Survivors, their descendants, veterans and others have donated artifacts, documents and other memorabilia since before the Museum opened in 1995, creating a rich repository of memories connected with the Holocaust and WWII years. Some items are part of the Museum’s permanent exhibit; others have been the focus of temporary exhibits, as well as historical research and publications. Professionally inventoried, preserved and accessible, the contents of the HMLC archives are handled with the honor and respect these artifacts, documents and material culture deserve.
Through our monthly Artifact Spotlight, we want to share some rarely seen objects from our archival holdings. For more information about the HMLC Archives, or if you are considering a donation, please contact Diane Everman at 314-442-3722 or email DEverman@JFedSTL.org.
Selections from the HMLC Archives
Rava Silver Hanging Sabbath Lamp
Although by the 16th century European households stopped using star-shaped hanging lamps to illuminate their homes, Jewish families continued the tradition because such lamps were also part of the ritual of beginning the Sabbath. This ornate 18th century silver hanging Italian Sabbath lamp is ornamented with low relief vines and flowers created through chasing and repousse (hammering from the reverse side), and consists of a 12-pointed star oil pan with matching drip cup and decorative cast tassel drop.
Josef Bergmann WWI Austrian Army Medals
Born in 1879, Josef Bermann began life in Przeworsk (Pshevorsk in Yiddish), in what is today Poland. He graduated from the University of Berlin in 1905 with a medical degree and became a German citizen in 1913. During WWI, he served his new country in a medical unit for an infantry brigade, and it was for that service the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef decorated him with the Merit of the Golden Crown. After his discharge from the Austrian military in 1918, Bergmann continued to practice medicine in Germany where his WWI military service was further noted by the bestowal of the Cross of Honor in 1935. Although he received that honor, the new Nuremberg Laws that same year stripped him of his citizenship. Four years later, the German government revoked his physician’s license. In June 1939, the American Vice Consul in Berlin issued Bergmann, his wife and his daughter visas. They immigrated to the United States and ultimately settled in St. Louis. Josef Bergmann became a naturalized US citizen in 1945 and remained in St. Louis until his death in 1953. [Bergmann Collection]
Toast to the Ghost of Hitler Sheet Music
During WWII popular music included everything from patriotic and military life songs to romantic ballads about servicemen and the women they left behind. For example, right after the fall of Paris people were humming “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” and not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor radios were playing “We Did It Before and We Can Do It Again.” Radios and long playing records were at their height. In 1940 more than 96% of all northeastern American households owned a radio. Another group of songs popular during the war included parodies- songs that made fun of the enemy and lightened spirits at home. Probably the most popular was Spike Jones’ “Der Fuehrer’s Face.” But even songwriters in St. Louis got into the spirit with songs like this one, “A Toast to the Ghost of Hitler,” by local Morrie Schroeter of Holly Hills, released by the Morris Music Co. [General Collection]
Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman’s American Red Cross Dog Tags
Noted St. Louis Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman left his congregation at Temple Israel early in 1943 to serve in the American Red Cross overseas. After training in Washington, D.C., he traveled on a troop ship to North Africa. His desire to serve the frontline American troops led him to both Algeria and Tunisia during his six months of service. The US Army had asked the American Red Cross to be the “sole civilian morale-building agency in all overseas areas” in addition to their traditional roles, so Rabbi Isserman found himself doing a variety of tasks wherever he was. His major role was to minister to the soldiers in the field. Rabbi Isserman witnessed the final phase of the Tunisian Campaign at the front, including the decisive Allied victory and the capture of large numbers of Axis forces. [Richard Isserman Collection]
Jewish Army Circulars
Not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Jewish National Council, headquartered in NYC, began to push for the creation of a “Jewish army,” that would help fight the Germans. The request was not new; there had been Jewish battalions in the British army since 1940, and in 1942 the British formed a Palestinian Regiment, combining several Jewish and Palestinian Arab battalions. Roosevelt and Stalin both rejected the concept of a Jewish fighting unit. The text of the March 1943 Circular suggests that in addition to carrying food to Greece from Canadian ports, Swedish “mercy ships” might also “…be used to save Jews in the Balkans and other occupied countries.” [Ben Cohen Collection]
Dachau Camp Cutlery/Flatware
American soldiers often picked up souvenirs when fighting overseas. A soldier who helped liberate Dachau picked up this fork and spoon at the camp. The utensils, stamped WSM42 and ROSTFREI above the Nazi eagle, show it was part of a German soldier’s field cutlery set. The military provided such flatware along with other items as an individual’s personal equipment. There were many different types of sets issued, including a fork and spoon combination, a three piece set and a more elaborate set that included a bottle/can opener. [General Collection]
Nuremberg “Doctors Trial” Photographs
The Nuremberg “Doctors Trial” began on December 6, 1946. Twenty-three leading German physicians and administrators were on trial before the US military tribunal for “their willing participation in war crimes and crimes against humanity.” The tribunal found 16 of the accused guilty of the counts against them, seven of whom were hanged at Landsberg prison in 1948. The remaining nine served various amounts of prison time. [Hedy Epstein Collection]
Crane Steel Co. Gas Cock
On first glance this gas/steam valve with swastikas appears to represent a chilling reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. On closer inspection, however, this item illustrates the power some symbols have and how some marks changed their meaning over time.
