This green-glazed ceramic Pesach Seder plate on display in the Sydney Jewish Museum’s Holocaust exhibition was given to Samuel Steif whilst he was in the Föhrenwald Displaced Persons Camp in Germany in 1948. It was one of many handmade ceramic ritual plate distributed at the time of Passover by a Jewish relief organisation that employed DPs in a ceramic workshop in Bavaria.
Samuel Steif was born in Rumania is 1923, and was subjected to forced labour in 1942 at the age of 18. After he was liberated by the Russians in 1944, he married his childhood friend Toni Meltzer. Together they planned to leave communist Rumania and make their way to Palestine. On route to Palestine they passed through Föhrenwald, where they stayed until 1953. Samuel held onto this Seder plate for its sentimental ties to his religious Jewish upbringing until he eventually moved to Australia.
This special piece depicting the emancipation of the Jewish people from slavery is so telling of the time in which it was made, and ties in beautifully with its owner’s pursuits in the shadow of World War II. This traditional Seder plate is engraved not with the traditional saying “Next year in Jerusalem”, but “This year in Jerusalem”. Whilst the plate’s design tells the story of the exodus from Egypt, it also expresses the yearning of Holocaust survivors to rebuild their shattered lives in the new Jewish state of Israel and in safer diaspora communities across the world.
Inside an album that recently came into the Sydney Jewish Museum’s possession are photographs of the horrors of Nazi aggression that that took place at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria during World War II. The photographs in this album range from surveys of the camp’s landscape and location, to portraits of skeletal prisoners, labourers at work and, most distressingly, of murdered victims.
At first, our curators wondered whether these photographs were taken to oil the Nazi propaganda machine, or to expose just what was being done in Mauthausen. The owner of this album, Ivanovic Bodgan, who was a Serbian political prisoner in Mauthausen from October 1942 to June 1943, is no longer alive, and his family had limited information to share on the story behind this album that survived the war and made its way across the seas to Australia.
With some deeper research, our curators uncovered that in fact the shocking photographs within this album were taken by the officer in charge of the SS Erkennungdienst: the photographic laboratory and identification service. These photographs were taken with the order to record all prisoners’ identities upon arrival and to note all visits to the camp by dignitaries. Five copies were made of each photograph and distributed to the high-ranking SS officer Karl Schutz, and to the SS headquarters in Berlin, Oranienburg, Vienna and Linz.
There was, however, a prohibited sixth copy of each photograph printed by prisoners working in the lab, two of whom are identified as Antonio García Alonso and Francesc Boix Campo. Toward the end of the war, these prohibited images were smuggled out of Mauthausen by a communist network of young Spaniards in the false bottom of a food hamper. These images were later used in the prosecution of war crimes trials in Nuremberg in 1946, in which Francesc Boix Campo gave evidence.
We still cannot be entirely sure of how Ivanovic Bogdan came to be in contact with the syndicate who smuggled out the photographs. Regardless, his collection of photographs, hidden for over 70 years and donated to the Sydney Jewish Museum by Bogdan’s family, will be preserved as photographic evidence of the Holocaust and as a legacy to those who risked everything to reveal Nazi atrocities.
This month, we introduce Holocaust child survivor Eva Engel. Eva was born in Vienna, Austria in 1932.
After the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria to Germany in 1938, it became extremely dangerous for the Jewish population. As her father had close business connections in Switzerland, Eva and her parents were able to escape to Zurich with three-week visas. The Evian Conference, which denied Jewish refugees entry to most countries in the world, caused fear of a refugee crisis in Europe.
Because of her father’s profession as an engineer, Eva and her family gained entry into Australia and arrived in Sydney in January 1939. After Australia entered the war, Eva’s father was moved to a position in New Zealand, and so the family spent the rest of the war there.
Eva’s family mixed with German-speaking Jews in New Zealand. They thought, given their location, they were far from the Nazi horror. However, a local man who was a key organiser of the clandestine Nazi party in Auckland started to cause havoc, and Eva’s mother got involved to put an end to it. Eva’s mother reported what was happening to the Lord Mayor of Auckland. An investigation was called for, and two days later the offender committed suicide.
Being an only child, Eva was often fearful of separation from her parents. Life in New Zealand provided Eva with opportunities to grow in her hobbies and personality, and it was these opportunities that gave Eva the confidence to start her work in outreach, counselling and migrant integration.
