A Single Suitcase

Posted on June 29th, 2018 by

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

Last December, we reprinted an article from our journal, Generations (Winter 2002), telling the story of the Weil family and their arduous journey out of Germany in the early days of World War II.  I’d like to add an illustration to that story, in the form of a plain leather suitcase:

Suitcase owned by Theo and Hilde Weil. Gift of Toni Weil Mandel, JMM 1990.119.1

In 1938, Theo and Hilde Weil lived in Freiburg, Germany. Their three young-adult daughters, Toni, Lisa, and Erna, had a clear sense of what was happening to Jews in their country, and urged their parents to begin the lengthy and expensive process of applying for travel papers to the United States. Kristallnacht – and the subsequent arrest and detainment of Theo, which left him bedridden for several weeks after his family rescued him – showed the senior Weils that it was indeed time to leave their home and try to start over in a new country. In addition to moving forward with their visa applications, the family packed up much of their furniture and belongings and shipped them ahead to New York, hoping they’d soon be able to go there themselves.

“The trouble in Germany was things didn’t happen suddenly. It was a little and a little and a little, and you can always take a little more.”  – Toni Weil Mandel  (JMM OH 246)

 Shortly afterward, the three Weil sisters left Germany on their own, working and saving money for some time in England before they secured their US visas. After arriving in Boston in 1940, they learned that the crates of family furniture were being moved from New York to Baltimore; not knowing what else to do, the girls moved here as well, and managed to find work and shelter.

In the meantime, however, their parents in Freiburg were not faring well.  Despite finally receiving clearance to come to the US, the Weils were not permitted to leave Germany. In October of 1940, the Nazis announced that all remaining Jews in Freiburg would be deported, with only an hour’s notice. The Weils were allowed one suitcase in which to pack their things.

This suitcase measures 17” x 29” x 10” – about the same size as my own carry-on bag (it even has an expandable top, like mine, for when you need to cram in just that little bit more).  My carry-on barely holds the clothes, shoes, books, and toiletries I consider ‘essential’ for a few days’ vacation, let alone the things I would want if I suspected I would never see my home again.

While they were packing, Hilde wrote a quick letter to her daughters, which she later managed to shove out of the sealed train. The letter was found and mailed, by an unknown person, to the Weil sisters in Baltimore, who otherwise would have had little or no idea what had happened to their parents.

Hilde and Theo Weil, Hilde’s mother Lina Wachenheimer, several other relatives, and their Jewish neighbors were taken to France and imprisoned in Gurs.  Once the girls discovered what had happened, they began working to secure the release of their parents and grandmother, gathering the money, affidavits, and travel papers necessary to prove that these people – forced to leave their home without identification – were the people they claimed to be, and were, thanks to their earlier visas, permitted to come to the US.  Eventually their efforts succeeded, and in April 1941, the senior Weils arrived in Baltimore … still carrying their single suitcase.  (Lina stayed in New York, with her daughter Sophie.)  It is important to note that most internees at Gurs were not so fortunate.

Theo and Hilde settled in Baltimore with their daughters but, weakened and depressed by their time in the internment camp, their lives were never the same. In an interview, Toni later remembered that her mother was “starved to death” when she got to Baltimore, and that the first shocks of America’s abundance were hard for Hilde to bear: “When we took her the first time to a food market, she asked us to take her out, she couldn’t see that food. She said, what she’d seen in a few seconds would feed that camp for years.” (Toni Weil Mandel, JMM OH 246) Thankfully, the Weils had a community of people who had endured similar experiences; they joined Chevra Ahavas Chesed, a charitable organization and burial society founded by European Jewish refugees in 1940.  They were both naturalized as US citizens in 1947 and lived in Baltimore for the rest of their lives; Hilde died in 1961, at the age of 73, and Theo died in 1970.

Naturalization cards for Hilde and Theo Weil, issued by the US District Court in Baltimore on January 13, 1947.  Via ancestry.com.

Take some time today to put yourself in the shoes of Hilde and Theo Weil in October 1938. Though reluctant to give up their home and lives in Freiburg, they had shipped most of their large belongings off to a country to which they had no assurances they would be able to move. Their lives were in danger. Their daughters were on their own, across an ocean. They were given an hour to pack the remainder of their belongings into a single suitcase, knowing they were about to be sent off to face an uncertain fate. If this happened to you, how would you react? What would you pack? How would you get word to your children?  These are questions that we at the JMM take seriously, as part of our educational mission, and I urge our readers to consider them seriously as well.

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Maryland Philanthropy and Israel: An Image Gallery Part 2

Posted on January 31st, 2018 by

generations 2007Written by Rachel Kassman. Originally published in Generations 2007-2008: Maryland and Israel. To order a print copy of the magazine, see details here.

Miss Part I? Start here.

State of Israel Bonds

State of Israel Bonds combine individual contributions into a communal effort with a single focus: Israel. Born of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s need to offset the heavy costs of the war in 1948, State of Israel Bonds were introduced at a meeting held in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel in September 1950. The bonds were meant to help fund immigrant absorption, to help construct a new national infrastructure, and to engage diaspora Jewry as active partners in building the new Jewish State. Maryland took up the task with enthusiasm, with groups like the Mercantile Club and numerous synagogues running campaigns and hosting dinners to support the State of Israel.

This publicity photo from 1951 features members of the Women’s Division meeting Israel’s Minister of Health, Dr. Joseph Burg. Dr. Burg was visiting Baltimore to help promote Israel Bonds. Also pictured are Captain Smolensk, captain of the Meir Dizengoff and Harry Diamond, Maryland’s Israel Bond Director. JMM 1989.80.21

This publicity photo from 1951 features members of the Women’s Division meeting Israel’s Minister of Health, Dr. Joseph Burg. Dr. Burg was visiting Baltimore to help promote Israel Bonds. Also pictured are Captain Smolensk, captain of the Meir Dizengoff and Harry Diamond, Maryland’s Israel Bond Director. JMM 1989.80.21

The Women’s Division Effort of Israel Bonds makes their appeal to fellow Maryland Jews by recalling the sacrifice of those involved in the Yom Kippur War. JMM 1994.21.27

The Women’s Division Effort of Israel Bonds makes their appeal to fellow Maryland Jews by recalling the sacrifice of those involved in the Yom Kippur War. JMM 1994.21.27

Governor Theodore McKeldin and Harry Diamond, Baltimore City Manager for the State of Israel Bond Sale, 1951. JMM 1989.80.4

Governor Theodore McKeldin and Harry Diamond, Baltimore City Manager for the State of Israel Bond Sale, 1951. JMM 1989.80.4

Organizational Support

Beyond individual support, Jewish Marylanders have worked together in many ways to support Israel. Organizations such as the Jewish Welfare Fund, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the Independent Order Brith Sholom have used their membership to accomplish larger acts of tzedakah than could be accomplished through personal, isolated efforts, often turning their efforts towards Israel.

Organized in 1941, the Jewish Welfare Fund (JWF), which became the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund, sought to manage Baltimore Jewish fundraising for overseas efforts, especially those related to Israel. This sign, created by the Kershman sign-making company, encouraged Maryland Jews to aid Israel in the wake of violent outbreaks, such as the attack on the 1972 Israeli Olympic team. JMM 1995.156.3

Organized in 1941, the Jewish Welfare Fund (JWF), which became the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund, sought to manage Baltimore Jewish fundraising for overseas efforts, especially those related to Israel. This sign, created by the Kershman sign-making company, encouraged Maryland Jews to aid Israel in the wake of violent outbreaks, such as the attack on the 1972 Israeli Olympic team. JMM 1995.156.3

The Independent Order Brith Sholom (IOBS), a fraternal organization formed in 1902 in East Baltimore, was the first fraternal order to buy ambulances for the new state of Israel. It also helped supply money and material for the ship Exodus, helped fund settlement for Yemenite Jewish immigrants, and raised money to build the Brith Sholom of Baltimore Medical Center in Rishon L’Zion. Here, Grand Matron Kay Snyder and three unnamed men stand in front of a truck presented to the new state of Israel during the 46th Annual Convention of IOBS in Atlantic City, June 1948. JMM 1995.209.84.2

