Lodz Judaica find

Survivors in their own right

Photo:  Krzysztof Hejmanowski, left, the building inspector for the construction company, with Bartlomiej Gwozdz, left, the archaeologist, and some of the artefacts unearthed in Lodz. Photo by AP photographer Rafal Niedzielski

560 words / 3 minute read

In January came the news that in December, during a building renovation in the Polish city of Lodz, a wooden box had been found buried in the garden.  Unearthed, the box contained a treasure-trove of Judaica, 400 religious and everyday objects – candlesticks, menorahs, cutlery, utensils, some wrapped in newspaper dated October 1939, within the first month of German occupation.  Then, while fortifying the foundation of the building’s cellar, cutlery started to be spaded out of the ground.  It is the largest discovery of Judaica unearthed in Lodz.

In 1940, within eight months of the German occupation of Lodz, a ghetto was established and endured until the late summer of 1944.  Whatever could be taken from the Jews was – their businesses, their homes, their food and medicines, their labour, and eventually their lives.  Today, what remains of that vibrant community aside from the few who managed to survive inside Lodz or beyond the ghetto’s high brick walls?  Not a lot:  descendants of survivors or those who were interned there, scraps of memories, familiar addresses most now devoid of their history and connection to their former owners, and now these precious objects which hold more value than the silver plate covering them.

The items had been part of a home life, a synagogue service, the memories of growing up in a traditional family, the connection to a religion and a people that stretched back more than three thousand years.  And yet, in the face of their lost owners, they are but objects.

The Holocaust historian Nechama Tec has written, in her memoir Dry Tears, of similar objects, those which had a connection to her family.  Nechama and her parents and older sister had fled their hometown of Lublin and hid with a Polish family in Kielce.  After liberation, they returned to Lublin to the chemical factory her father had owned.  The janitor and his wife welcome them in and Nechama writes:

“When I began to look around it dawned on me that I was seeing familiar objects. The table was covered with our tablecloth, the silver was ours. I continued to recognize more and more items. . . . As I stretched out next to my sister, I became aware of the familiarity of the comforters and linens. . . . So many of our belongings switched masters, becoming a part of someone else’s lives; objects have no loyalty. It was as if my finding them so well-adjusted to the new owners mocked my claim to them. Their settled presence made me an intruder.”

Martin had a similar experience.  In 1957 while a student at Oxford, he was part of a summer exchange programme with young Polish students.  The British students toured Poland and stayed with Polish families, though when it came time for the Polish students to visit Britain, the programme was stopped.  Martin told me he remembered being in a Polish home and seeing beautifully decorated Passover seder plates adorning the walls.  When I asked Martin whether it was possible the family was Jewish, he shook his head slowly, no.

Martin went on to write the history of those dreadful times during the Second World War, in Poland and elsewhere, illustrating where he could the lives and experiences of those who had recounted them, the journeys they made, and how they viewed that history.

To this history we can add the objects unearthed on Polnocna Street in Lodz, survivors in their own right with a story that may never be told.  Still, they were discovered during the holiday of Chanukah; two of the Chanukah menorahs were lit during the holiday to celebrate the miracle of light, 84 years after they were last used.

 Read: Holocaust Atlas

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