In this image, Eva holds a promotional brochure for the T.S.S. Straithard, the P&O liner that carried her family to Australia. She remembers that her mother was seasick for four weeks during the voyage. Eva would not leave her side.
Recently, descendants of Janusz Korczak, the director of a Jewish orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto, dedicated a plaque in the Sydney Jewish Museum’s Sanctum of Remembrance in his memory.
Janusz Korczak was a Jewish educator, children’s author and paediatrician who devoted his life to the welfare of orphaned children. In August 1942, Korczak was rounded up with his staff and 200 children from the ghetto and deported to the Treblinka death camp. Korczak declined offers to spare his own life, and stayed with the orphans until the end.
Remembering the altruism and dedication of Korczak to the welfare of children in the Museum is a reminder of his life’s efforts and a way to memorialise the value placed on children’s lives.
Whilst the Museum is a living museum full of testimony from those who witnessed and survived the Holocaust, it also acts as a memorial space for those who were killed and a gathering place to learn and remember their history.
For more information on how to arrange a plaque in memory of a loved one of a victim of the Holocaust, click here.
Here at the Sydney Jewish Museum, we welcome over 25,000 students every year. Teachers bring their classes to the Museum as part of numerous courses, including History, English, Legal Studies, and Studies of Religion.
Every student is unique in what they hope to find here. Some will seek the personal narrative of survivor testimony, while others will find wonderment in artefacts. Not only does each student seek something different in their visit to the Museum, each student is unique in and of themselves. No two individuals learn in the same way. There is no ‘typical’ student.
There are numerous traits that influence a student’s learning experience, such as age, ability, background, and delivery preference. In order that every student can take the most out of their visit we consciously foster each individual student’s needs and preferences. To do this, we look to the ideas behind what is termed ‘Inclusive Education’.
Inclusive Education is a two-fold concept; it promotes the full participation of all students within the educative environment while also celebrating and valuing the differences students may bring to that environment. To create an inclusive education environment we focus on giving learners many different avenues of discovery and multiple means of demonstrating what they know (or would like to know). Tapping into students’ different needs and interests both challenges them and motivates them to learn.
Championing inclusivity within the Museum’s education programming is important in enabling the full participation and best experience of all students who walk through our doors.
On Valentine’s Day – a day that celebrates love and romance – we share a story of intense love that emerged from a period of immense darkness.
In 1939 Izak Prowizor (who later changed his name to George Prow in Australia), a Polish Jew, met Maria Sulikowska, a Polish Catholic woman who was a tenant of George’s family’s property.
From 1942, George was forced to spend 6 months hiding from the Nazis in a brick factory, from which he would occasionally return to Maria’s house in Otynia for meals.
When the bunker at the factory was discovered by the Gestapo, the group who was hiding there was deported to the Stanislowow ghetto, but George was able to escape. George hid in a wardrobe in Maria’s home until the Russians liberated Otynia.
In 1947, George married Maria, his rescuer.
On 9 May 1985, Yad Vashem honoured Maria Prow as Righteous Among the Nations.
Image: George and Maria Prow, c1992. Photographer Mark Tedeschi. SJM Collection.
Anne Zahalka, acclaimed Australian artist, delves into vicarious traumas and her inherited memories of the Holocaust alongside Sylvia Griffin in our current contemporary art exhibition, The Fate of Things: Memory Objects and Art.
Recently Anne spoke to us about how she reconciles her mother’s memories with her life in Australia today, and how her art practice is a medium for conveying this process and her identity.
Photograph by Giselle Haber
SJM: When was the first time that you remember learning of your mother’s experiences of the Holocaust?
Anne: I had known from an early age that my grandmother perished in the war but I hadn’t really understood what the Holocaust was until high school when I studied Modern History. My mother spoke of how she wished she had been able to do more to save her but was only a young woman having escaped to England with her sister. She couldn’t look at any imagery of the concentration camps as it caused her great distress. It wasn’t until my mid 20’s after the publication of my aunt’s memoir that I fully understood what had happened to my family during this time.
I travelled with my mother to Vienna in 2003 for the Jewish Welcome Service to learn of her experiences and she spoke of the home and wonderful life she had had and the great regret she felt in the loss of her mother.
My father’s experience was quite different to my mother’s in that he had escaped the Nazi occupation of his homeland in Czechoslovakia to join the allies to fight and liberate his country. He was Catholic and met my mother in England during the war where they married. My father returned a hero to his country but his family found it difficult to accept my mother, a Jewish, German speaking Austrian.
SJM: What kinds of emotions does working through traumatic histories through your art making process bring up?
Anne: I felt great sadness at times during the making of this work but also some solace in being able to tell my mother’s story through the ‘things’ she had kept so safely. It provided a process of mourning and a way of representing this history in a deeply personal way. Rediscovering her as a young woman through the letters sent by her mother and the love they shared was incredibly moving. I found myself reflecting on my own relationship with her and the incredible love she bestowed while recognising the similarities in expressing mother/daughter love. Learning through her letters of the anxiety and longing her mother endured was heartbreaking. I could only imagine her torment having a daughter myself and losing her.
SJM: Tell us a bit about the materials and media that you work with and how these materials connect to your history and memories.
Anne: I predominately work with photo media, using photography as a means of reflecting on the past, what is lost and what remains. At the beginning of developing this exhibition, I really wanted to work with my mother’s possessions and present them as sculptures and installations but I found it difficult to transform them into artworks. They were too present as objects and didn’t convey their embedded stories. After photographing these against a neutral background they became more emblematic of ideas, histories and the memories I wanted to express. I found I could connect with these objects through the process of photographing them, the camera providing a tool for analysing, interpreting and understanding them.
In working with the actual materials, such as the letters, my childhood hair and embroidered folk costume, within the museum space, I wanted to change the way they would traditionally be displayed to create a kind of disruption. For example, a carpet of letters is scattered across a Persian rug and arranged within its border, my hair irregularly hung into loose rings and knots references mourning jewellery and souvenirs, while the traditional folk dress with bonnet and bag is laid funereally to rest in a vitrine with its ghostly trace fixed into photographic paper hovering behind. Re-contextualising these heirlooms as artworks provided me with a way to tell my family’s memories against the backdrop of history, in order to connect with the past.
Anne Zahalka, A thousand kisses across the sea, 2018. Photograph by Katherine Griffiths.
SJM: Are there any other influences and inspirations that inform your works in The Fate of Things: Memory Objects and Art?
Anne: My work has been influenced by some of the reading I’ve done around photography and memory from very early texts such as Camera Lucinda by Roland Barthes to current writing on photography. I found myself reading Primo Levi’s ‘If this is a man’ and ‘Truce’, and was haunted but also uplifted by his humanity expressed in his account of Auschwitz and the aftermath. I read everything I could find on the Lodz ghetto where my grandmother was deported and learnt of the Henryk Ross photographic collection that documented daily life there. This archival record has been digitised and is now online and forms part of the final chapter in The SBS documentary interactive ‘Nobody loves you more than me: Finding Margarete’.
Since my practice is photo-based, I’m drawn to artists who use photography to express ideas around memory, history, identity and place such as Sophie Calle, Christian Boltanski, Hiroshima Sugimoto, Adam Fuss, Vera Lutter, Sally Mann and Andrew Moore to name a few working in this field, but their influence is indirect.
I’d like to acknowledge Sylvia Griffin’s PHD thesis on post-memory and trauma in contemporary art practice and in particular her own work making personal memorials to grief and the memory of her family. It was through discussion with her and artists she shares a studio with that I found a way to realise the work for this exhibition.
The Fate of Things: Memory Objects and Art is in display at the Sydney Jewish Museum until 28 February. For more information about the exhibition, click here.
This month, we introduce Holocaust survivor Ana Deleon. Ana was born in 1935 in Subotica, Yugoslavia.
In 1941, the Hungarian army occupied Subotica. Ana recalls that when she was 8 years old, in 1944, she was disallowed from playing with Camilla, her non-Jewish friend. At school, the nuns told Ana’s mother that she was could not attend anymore.
Ana and her family were confined to a ghetto for 3 months. In June 1944, they were pushed into cattle cars with nothing but one bucket for physiological needs in one corner and one bucket with drinking water in another. They ended up in a transit camp. As they entered the camp, Ana remembers people along the road spitting at them and yelling, “Smelly Jews, you deserve it.”
In December 1944, Ana and her family were sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Ana and her family were put in the Sonderlarger, or “special camp”. In their 6 months there, they had two warm showers and very little food rations. People were dropping like flies. Attempts were made to evacuate some prisoners from the camp before Allied troops arrived.
