Digging In To The Collections: Dora Buckstein

Posted on July 30th, 2018 by

Exhibit research can be an opportunity to look more closely at some of the lesser-viewed pieces in our collections. Sometimes, this is an immediately fruitful process, with “aha” moments of connections to other materials and convenient stories just waiting to be discovered… more often, though, it’s less satisfying and more frustrating. When those new connections can’t be made, however, even the simple addition of some biographical facts from civic records can add context, provide new layers, and rediscover stories that might otherwise be forgotten.  

Take, for example, this reproduced photograph in our image collection. Though the people are identified, and the era can be guessed at, there are still questions. 

Moses P. and Charne Silberman, with their niece Dora Silberman Buckstein Levy, circa 1900. Gift of Ida and Sol Levy. JMM 1976.14.2

The photo shows an older couple seated in front of an elaborately painted studio backdrop, meant to resemble a castle; standing above them, in a ‘window’ cut out of the backdrop, is a younger woman.  All three are well-dressed, befitting the occasion of having their likenesses preserved in a photographic portrait.  

The donors provided this description: “Mr. and Mrs. Morris (Moshe Pinchas Silverman) and their niece (subsequently adopted daughter), Dora (Devorah) Levy (earlier – first marriage – Buckstein).”  This information gives us enough of the picture that finding new pieces – that is, making sure that we were finding the right pieces – was relatively simple, thanks to the Wonders of the Internet™. Census records, marriage license applications, City directories, and a few articles in the Baltimore Sun help to flesh out the Silbermans’ story. 

 The info in our files names the elder gentleman as Morris P. Silverman, but evidence in the written record eventually piled up and told me that he was Moses P. Silberman (d. 1908), a commercial printer with a shop at 908 E. Baltimore Street.  (Because we have a well-reproduced photographic copy, not the original photo, we don’t know where this image was taken, but there were many photography studios in East Baltimore at the time… including one at 906 E. Baltimore, right next door.) 

Once I’d confirmed that this was the same gentleman (thanks to this article in the Sun about whether Dora would inherit his life insurance), other pieces began to fall into place.

In the 1900 census, widowed Dora Buckstein is living at 908 E. Baltimore with Moses and Charne; in the 1910 census, she is alone at 908, listed as “manager, printing shop.”  The City directory for that year shows that the shop was still listed under Mr. Silberman’s name, however. 

“Printers – Book & Job” listings in the 1909-1910 Baltimore Business Directory, published by R.L. Polk & Co. of Baltimore. Gift of Peppy Zulver. JMM 1990.168.2

Dora came to the United States from Poland in 1891, five years after her aunt and uncle. Marriage license records at the State Archives show that she married Max Buckstein in 1894; he died before 1900, and the census that year tells us that though Dora had given birth to one child, she had no children living.  Charne died in 1906, and Moses two years later, leaving Dora – at least as far as the civic records go – alone in the world. (She did have a cousin, Abraham Silberman, but since he’s the one who tried to prevent her from receiving Moses’s life insurance money, it’s not clear how much good that relationship did her.)   

Looking back to the marriage records, we see that Dora married widower Max Levy on February 12, 1914; they were married by Rabbi Schwartz, of Shomrei Mishmeres.  Max was the father of two children, Sol and Ida – the donors of this photo – who shared their stepmother’s photo and story with us in the mid-1970s. Dora died in 1963, and is buried at Mikro Kodesh, along with her aunt and uncle. 

We have no other photos of Dora, and I’ve found, so far, no photos of the print shop on E. Baltimore.  (Today, that block is taken up by a building that now houses the new National Aquarium Animal Care and Rescue Center; the original storefronts are long gone.)  More digging is required to learn more about Dora’s life, and some elements – such as how she handled taking over her uncle’s printing business – may never be known. But even these few extra facts give the photo just a little more depth. 


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

An Efficiency of Seal Presses

Posted on May 17th, 2018 by

A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

There are arguments to be made in favor of collecting multiple iterations of an artifact.  Our focus here is history, not decorative arts, thus manufacturing techniques, stylistic development, and change over time are not as much our concern as is the story each individual artifact can tell about its creation, owners, and uses. But the opportunity to compare similar items can be useful to a history museum, allowing us to look at them across a broader spectrum, and to combine those individual elements into a larger context. Think of wedding gowns, for example, or sports trophies: On their own they can help us share a single story; shown as a group, they can illustrate the varying choices made by brides from different cultures, classes, or religions, or the shift in a community from one favored athletic activity to another.

Those might be obvious choices for ‘they’re-the-same-but-different’ artifacts, but I’ll offer another: the humble embossing or seal press.

What do you call a group of vintage office supplies like this – a herd? A flock? A flotilla? Then it came to me: of course, this is an efficiency of seal presses.

We recently accepted a seal press from the Jewish Convalescent & Nursing Home of Baltimore. By itself, it can serve as a material introduction to this long-standing institution. But that will have to wait for another blog post! For our purposes today, it has joined its friends. We have fifteen embossing presses in the collection, covering many decades and representing an impressive variety of social, religious, and charitable organizations, as well as businesses.