The Independent Order Brith Sholom (IOBS), a fraternal organization formed in 1902 in East Baltimore, was the first fraternal order to buy ambulances for the new state of Israel. It also helped supply money and material for the ship Exodus, helped fund settlement for Yemenite Jewish immigrants, and raised money to build the Brith Sholom of Baltimore Medical Center in Rishon L’Zion. Here, Grand Matron Kay Snyder and three unnamed men stand in front of a truck presented to the new state of Israel during the 46th Annual Convention of IOBS in Atlantic City, June 1948. JMM 1995.209.84.2

The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), founded in 1893, focuses on women’s issues, philanthropy, and community. In 1953 the NCJW began the “Ship-A-Box” program, sending toys, books and games to children overseas, especially to Jewish children in the immigrant settlements of Israel. Here Maryland Jewish youth help NCJW Annapolis Section leaders with the “Ship-A-Box” project, displaying dolls to be sent to Israel, c. 1985. Pictured are (top L to R): Sue Merrill, Section President Robin Sussman, Donna Berusch, Janice Singerman, George Gordon, Jane Cohen, and Tanya Peskin, (bottom L to R): Wade Berusch, Julie Merrill, and Bessie Gordon. JMM 2001.113.82

The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), founded in 1893, focuses on women’s issues, philanthropy, and community. In 1953 the NCJW began the “Ship-A-Box” program, sending toys, books and games to children overseas, especially to Jewish children in the immigrant settlements of Israel. Here Maryland Jewish youth help NCJW Annapolis Section leaders with the “Ship-A-Box” project, displaying dolls to be sent to Israel, c. 1985. Pictured are (top L to R): Sue Merrill, Section President Robin Sussman, Donna Berusch, Janice Singerman, George Gordon, Jane Cohen, and Tanya Peskin, (bottom L to R): Wade Berusch, Julie Merrill, and Bessie Gordon. JMM 2001.113.82

~THE END~

 

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Maryland Philanthropy and Israel: An Image Gallery Part 1

Posted on January 29th, 2018 by

generations 2007Written by Rachel Kassman. Originally published in Generations 2007-2008: Maryland and Israel. To order a print copy of the magazine, see details here.

Tzedakah is more than a good deed for Jews, it is an obligation. Often translated as “charity,” tzedakah is in fact much more: it is about acts of justice. In Judaism, performing charity and philanthropic acts is a way of creating justice in the world, a responsibility so great that its fulfillment is required whether one’s pockets are full or empty. For many Jews, supporting Israel is a way of meeting the obligations of tzedakah and the Jews of Maryland are no exception. This photo essay captures how, whether on a personal, private level such as dropping a few coins in a tin box, or through community events such as group fundraising to purchase an ambulance, Maryland Jews have seized myriad opportunities to aid Israel.

A street stand in Baltimore draws attention to the physical needs of Israel, c. 1948. JMM 1987.196.13

A street stand in Baltimore draws attention to the physical needs of Israel, c. 1948. JMM 1987.196.13

The Pushke

(left to right) For American Red Magen David for Israel, JMM 1993.52.27; Support for projects that benefit at-risk women, children and families in Israel. JMM 2002.107.4; For Israel’s Emergency Medical, Health and Disaster Service and “Jerusalem Institutions for the Blind, JMM 1993.52.28

(left to right) For American Red Magen David for Israel, JMM 1993.52.27; Support for projects that benefit at-risk women, children and families in Israel. JMM 2002.107.4; For Israel’s Emergency Medical, Health and Disaster Service and “Jerusalem Institutions for the Blind, JMM 1993.52.28

Small (although not always), personal contributions have been a mainstay of Maryland support for Israel. Charity boxes, commonly called by their Yiddish name, pushkes, represent the everyday nature of tzedakah in Jewish life. Pushke, from the Polish puszka, is literally a container, usually made of metal or cardboard, and used to collect small sums – pocket change, for a variety of causes. Small and unassuming, these ubiquitous boxes appear in homes, synagogues and stores throughout Maryland. The pushke is a symbol of anonymous yet highly personal efforts to aid those in need, allowing anyone to contribute, no matter how big or small the donation. The array of pushkes shown here represent support for the Jewish communities of Israel, each box representing a plea for aid for “the poor, old, sick rabbis, scholar, orphans and widows,” for schools, the Jewish National Fund, and the American Red Magen David.