On 6 April 1945, they left Bergen-Belsen on a train. The commandant was given instructions not to let the passengers be liberated by the Allies, but to kill them. They travelled for seven days. One morning they found the door unlocked. The guards had fled. The commandant thought the Allies would spare his life if he saved the 2,500 Jews on the train instead of drowning them in the Elbe River. The Americans forced the villagers of Farsleben, Germany, to give them food and shelter. When Ana was liberated, she was 9 years old and was so weak that she could not walk.
After liberation, Ana spent 6 months in Displaced Persons camps in Germany. She lived in Yugoslavia until immigrating to Australia in 1971.
Today, on the 31st of January 2019, Holocaust survivor Lena Goldstein (nee Midler) turned 100. Lena was born in 1919 in Lublin, Poland. She was confined in the Warsaw Ghetto, from which she eventually escaped in April 1943.
Lena was recruited by the resistance movement in the Warsaw Ghetto to fight against the Germans and assisted fellow Jews in the struggle for survival. Lena stole uniforms and lightbulbs, which were filled with kerosene and used as Molotov cocktails.
Following her escape from the ghetto in 1943, Lena was hidden by a Polish caretaker for 18 months. Later, her hiding spot was an underground bunker, cramped together with eight others. Lena set to writing a satirical newsletter for her companions in the bunker, “just to put some humour into the tragic life that we were living in the bunker.” Lena’s outward humour during this time was masking her actual anxieties. Lena’s satirical ‘Bunker Weekly’ and her personal diary entries from this time are now held in the Sydney Jewish Museum’s collection for safekeeping.
Lena was liberated in January 1945 after spending 6 months in the bunker. She married Alexander Goldstein and immigrated to Australia in 1949.
Since 2007, Lena has volunteered her time at the Sydney Jewish Museum, delivering her testimony and talking to visiting student groups. More than 60 Holocaust survivors living in Australia established the Museum as a repository for their stories and artefacts, and a centre for educating the community and the broader public on the dark period of history that they experienced.
The Sydney Jewish Museum has been centrally important to Lena for more than a decade, and she is adamant that the Museum’s existence is crucial well into the future, so that “the future generations know what we had to go through.”
“I pass my baton – that is what I went through – to the next generation, and their duty is to pass it to the next one and the next one, so it will never be forgotten.” – Lena Goldstein, 2017
Donations from supporters of the Sydney Jewish Museum will ensure the hopes of Lena and other Holocaust survivors are perpetuated well into the future. Support the Sydney Jewish Museum by donating online here, or calling the Museum on 9360 7999.
A biography of Lena Goldstein’s life written by author Barbara Miller, If I Survive, will be launched at the Sydney Jewish Museum on Sunday 10 February, 2.30pm. For more information and to book your place, click here.
A boy’s bar mitzvah and a girl’s bat mitzvah are rites of passage by Jewish law, and milestones in every young Jewish person’s life. Even in times of suffering during the Holocaust, when practicing religion was life-threatening, many took to conducting religious rituals, including bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and major holiday prayers, underground.
Rabbi Dr Benjamin Gottshall was born in 1914, growing up in Presov, Czechoslovakia where his father was Chief Cantor. After completing his rabbinic studies, Rabbi Gottshall was posted to Louny, Czechoslovakia in 1937. Despite receiving a visa for the United States in 1939, he made the decision to remain with his congregation, even though life was becoming increasingly difficult for Jews in Czechoslovakia. When Rabbi Gottshall and Louny’s entire Jewish community was transported to Theresienstadt, he began conducting religious services in secret.
This photograph was taken in Prague, during Chanukah in 1945, after Rabbi Gottshall’s liberation from Auschwitz, and is of a group of orphaned Jewish boys whom he had gathered from all parts of Czechoslovakia. He had trained them and officiated at their bar mitzvah, which had not been possible during the Shoah. Even in the darkest of times, he understood the importance of tradition and Jewish ritual in a young person’s life.
The Sydney Jewish Museum’s curators want to learn what the ritual milestone of a bar and bat mitzvah means to people in Australia today. If you have something sentimental from your own special occasion that you would like the Museum to keep, please contact the curators at firstname.lastname@example.org or 9360 7999.
Image: Rabbi Gottshall with Bar Mitzvah boys orphaned during the war, 1945, courtesy Eva Wittenberg and Alex Gottshall.