Philharmonic Joins Suit Against Man Who Allegedly Stole Historic Documents

The collector is accused of stealing hundreds of valuable documents from Philharmonic Orchestra archives and putting them up for sale on eBay.

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra submitted a request to a Jerusalem court last week to join the suit filed by the National Library against a collector who allegedly stole hundreds of valuable documents from their archives and put them up for sale on eBay.

The collector, Meir Biezunski of Haifa, is also accused of stealing documents from the Jewish National Fund and the state archives.

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Ofer Vaknin

The affair began in 2008, when a collector alerted the National Library that a manuscript by the Swiss composer Arthur Honegger he had bought from Biezunski clearly belonged to the library.

The library filed a police complaint, saying Biezunski stole hundreds of extremely valuable documents from its archives. In a raid on his home, police found hundreds of items allegedly stolen from the library, the IPO, the JNF and the state archives.

Biezunski was arrested and questioned but the police could not disprove his statement that he had bought the items legally in flea markets and from other collectors.

Nir Segal, Biezunski's attorney, said the IPO "unfairly covets Biezunski's lawful collections .... It filed a false suit, with no evidentiary or legal basis. The police and prosecution found my client's items are not stolen and decided to close the case."

Recently state prosecutors decided to close the case for a lack of evidence. The library filed a civil suit against Biezunski, demanding the documents, which are being held in trust, according to a court order the library had obtained. The library is also working toward an agreement in which Biezunski would return some of the documents.

The IPO has supplied a list of 300 documents allegedly stolen from its archives, including original letters by Arthur Rubinstein and Yehudi Menuhin, concert programs from the 1930s and '40s, and historic photos of orchestra musicians and conductors with the pope.

IPO archives director Avivit Hochstadter said in a statement Biezunski has spent time in the archives since January 2006.

"It is evident the documents could only have come from the IPO archives," says attorney Jacob Katz, who represents the orchestra. "These are not items that are traded outside. They are valuable beyond their financial worth. They are the IPO's inalienable property reflecting the history of classic music in Israel from 1936 and should be returned to the IPO."

According to the National Library, "the library is taking all legal means to return the documents to its hands."