Crane Steel manufactured this gas/steam valve with stopcock in the US, probably during the 1920s. Founded in Chicago by R.T. Crane in 1855, the company used the swastika as a symbol of good luck on its products for decades, as had many US and Europeans in the early 20th century. Once the Nazis appropriated the symbol, however, and because Crane exported most of its products to Europe, the company discontinued using the swastika on their products. Today, a swastika immediately elicits reactions and associations with WWII and the Holocaust. [General Collection]
Ivory Pendant from Dachau
Late in 1945 Dachau, the site of the infamous first Nazi concentration camp established in Germany, held German POWs under US military guard. By January 1946, it housed 18,000 members of the SS along with thousands of other prisoners. Many of those held then at Dachau carved items to pass the time. One of those prisoners, a high-ranking German officer, carved this ivory pendant of grapes and grape leaves for the US officer who temporarily ran the camp. The Army officer later told a relative that the German made and gave it to him “because he thought it would keep him from being shot.” [Koslow & Cassel Collection]
German Military Campaign Insignia
One of the most common items brought back from WWII by American soldiers was insignia and medals taken off the uniforms of German soldiers. The German government awarded the Demjansk Shield to those who defended Demjansk, south of Leningrad, after the Axis troops there had become encircled and cut off by the Red Army early in 1942. The Crimea Shield was bestowed on German or Romanian soldiers who served in that eight-month Axis campaign to capture the Crimean peninsula from Soviet troops, which finally ended with the capture of Sebastopol in July 1942. The final award in this group is the Kuban Shield. It was conferred to German, Romanian or Slovakian troops who participated in the campaign for the Kuban bridgehead, in the Battle of the Caucasus against the Red Army in 1943. [Eugene Paul Larson Collection]
This simple square white porcelain bowl provides a glimpse into a little-known work program of the German government during WWII. Hutschenreuther, a well-known porcelain manufacturer in northern Bavaria, made the bowl as part of a serving set for a division of the Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD). The RAD, or State Labor Service, began in 1934 as a program to put the German unemployed to work. It soon evolved into a militaristic workforce indoctrinated by Nazi ideology. Men had a compulsory six-month service in the RAD before their military service, while mandatory service for women began after the war started. This bowl was made for, and used by, one of those RAD divisions. [General Collection]
Remagen Nazi Banner Signed by US Troops
The Allied capture of the intact Remagen Bridge on March 7, 1945, two weeks before the planned offensive to cross the Rhine River, quite possibly shortened the war. Although the Germans initially tried to blow up the bridge, their charges only partially detonated, allowing American forces to cross the bridge.
The Germans spent the next ten days trying to destroy the bridge by attacking with everything, but failed in their attempts thanks to the protection of the largest concentration of anti-aircraft weapons seen in the war. A member of one the automatic anti-aircraft gun batteries charged to defend the bridge brought this banner home with him after the war. It came from the two-story, eight classroom school in Remagen that his unit used as their quarters, and is signed by several of the men in his battery. [Herman Dell Collection]
Kapos were concentration camp inmates, some of whom were Jewish, who had privileged positions and who carried out the directives of the camp commandants and the guards. While German soldiers guarded the perimeter of the camps, kapos often “supervised” camps inside the fences.
