Members of Temple David took a suitcase full of dishes and filled it with relics of mixed emotions. The group’s creation, a multifaceted Holocaust memorial, will be dedicated Nov. 9 during the congregation’s Kristallnacht program.
“Our memorial is a result of a working group coming together and sharing ideas and stories over the past year,” said Rabbi Barbara Symons, spiritual leader of the Monroeville-based synagogue.
The intention was that it would “be a two-part thing;” specifically, that the installation would serve as a monument while also being educational, explained Debbie Maier Jacknin, an artist and a member of the 12-person committee.
Almost accidentally — through discussion, learning and a bit of luck — the group discovered a 70-year-old handcrafted trunk. Made of brown-painted wood, the antique carrier had been housing Passover dishes in Harry and Patty Schneider’s garage before the Monroeville corps learned of its existence.
During a conversation with students from Gateway Middle School, Symons told them of the temple’s desire to create a display based upon luggage.
“We had heard the story of Eva Edelstein, wife of Rabbi Jason Edelstein, Temple David’s rabbi emeritus, and how she had escaped quickly in the middle of the night and how her mother had packed a small bag for her before they escaped, and it inspired the idea of a suitcase,” said Symons.
“We weren’t sure whether we wanted a period suitcase or an artistic suitcase, but we knew that we wanted something that would display our congregants’ artifacts from before the war and during the war,” she added.
As soon as Symons finished explaining to the students about the congregation’s aspiration, Schneider, who had also shared his experiences with the Gateway group, approached the rabbi and informed her that when his family was in a displaced persons’ camp in Austria, his father had made two trunks.
“I have one, would you like it?” Schneider asked the rabbi.
From there, Symons, Jacknin and other committee members later traveled to Schneider’s home and observed the carefully constructed box.
“It’s just fantastic,” said Jacknin, a stained-glass mosaicist whose grandfather had been arrested during Kristallnacht.
With the Schneiders’ blessings, those on hand loaded the crate into Symons’ automobile.
“Now my car had this aroma that was like walking through the cattle car at the Holocaust Museum,” said Symons.
But apart from possessing a historically reeking chest, which, as etched into the wood, explains that it transported Gedale Schneider’s belongings to Washington, Pa., Temple David’s working group wished to do more with the container. They then commissioned a local artist to create a removable Lucite cover so that interchangeable items could be exhibited within the case.
The first contents will be siddurim formerly belonging to Werner Bendorf, father of Robi Bendorf, a temple member.
When Werner fled from his home in Dornheim, Germany, he brought along the books as well as a leather satchel with important papers, said the son.
In June 1940, Werner took the printed materials, placed them inside the bag and buried them “inside the barn that was attached to Everett and Dina Schutter’s farmhouse near Wilp, Holland. This is the place my parents, Leni and Werner Bendorf, were being hidden by the Schutters and where I was born,” said Robi.
“When my parents retrieved the satchel in approximately May 1945, the papers were deteriorated to the point of not being usable, but the books were in the condition that they are now,” he added.
After some time the texts will be replaced by other items belonging to temple members so that the education continues. In that vein, the monument will be placed in Temple David’s main lobby so that as many people as possible are able to “look in and have a learning opportunity,” explained the rabbi.
“Anytime you have something that you can look at, that you can see, that you can touch, it makes it real; it makes the story come to life a little more,” said Jacknin.
“We are proud that we have put ‘Never forget’ into action at Temple David,” said Symons, who encouraged the community to attend the Nov. 9 program, as it will feature both the installation as well as remarks from Rabbi Edelstein, Eva Edelstein and Harry Schneider.
There is nothing like hearing something firsthand, but “as our survivor community is dying out, we need to find other effective ways of telling the stories and telling what happened,” said Jacknin.
In that way, there is a lot of purpose being placed in the old object, explained the rabbi.
Said Symons: “The trunk symbolizes to me the fortitude of the Jewish people, the generosity of a survivor and the opportunity to share journeys, even those we wish we had not been on.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz