The following article is an excerpt from forward.com, written by Yedida S. Kanfer, PhD; Director of Collections and Programming at the JFCS Holocaust Center
Several years ago, a Holocaust survivor came to see me at the JFCS Holocaust Center Tauber Library and Archives. He had left his hometown of Frankenwinheim, Germany as a child, several years before Kristallnacht— the Night of Broken Glass.
In Frankenwinheim that night, the Nazis built a bonfire in front of the town synagogue and burned its entire contents. The survivor had come to the JFCS Holocaust Center to donate some surviving items to our collection: small silver bells that had once adorned a Torah scroll, two lions that had decorated a breastplate and a two-headed eagle hanging from a silver chain.
What was a double-headed eagle doing among the Torah ornaments? In fact, it was the patriotic emblem of the German Empire before World War I. It’s easy to forget, but many members of the Jewish community identified as proud German citizens; the ways in which they elevated the sanctity of their spiritual home reflected the extent to which they felt at home in the country of their birth.
When donating the items, the survivor explained to me how they came into his possession, some 60 years after the war. He had returned to Frankenwinheim, to the site of the synagogue, and encountered a gentile woman he knew as a child, when she was a small girl. She recounted that on Kristallnacht, after the fire had died down, she had crept up to the embers and retrieved some of the items that had not burned. She had preserved the bells and lions and eagle during the war years, when the Jewish community of Frankenwinheim was obliterated, and in the war’s aftermath. Now, upon seeing her old Jewish acquaintance, she presented him with the sacred remnants.
I was honored that he entrusted these items to the Tauber Holocaust Library and Archives, where we preserve them and share their story.