Some post-war courts, such as the Israeli state-sponsored Collaborator Trials and the European Jewish Honor Courts, prosecuted a few kapos for their role during the war. Many believe that kapos were complicit in what happened at many of the camps and view them as Nazi collaborators, yet kapos could be punished or even killed for not carrying out the orders of a camp commandant. [General Collection]
Jewish Ghetto Police Stamp
The “Organization for the Maintenance of Public Order,” commonly referred to as the Ghetto Police, usually came into existence with the creation of ghettos in Eastern Europe. Although officially part of the Judenrat (Jewish Council) of each city or town, the Jewish Ghetto Police also took orders from the Germans. Their role within the ghettos was dictated by the demands of the Germans, the Judenrat’s activities and the needs of the Jewish population. This example included both the Polish Ghetto Police Stamp and the box in which it was kept. [General Collection]
DP Camp Tags
Resettling or repatriating the millions of refugees and former inmates of the Nazi German concentration, labor and POW camps was a massive undertaking after WWII. Most found themselves in Displaced Persons (DP) camps until they could be reunited with family or resettled. The last DP camp closed in 1959 – 14 years after the end of the war. These tags, for the Koenigstein family, are dated February 1951. [Jerry Koenig Collection]
WWII Crash/Escape Maps
Both the U.S. and the British produced cloth maps for Allied military personnel during WWII. Some were made of parachute silk, others of balloon cloth or acetate rayon. The goal was to provide maps that were tear resistant, noiseless, waterproof and accurate. [General Collection]
This amazing handmade, fur-lined goatskin jacket was given to a member of the U.S. 89th Infantry, the famed “Rolling W.” After landing in France in March 1945, the 89th quickly advanced into Germany, crossing the Sauer, Moselle and Rhine rivers. On April 4, 1945 the 89th liberated Ohrdruf, a subcamp of Buchenwald. Ohrdruf was the first concentration camp liberated by U.S. troops in Germany. [General Collection]
German School Book
While it looks like the 1930s version of a “Dick & Jane” book, this German school book for early readers had pages inserted to reflect the country’s new political reality. Mandated by the German government, the book now contains images of Hitler and the S.A. marching “with silent solid steps.” [Marianne Collin Goldstein Collection]
School Slate & Satchel
This well-used school slate and satchel date from the mid-1930s and were used by a young German Jewish child in first and second grade. Children used slates to do their daily school work, and the satchel, the book bag of its time, allowed children to carry books, slate, pencils, etc. to and from school. [Marianne Collin Goldstein Collection]
Signal Corps Camera
The U.S. military realized the important role cameras could play during WWII. Photographs, both still and motion picture, played a vital role for the military – and the public – during the war. They assisted with strategic planning, recognizing equipment deficiencies, providing legal evidence of war crimes and serving as a public relations tool. [General Collection]
Shoes have become a poignant symbol of the Holocaust, reminding us of the millions of individuals who once wore them. This tattered shoe, worn by a boy who was murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau, memorializes the 1.5 million children killed during the Holocaust. [Yaakov (Jackie) Handeli Collection]
Created for soldiers of the SA (Sturmabteilung) or the “Brown Shirts,” daggers of this type were produced throughout Nazi Germany. The dagger’s sleek design embodied power and symbolized the supposed vigor of the SA soldier. The Reich manufactured more than five million blades between 1933 and 1944. “Alles für Deutschland” or “All for Germany” was etched on each blade and the hilt of every dagger bore initials indicating the geographic state of production. The hilt of this dagger bears the letters (He), indicating Hessen as the state of manufacture. [Hans Jacoby Collection]
Nationalsozialstische Frauenschaft Pin
Just as the men and boys had their responsibilities, women and girls also had a role to play in forwarding the goals of the Nazi Party. The purpose of the Nationalsozialstische Frauenschaft, or Women’s League, was to spread ideas about motherhood, marriage, family, domestic affairs, use of German products, self-sufficiency and being companions (not equals) to their husbands. Membership was mandatory for women age 18 to 30. Pins like this showed the rank within the organization and the geographical identity of the wearer. This example dates from 1934-1938. [General Collection]
A souvenir of the 1936 Olympics, this bell is a re-creation of the actual bronze Olympic bell that hung in the bell tower at the western end of the Reichssportfeld. These bells were produced by KPM, the Royal Porcelain Maker, and show a depiction of the Brandenburg Gate and an eagle holding the Olympic rings. The motto “I call the youth of the world,” and “11 Olympic Games” appears between two swastikas. [General Collection]
The Reich rewarded German women with a Mother’s Cross of Honor annually on the second Sunday in May (Mother’s Day). Mothers were awarded the cross if they were ethnic Germans and “deemed worthy” by producing at least four children for the Reich. Crosses came in three levels depending on the number of children a mother bore: gold for eight or more, silver for six or seven and bronze for four or five children. The awards came in two sizes, a large one with a neck ribbon for grand occasions and a miniature that could be worn every day. Women wearing such emblems received preferential treatment and public services, everything from having front row seats at an event and moving to the front of lines to the best choices of products and foodstuffs. [Rufus Denton Collection; Unnerstall Collection]