In what should come as a surprise to no one, Menachem Youlus was arrested yesterday on charges of fraud, specifically mail and wire fraud, and embezzlement of funds from his Save a Torah charity, which sold Torahs purportedly rescued from former concentration camps. In January 2010, the Washington Post examined Youlus’ high-profile Torah sales, finding a surprising lack of documentation for such unusual discoveries:
In a 3-hour interview, Youlus is unable to provide a single name, date, place, photograph or document to back up the Auschwitz stories or any of the others. He says that until Save a Torah was founded in 2004, he kept no records. He refers all requests for documentation since then to the foundation’s president, investment banker Rick Zitelman of Rockville.
But in a late December meeting at The Washington Post, Zitelman, 54, shows no documentation for any of the scrolls, despite requests. Zitelman says the only paperwork he gets from Youlus is an invoice the rabbi himself writes up for each Torah. He says Youlus does not submit any airline tickets or hotel receipts for overseas missions. So where does he think Youlus finds the Torahs? “It’s my understanding these Torahs come from various locations, including monasteries, museums, antique shops, private owners and other places like that,” he says.
Menachem Rosensaft, a New York-based lawyer and vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, has been crying foul about Youlus for some time now. In Februry 2010, Rosensaft disputed Youlus’ accounts, specifically a story that involved piecing together portions of a Torah hidden separately at Auschwitz and receiving the final piece from a local priest:
It gets worse. There are no records of any such priest ever having existed, and Youlus refuses to identify him by name. Youlus could not have come across a Torah scroll, or anything else for that matter, in the barracks of Bergen-Belsen, where both my parents were liberated, for the simple reason that all the barracks of that camp were burned in May 1945 in order to contain a raging typhus epidemic. And Youlus peddled the “Ukrainian mass-grave” scrolls to five separate congregations, assuring each that it was buying one of two, to use the art world term, limited editions.
Rosensaft got serious about Youlus owning up to his actions, asking politicians to take action. “He and Save a Torah,” Rosensaft wrote in the Huffington Post in March 2010, “which shamelessly continues to solicit funds on its website, must now be held accountable, both legally and morally.”
Over a year later, it seems that process has finally started.
Rabbi who claimed to rescue Holocaust Torahs arrested on fraud charges [JTA]
Rabbi Fabricated Swashbuckling Tales of Saving Holocaust Torahs, Prosecutors Say [NYT]
Two Torahs, Two Holocaust Stories and One Big Question [NYT]
Earlier: Save a Torah Controversy Prompts Deal
Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.