The Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem is showing some of its artefacts in Germany for the first time to mark its 70th anniversary. 16 objects from 16 federal states by people who were once at home here.
Times were already dangerous when the Jewish Margulies family fled Nazi Germany. In March 1939, Father Menashe Margulies, a textile merchant from Chemnitz, managed to get a visa for the Netherlands. The 15-year-old son Szalay was actually supposed to buy ship tickets in Berlin. Instead, he got hold of four Lufthansa plane tickets from Berlin to Haifa for 2,544 Reichsmarks. There was still one major obstacle: the family piano should not be left behind. In fact, the fugitives somehow managed to ship the instrument to Palestine.
84 years later the piano is back in Germany. A few days before this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, it will be on display from Tuesday in the “Sixteen Objects” exhibition in the Paul Löbe House of the German Bundestag. They are 16 pieces from a collection of 42,000 artifacts at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. For the first time, on its 70th anniversary, this brings a small selection to the country in which their owners once lived, from which they were expelled or abducted and murdered. It is a touching return after a very long journey.
Yad Vashem leader comes to Germany
“Of course I wanted very different objects, not just Jewish artefacts,” says Ruth Ur, the curator of the exhibition and executive director of the German Friends of Yad Vashem. “It’s not about Jewish people, it’s about Germans in the first place.” Since Chemnitz will be the European Capital of Culture in 2025, there couldn’t be a more appropriate message: “A piano that survived the Holocaust is coming back to Germany to show how important music is.” The then 15-year-old Szalay, today Shlomo, also survived in Israel. He was born in 1923, almost a hundred years ago.
“It is important to show that there is a connection between each individual object and Germany,” says the head of Yad Vashem, Dani Dayan, of the German Press Agency. They stand as an example for each federal state. For the opening of the exhibition and political talks, the 67-year-old is coming to Germany for the first time in his life.
The memory must be kept alive
He had actually vowed never to set foot on German soil – in order never to forget what had happened to Jewish people in Germany. “It had nothing to do with hate, it just has to do with remembering,” says Dayan. But it is the “same reason that brings me to Germany now: remembering”. With his journey he arouses attention, “and so we will strengthen the memory and help ensure that it never happens again”.
When you go, under duress, probably forever, what do you take with you? For Lore Stern from Kassel, born in 1937, it was her doll Inge who traveled with her to Portugal in 1941 and finally to the USA. From there Lore Stern emigrated to Israel in 1991 and the doll with her. It was also a toy for Anneliese Dreifuss from Stuttgart, a tiny ceramic kitchen that survived emigration to the United States.
When Leon Cohen from Hamburg was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto, there was one thing he didn’t want to do without: his self-made Torah shrine. When the Nazis took him to Auschwitz, Cohen left the shrine behind after all. The director of a children’s home took care of him. So the shrine came to Yad Vashem and now to Berlin.
Things tell about people
In the exhibition he stands very close to a display case with an inconspicuous scrap of fabric – a fragment of the flag of the Maccabi Hatzair Youth League. When Bund members were about to be deported in 1943, they tore up the flag and promised each other that they would put it back together if they saw each other again in Israel. One of them, Anneliese Borinski, actually managed to keep her piece of cloth with her in the Auschwitz death camp and on a death march. She was the only one who could bring her piece of the flag to Israel.
Things to remember when no one can tell first-hand: “We’re in a race against time,” says Yad Vashem director Dayan. “If the contemporary witnesses are no longer with us, then we have to make sure that we carry on their memories.” (dpa)