16 Objects From Germany Tell Story of Holocaust in New Ways

An exhibition in Berlin is bringing an array of items back to Germany that Jews had taken with them when they fled the Nazis in World War II

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A photo, lower right, showing the Hanukkah menorah belonging to the Posner family from Kiel, with a large swastika flag hanging from the facade of a nearby building is part of an exhibition with items from Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial at the German parliament in Berlin on Monday.
A photo, lower right, showing the Hanukkah menorah belonging to the Posner family from Kiel, with a large swastika flag hanging from the facade of a nearby building is part of an exhibition with items from Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial at the German parliament in Berlin on Monday.Credit: Markus Schreiber /AP

Lore Mayerfeld was 4 years old when she escaped from the Nazis in 1941. Together with her mother, the little Jewish girl ran away from her German hometown of Kassel with nothing but the clothes she was wearing and her beloved doll, Inge.

Mayerfeld found a safe haven in the United States and later immigrated to Israel. Her doll, a present from her grandparents who were killed in the Holocaust, was always at her side until 2018, when she donated it to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. More than 80 years later, the doll has returned to Germany. It will be at parliament in Berlin as part of an exhibition slated to open Tuesday evening just days before the country marks the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp on January 27, 1945.

Holocaust survivor Lore Mayerfeld poses next to her doll 'Inge' at an exhibition with items from Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial at the German parliament in Berlin on Monday.Credit: Markus Schreiber /AP

The exhibition, "Sixteen Objects," also marks the 70th anniversary of the Yad Vashem memorial, bringing back to Germany an array of items Jews took with them when they fled the Nazis. There is a black piano, a diary, a red-and-white-patterned towel, a stethoscope, a glitzy evening purse and a menorah among the exhibit’s objects.

They were chosen from more than 50,000 items at Yad Vashem that are connected to the Holocaust. The exhibit’s items represent Germany’s 16 states, with one coming from each region. They all tell a unique story but share themes of love, attachment, pain and loss.

“These are all absolutely familiar German objects, and they would have stayed that way had the Holocaust not happened,” said Ruth Ur, the curator of the exhibition and Yad Vashem’s representative in Germany.

“The idea of this exhibition is to return these objects back to Germany for a short while, to bring a new energy to the objects themselves, and also to the gaps they have left behind.”

An exhibition with items from Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in the main hall of the Paul-Loebe-Haus of the German parliament in Berlin on Monday.Credit: Markus Schreiber /AP

In one of the showcases, there’s a nondescript piece of cloth. It’s part of a flag that once belonged to Anneliese Borinski, who was part of a Jewish youth group in Ahrensdorf outside Berlin. She helped her group prepare for emigration and life in what would later become the State of Israel.

After the Nazis issued deportation orders, the 12 members decided to cut up their “Maccabi Hatzair” youth group flag into 12 pieces and promised each other that after the war, they would meet again in Israel to reassemble the flag.

The tablets of the Ten Commandments at an exhibition with items from Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial at the German parliament in Berlin on Monday.Credit: Markus Schreiber /AP

Only three survived the Holocaust, and Borinski was the lone member who managed to take her piece of the flag to Israel. In 2007, her son donated it to Yad Vashem.

Another item is a brown leather suitcase. On one side, “Selma Sara Vellemann from Bremen” is written in bold white letters.
The suitcase was found in Berlin several years after the war. Yad Vashem researchers were unable to determine how the suitcase got to the German capital, but they discovered that a woman with the same name from the northern city of Bremen had lived at a retirement home in Berlin. In 1942, at the age of 66, she was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto, and two months later sent to her death in the Treblinka extermination camp.

Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlaender sits next to a bust of herself created by artist Stephanie von Dallwitz on Monday, when she was named an honorary citizen of Berlin, as Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey looks on.Credit: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

Next to each of the exibition objects, Ur and her team put up life-size photos of buildings and street corners where the items’ owners lived before the Nazis came to power. The images show modern-day scenes instead of historical ones, a stark contrast to the devastation the Third Reich caused.

Six million European Jews were killed by the Nazis and their henchmen during the Holocaust. Some survivors are still alive today, but their numbers are dwindling due to illness and old age.
Mayerfeld, the little girl who fled with her doll Inge in 1941, is one of them. She returned to Germany this week to attend the opening of the exhibition.
Looking at her blond, blue-eyed doll, the now 85-year-old woman pointed out that the doll was wearing the pajamas she wore as a barely 2-year-old toddler on November 9, 1938. On that day, she was hiding with her mother on Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” when Nazis — ordinary Germans among them — terrorized Jews, vandalized their businesses and burned more than 1,400 synagogues.

The suitcase bearing the name and date of birth of Holocaust victim Selma Sara Vellemann from Bremen is part of an exhibition with items from Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial at the German parliament in Berlin on Monday.Credit: Markus Schreiber /AP

“It’s not a doll that you play so easily with because she’s breakable. So my own children, I didn’t allow them to play with her,” Mayerfeld said. “She sat up on a shelf in my home and they would look at her and I explained, she’s going to break, you know, just look and enjoy her.”
Mayerfeld said it was important for her to come back to Germany and let the public know about her doll, her life and also what happened during the Holocaust.
“The world hasn’t learned anything from this past war,” she said. “There’s so many people who say it never even happened. They can’t tell me that. I was there. I lived it.”

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