Back row, table-top presses, left to right:

-“Hebrew Education Society, Baltimore City, 1860 amended 1900.” Anonymous gift. JMM 1997.051.001

-“Jewish Convalescent & Nursing Home Society, Maryland, Incorporated Nov. 6, 1936.” Gift of Michael Moranz. JMM2018.018.001

-“Chevrah B’nai Abraham, Incorporated. Organized Jan. 25, 1916.” Gift of Lillian Sapperstein. JMM 1999.164.002

-“Tifereth Israel Congregation of Forest Park. Incorporated 1926. Maryland.” Gift of Howard L. Cohn. JMM 1999.014.007

-“Hebrew Orthodox Free Burial Society, Baltimore, Md.,” with the organization name in Hebrew in the center. Gift of Victor Resnick. JMM 2001.105.001

-“The Hebrew Ladies Free Loan and Charities of Baltimore, Md. Incorporated 1902.” Gift of Roslyn Tamres. JMM 2003.042.001

-“Twentieth Century Athletic and Literary Club, Organized Dec. 16, 1901. Incorporated Oct. 20, 1903.” Gift of Edwin B. Early. JMM 1991.161.001

-A long-reach press. “Grand Order Brith Shalom [sic] of Baltimore City, Incorporated Aug. 16, 1902.” Gift of Paul Miller for Brith Sholom. JMM 1995.209.021

Front row, hand-held or pocket presses, left to right:

-“Pickwick Cemeteries, Inc. Incorporated 1985.” Gift of Howard L. Cohn. JMM 1999.014.009

-“Ruth Kessler, Notary Public, Baltimore, Maryland.” Gift of the Kessler family. JMM 2005.055.002

-“Har Zion – Petach Tikvah – Tifereth Israel Cong. Maryland 1972.” Gift of Howard L. Cohn. JMM 1999.014.008

-“Petach Tikvah Congregation, Incorporated 1921.” Gift of Howard L. Cohn. JMM 1999.014.006

-“Rodfe Zadek [aka Rodfe Tzedek or Zedek] Congregation of Baltimore,” with the congregation name in Hebrew in the center. Gift of Ken Zajic for Rodfe Zedek Cemetery. JMM 1996.168.001

-“Anshe Beth Jacob Congregation, Maryland. Incorporated 1922.” Gift of Ruth Mandle. JMM 1982.014.003

-“Hebrew Friendship Cemetery Company of Baltimore City, Incorporated June 20, 1902.” Gift of The Associated. JMM 2015.003.001

So what is a seal press? Each of these, whether designed to sit on/attach to a table (the large, heavy, cast-iron presses in the back row) or to be held in the hand, contains a pair of metal die.  Slip a piece of paper between the die, press down the handle, and you end up with an embossed imprint of your desired text or image.

Samples of three of our seals, made for curator reference.

The incorporation dates of the organization do not necessarily mean that’s when the press was purchased, though it does provide a handy terminus post quem, the earliest date it could have been produced (i.e., it wasn’t made before the organization was incorporated).  It is also possible to change out the seal imprint, meaning an older press might hold a newer seal. However, other info can help us narrow down the dates during which a particular press was made, purchased, and used.  Several of the hand presses have patent dates, ranging from 1895 (the Rodfe Zadek Congregation press) to 1961 (Pickwick Cemeteries). None of the table-top presses have patent dates or maker’s marks, unfortunately, and like their smaller friends, this basic design was used from the 19th century well into the 20th. This example, from suburban DC, looks old-school but its seal dates it fairly specifically to the 1960s; similar tools were used as early as the 1780s.  In the case of these presses, the dates of the organization are our best bet for determining dates of use.

At least one Baltimore firm is known to have made the cast-iron presses; here’s an example by the Pearce F. Crowl Company of Baltimore, at the Museum of Vancouver.

This may be the same company (under a mis-read name or taken over by a relative?) as the Pearre E. Crowl Company, Engravers, Printers, Stationers and Rubber Stamps, found in the 1905 Baltimore directory.

The same directory includes several firms that could make the die for your press.

So what do these artifacts, as a group, tell us?  Several of the hand presses are the same brand, “Official Pocket Seal,” with successive patent numbers proudly stamped on the handles: the earliest example boasting the 1937 patent, with later presses adding patents from 1939, then 1953, then 1961.  That’s a nice little material culture comparison exercise right there.  Of more specific use to us, three of the seals – one table-top, two hand –  trace the merger of congregations: separate seals for Petach Tikvah (founded 1921) and Tifereth Israel Congregation of Forest Park (founded 1926), and a later seal for the now-combined Har Zion – Petach Tikvah -Tifereth Israel Congregation (founded 1972).

Even though the rest are not directly related to each other, altogether they provide an overview of the types of organizations and businesses that were important to Baltimore’s Jewish community: a sampling of the broader JMM collections, in one tidy batch.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Next Page »