"Pushkes" in the JMM collections.

“Pushkes” in the JMM collections.

Line 1: Charity for the Poor Orphans in Jerusalem, JMM 2000.54.3; Great Charity “Chaye Olam” Institutions and Orphans Kitchen of Jerusalem, JMM 2000.54.5; United Charity Institutions of Jerusalem, JMM 2000.54.6; Charity for Jerusalem for “the old, poor, sick…” JMM 2000.54.7

Line 2: United Inst. Or Torah, JMM 54.9; Aiding Americans in Israel, JMM 2000.54.10 General Israel Orphans Home for Girls, JMM 2000.54.13; Charity for the Poor Orphans in Jerusalem, JMM 1994.83.3

Line 3: Kollel America Tifereth, JMM 1994.83.4; United Charity Institutions of Jerusalem; JMM 1994.83.5; Hadassah, JMM 1993.92.2; For the Jewish National Fund, JMM 1991.160.1

Line 4: For Yeshiva Yetev-Lev D’Satmar, Jerusalem, JMM 1992.245.4; For the support of Religious Colonies and newly arrived Immigrants in Israel, JMM 2000.135.1; Jewish National Fund, JMM 1991.38.1; For General Israel Orphans Home for Girls, JMM 1992.245.2

The Buying of Trees

Certificate presented to Dr. Harry Friedenwald for his contributions to the "Olive Tree Fund" of the Jewish National Fund, 1908. JMM T1989.79

Certificate presented to Dr. Harry Friedenwald for his contributions to the “Olive Tree Fund” of the Jewish National Fund, 1908. JMM T1989.79

Another highly personal form of support for Israel embraced by Maryland Jews has been buying trees through the Jewish National Fund, an organization dedicated to reclaiming the deserts of Israel. The JNF was founded in 1901 for the purpose of purchasing land in Palestine. The introduction of the JNF’s “Olive Tree Fund” by 1908 marked a shift in focus, establishing Diaspora support of forestation efforts. Since its inception, the JNF has overseen the planting of over 240 million trees and the building of 180 dams and reservoirs, established more than 1,000 parks, and developed a quarter of a million acres.

U.S. Admiral L. Kintburger, Baltimore’s Harry Diamond and an unnamed Israeli officer plant a tree together in a JNF forest, 1961. JMM 1989.80.29

U.S. Admiral L. Kintburger, Baltimore’s Harry Diamond and an unnamed Israeli officer plant a tree together in a JNF forest, 1961. JMM 1989.80.29

Two young girls show off their contributions to both the forests of Israel and the parks of Baltimore, 1985. JMM 1995.189.757

Two young girls show off their contributions to both the forests of Israel and the parks of Baltimore, 1985. JMM 1995.189.757

Perhaps an even more individual way for Maryland supporters of Israel to perform tzedakah is through charitable missions, actually visiting and working on projects in the State of Israel. Many of these missions have been organized through The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, the main Jewish community service organization in Baltimore. The earliest documented Associated mission to Israel was in 1954, only six years after the founding of the state.

Grace Heller hands out candy to a group of Yemenite Children on an Associated mission, 1954. Her chauffeur Jack Handeh assists. JMM 1995.142.6.5

Grace Heller hands out candy to a group of Yemenite Children on an Associated mission, 1954. Her chauffeur Jack Handeh assists. JMM 1995.142.6.5

Sidney Lansburgh, Jr., President of the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund, is greeted upon his arrival in Israel for the Prime Minister's mission, 1973. JMM 1992.278.7a

Sidney Lansburgh, Jr., President of the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund, is greeted upon his arrival in Israel for the Prime Minister’s mission, 1973. JMM 1992.278.7a

Members of the Women’s Division of the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund visit a project site funded by their efforts. JMM 1995.189.386

Members of the Women’s Division of the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund visit a project site funded by their efforts. JMM 1995.189.386

Young Marylanders participate in planting trees while on an Associated Jewish Charities sponsored Mission to Israel. JMM 1995.189.392a

Young Marylanders participate in planting trees while on an Associated Jewish Charities sponsored Mission to Israel. JMM 1995.189.392a

Continue to Part II

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