Inventory and the Crystal Chandelier: A Journey Into Deep Intellectual Thought

Posted on June 18th, 2015 by

The Good Soldier and myself in Przemysl, Poland.

The Good Soldier and myself in Przemysl, Poland.

After spending six weeks abroad in the beautiful country of Poland during my senior year of college, I have embarked on a professional and academic journey into Holocaust studies. While it is clearly not a cheerful topic, it is one that I find to be challenging and interesting. My graduate school experience at the George Washington University, where I am a MA Museum Studies student, has included an internship with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Sociology of the Holocaust and Genocide course, and two Holocaust related classes planned for my final year. I am thankful for my internship with JMM, because through all of the horrors and devastations of the Holocaust which I have studied, this museum is a reminder of the vibrant Jewish culture which managed to survive and thrive after the Holocaust.

One of my primary projects over this summer is to perform the scheduled inventory of the JMM permanent collection. While going through a drawer, I came across two items, a crystal facet and crystal pendant, accompanied by an incredible provenance. Once again, the Holocaust became a focus point for my work.

Crystal Chandelier Facet. JMM 1986.072.032

Crystal Chandelier Facet. JMM 1986.072.032

Crystal Chandelier Pendant. JMM 1986.072.033

Crystal Chandelier Pendant. JMM 1986.072.033

In December of 1938, just a month after Krystallnacht (the systematic burning of Germany’s synagogues by the Nazis) Richard Zurndorfer escaped Germany and traveled to Baltimore, MD. He managed to bring several items with him, including these crystal pieces, belonging to a chandelier from a synagogue in Mhringen, Germany, which was destroyed during Kystallnacht. A census list of European Jews and a Torah were also brought over. JMM is now home to these items.

The story of Mr. Zurnforfer made me think about how important artifacts are. While museums are always evolving to remain relevant to the public, it is crucial to remember the value of artifacts. This collection meant a great deal to Mr. Zurnforfer, who was described as “A man with respect for old traditions, he sticks like printer’s ink to his family artifacts – largely because they are the artifacts of his family,” by reporter Isaac Rehert of The Sun on January 17, 1978. In regards to the objects, Rehert says, “They tell the story of a thriving Jewish community acknowledged and valued by its sovereign, with roots deep down in Germany’s culture, with hardly a hint of the tragedy that was to overtake it.”

Whether coming across these items was strictly a coincidence, or an act of fate, I am again reminded about why I have chosen to work in museum collections. Artifacts facilitate relationships and lead to connections. In this case, the Holocaust becomes more than a Nazi, Jewish, or European issue. It becomes a Maryland, Baltimore, and JMM intern issue. I hope to have more intense thought provoking experiences like this one while I continue to inventory the collection!

IMG_0985A blog post by Collections Intern Kaleigh Ratliff. To read more posts from interns click HERE.

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70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz Memorial Program

Posted on January 26th, 2015 by

A Town Known As Auschwitz: The Life and Death of a Jewish Community

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Listening to Ms. Sandler speak.

Listening to Ms. Sandler speak.

On Sunday, January 25, the JMM was delighted to host a very special speaker, Shiri B. Sandler, U.S. Director the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim, Poland along with over 95 audience members. In honor of the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, Shiri spoke on the town of Oświęcim, which despite its long and varied history, is known for one thing: Auschwitz. However, for centuries prior to World War II, Oświęcim was home to Jews and non-Jews who lived rich and vibrant lives. And it is this side of Oświęcim’s story that Ms. Sandler sought to share. The goal of her talk was to illuminate the rich and deep history of the formerly Jewish town that has become known as the symbol of the Holocaust.

Jewish Street, with the Great Bet Midrash (on the right) and the Great Synagogue (on the left), early 20th century. Collection of Mirosław Ganobis.

Jewish Street, with the Great Bet Midrash (on the right) and the Great Synagogue (on the left), early 20th century. Collection of Mirosław Ganobis.

Throughout her presentation, Ms. Sandler shared with us several wonderful images that together help tell Oświęcim’s story. Although her presentation was broken in to four segments: Early Years 1200s-1800s,  Jewish life 1867-1939, Wartime 1939-1945, and Post-War Life and Memory, each highlighting Oświęcim’s transition over time, Ms. Sandler spent a great deal of time discussing what life was like for people directly before the war. One of the first images she shared was of a postcard that highlighted the vibrancy of Oświęcim’s Jewish community. She highlighted the rich social life with another photograph showing members of Poalei Yisrael association in the mid-1930s festively dressed in crowns and robes for the Jewish holiday of Purim. This photograph, stressed Ms. Sandler, really speaks to the essence of Jewish life in Oświęcim as one that both embraced individuality and togetherness.

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Marta Swiderska (left) and Olga Pressler (right), 1934, Oświęcim. Collection of the Auschwitz Jewish Center.

