E-Bay seller to the Archives. I immediately contacted Gila Flamm, the music archivist there and told her what I had. After an hour or so, I learned that the letter we had was part of their collection and was missing.......then the thing took on a life of it's own. I informed my colleagues that I intended to give the name and address of the E-Bay seller to the archive. While the colleague who had been in communication with the archives thought I was being hasty, they supported me. However, it seemed to me that it was more important to stop the bleeding as he had current items on E-Bay and had made recent sales and this was the best way to do it. Anyhow, I provided the name of the E-Bay seller, one, Meir Bizanski, a Haifa architect to the library. The archivist recalled Bizanski regularly appearing at the library and she thought it curious, as he appeared to have no knowledge of music history, but was allowed free reign in the archives as was their policy at the time and would bring blueprint tubes and brief cases with him every time he came. The next day a big article appeared in the Jerusalem Post. The Bizanski home was raided by the police and they found a hut of sorts in the back of the house loaded with items which were part of the collection of the Music Department of the National Library of Israel and the Israeli Philharmonic. He was arrested and then the story takes another twist. He claimed he bought the items directly from the archives and flea markets, though he had no bills of sale. Somehow that argument seemed to hold with the prosecutors office and he was released. Now, E-Bay took a month after this story broke to close his account, shameful, as he began to sell again shortly after his release from prison. He also appeared another time under another handle and fortunately this time was discovered early on and was quickly shut down.
A Recap of the sordid story from the New York Times
Years have gone by and the prosecutors office in Israel for some reason has been loathe to prosecute the case. This makes zero sense, as he was caught with the goods, they have record of Bizanski visiting both the Music Department of the National Library of Israel and the Philharmonic Archives on numerous occasions and ample evidence of his sales outside of the country and he has no bills of sale. However, one can't understand the politics which go on in other countries, so I won't delve into that any further. However, great news, I received an e-mail recently with the attached article, apparently the prosecutors office has now dropped the case. But Bizanski will get his day in court, as the Music Department of the National Library of Israel and the Israeli Philharmonic are now jointly suing him in civil court.
The recent H'aaretz story regarding the lawsuit
While a number of Bizanski's customers have returned their items to the archives, some still have not and they are missing hundreds of items which he is believed to have sold via E-Bay. If you are reading this story for the first time and and conducted business with this man, the Israeli National Archives would love to have their purloined items back, no questions asked. For those in this category, it would truly be a mitzvah (good deed) if you were to repatriate the items you purchased from this man. Please contact Gila Flamm at the Music Department of the National Library of Israel here. Email Gila by clicking this link
A quick follow-up, (1/24/12) we heard from Gila this morning. Apparently the items removed from Bizanski's home, as well as all items sent back to the library were placed in escrow and the library and Philharmonic are trying to reach a deal with Bizanski's attorney's and the court to have those items returned to their proper locations. They have had to wait 4 years while the State prosecutors office did nothing to return National property to it's rightful home.