Ms. Sandler also made a point to discuss the relationship between Jews and non-Jews in Oświęcim prior to its involvement in WWII. To do so, she shared a photograph of a group of boys on a public school field trip. Although it is easy to distinguish which boys are Jewish and which are catholic by their hats (Ms. Sandler explained that the students in the hats were Jewish while those without hats were catholic), the boys stand happily united in the photograph. Beyond this, Jews were also active participants in civic life, both in military service and political leadership. Ms. Sandler explained that although the mayor was frequently catholic, the deputy was often Jewish. To further illumine the harmonious relationships between Jews and non-Jews in the town, Shiri shared a photograph of two high school students on first day of classes. However, their close pose indicates that Marta Swiderska and Olga Pressler were more than schoolmates, they were best friends. Ms. Sandler explained that the photograph was taken by Olga’s father, a well-known photographer in Oswiecim, in 1934 when both girls were seventeen years old. Olga was Jewish and Marta was Catholic. The girls would meet frequently at each other’s houses and often went to the Sola River, a popular place for young people to socialize. Unfortunately, when the war broke out, Marta and Olga were forced apart. It was later discovered that Marta survived the war and still lives in Oswiecim; Olga Presler perished at Auschwitz. From there Ms. Sandler transitioned to a photograph of men walking through synagogue ruins gathering ruble. She explained that this photograph was taken in 1940 and shows the demolition of the destroyed Great Synagogue by KL Auschwitz prisoners. It is on the most poignant photographs in the exhibition as it stands in stark contrast with the vibrant images of Jewish life and indicates Oswiecim’s solemn transition into a camp.

Demolition of the destroyed Great Synagogue by the KL Auschwitz prisoners, c. 1940. Collection of Emilia Weźranowska.

Demolition of the destroyed Great Synagogue by the KL Auschwitz prisoners, c. 1940. Collection of Emilia Weźranowska.

To conclude her presentation, Ms. Sandler briefly discussed the impact of the Holocaust as well as rebuilding and remembering Oświęcim. It is estimated that close to 90% of the nearly 3.5 million pre-war Polish Jews perished. Thus, only about 350,000 Polish Jews survived the Holocaust. Despite the tragedy, Jews in Poland attempted to rebuild their lives both individually and as a community. Today the Auschwitz Jewish Center stands in Oświęcim and is dedicated to public education about the richness of pre-war life, the Holocaust, and the dangers of xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

It was a full house!

It was a full house for this important talk.

Carolyn BevansA blog post by Carolyn Bevans, Museum Educator and Programs Associate. To read more posts from Carolyn, click HERE. 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

MS 125 The Mansbach Family Papers

Posted on March 22nd, 2012 by

Family collections can take genealogy beyond the family tree.  Not only can genealogists dig out familial connections, birth and death dates, but they can sometimes see objects that their ancestors touched or even created – a letter written in their great-grandfather’s hand perhaps, or their great-aunt’s wedding dress.  But family collections are also useful to historians in general.  Where a genealogist sees a new branch to add to the family tree a professor might see a new perspective on immigration, a deeper understanding of culture, etc.  The following collection contains information about one family, but also information about immigration and the Holocaust

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Shabbat Challah cover used by the Masbach family. 1994.136.10

Mansbach Family

Papers, n.d., 1866 – c. 1975

MS 125

The Jewish Museum of Maryland


The Mansbach Family Papers were donated to the Jewish Museum of Maryland by Irene Mansbach Russel in 1994 as accession 1994.136 and 1994.142, in 2001 as 2001.074 and in 2003 as accession 2003.101.  Robin Waldman processed the collection in 2003.  Additional materials (including folders 80-85) were added in 2004 as accession 2004.47 and the finding aid was updated in April 2005 to reflect these additions.

Access to the collection is unrestricted and is available to researchers at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the Jewish Museum of Maryland before publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library’s usual procedures.

Leo Mansbach taken in Germany, 1939. 1994.142.55


Bernhard Mansbach (1900-1981), son of Hermann Mansbach and Sophie Loewenstein Mansbach, left Germany in February 1939 and arrived in England March 1939.  He had a tourist visa that did not permit him to work.  He lived with his brother, Leo Mansbach, and his parents, who came to England shortly after Bernhard, until October 1939 when he left England for the United States.  Hermann and Sophie settled in England, and Leo came to Baltimore in 1948.  A third brother, Edmund Mansbach, b. 1896, was never successful in leavingGermany.  He died in a concentration camp c. 1940-1942.

Hertha Phillips Mansbach (1905-1996) was born in Oberhausen, Germany to Bernhard Phillips and Jetchen Oberdorfer Phillips, and later lived in Mulheim.  Hertha left Germany in December 1939.  She traveled via train to Antwerp where she boarded a Holland-Amerika ship in January 1940 and sailed via South Hampton, England to New York, arriving January 20, 1940. Hertha Phillips married Bernhard Mansbach, whom she had known in Germany, on November 3, 1940.  They lived at 2120 Brookfield Avenue until February 1944, when they moved to 2613 Reisterstown Road.  Shortly thereafter, in April 1944, Hertha gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Irene Mansbach.

George Mansbach, who was not related to Bernhard Mansbach in any way, was an American who lived inBaltimore.  When Bernhard began writing to American citizens who bore his last name in an attempt to secure assistance in leavingGermany, George agreed to provide affidavits. Once Bernhard arrived inBaltimore, George was of further assistance, helping him to secure employment, and later helping Bernhard obtain a refund for his deceased brother Edmund’s ship fare to theUnited States.  Bernhard and Hertha invited George and his wife to their wedding, but the American Mansbachs were unable to attend.


The Mansbach Family Papers contain records that document the family’s attempts to flee Nazi Germany and establish themselves inEnglandand finally, in theUnited States.  Records include correspondence, affidavits, immigration documents and identity documents.  Both English and German documents are included in this collection.

Notes:  See database for location of related photographs 1994.142.55, 1994.142.62.1, 1994.142.62.2.  See also JMM OH #528, Irene Mansbach Interview, April 1, 2002 for further information.

Baltimore tailoring establishment where Bernard Mansbach worked, n.d. 1994.142.62.2


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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