MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — J.D. Rechter, tattoo number 72751, a Viennese Jew who died at Auschwitz in 1943, now has a permanent legacy in the heart of West Virginia.
Dozens of West Virginians — Jews and non-Jews alike — gathered Sunday at the Morgantown Public Library to dedicate a collection of Holocaust books named for the late Rechter. Jewish leaders from across the state and local dignitaries, including Morgantown Mayor Bill Byrne, attended the ceremony.
The collection of approximately 1,000 books, will be housed at the Aull Center, a circa 1906 house next door to the downtown library.
For Edith Rechter-Levy, daughter of the collection’s namesake and a retired professor of languages at West Virginia University, the dedication represented the culmination of more than 20 years of work collecting and storing the volumes and searching for a place to house them.
She hopes the collection will further educate Morgantowners to the depth of cruelty to Jews and other groups that occurred during the Nazi era.
“Accidents will happen, but this was not an accident;” Levy said. “This was an act of hatred that we can try to prevent.”
The collection was developed through the J.D. Rechter Memorial Foundation, founded by Levy, which promotes Holocaust education in West Virginia.
The collection dates back to 1987 when Levy met Ken Schoen, a book merchant from Deerfield, Mass., at a conference and reunion of Holocaust survivors. Schoen, who was displaying his merchandise at the conference, donated whatever books he had left over for Levy to take back to Morgantown.
Since then, for more than 20 years, he has continued to send books to Levy.
“We recognize and thank Mr. Schoen for his contributions,” said Rabbi David Levy, Edith Levy’s son and the master of ceremonies at the dedication. “As part of this dedication, a plaque will be unveiled commemorating the members of his family that perished in the Holocaust.”
Schoen and Levy wanted the collection kept intact and not dispersed through the library’s stacks. That became possible in 2000 when the Morgantown Public Library acquired the Aull Center.
Schoen was not at Sunday’s dedication, but Rabbi David Wucher, of B’nai Sholom Congregation in Huntington, W.Va., and a member of the Rechter Foundation, said the collection is a testament to the humanity of the Holocaust victims.
“We remember not only millions of victims; we remember they all had names,” Wucher said. “They had real names, hopes and dreams that were taken from them by terrible monsters.”
A plaque to be affixed to the collection’s room bears the number tatooed on Rechter’s arm.
But David recalled more than just a number about his grandfather.
In his remarks, he recalled a story about how Rechter carried his then 8-year-old daughter Edith on his shoulders at a Vienna synagogue on Simchat Torah in 1938 so she could get close enough to kiss one of the Torahs being paraded about.
Three weeks later, came Kristallnacht — a Nazi-led night of carnage and destruction directed against Jews in Germany and Austria. Edith and her mother were roaming the streets that night — many Jews in Vienna thought it safer — when they saw their synagogue in flames.
“She couldn’t help wondering what happened to the Torah she kissed three weeks earlier,” David said.
With the Rechter collection now open, David said the foundation’s new goal is to open Holocaust collections in other public libraries across West Virginia, though probably not as large as the one in Morgantown.
“You don’t need a collection of 1,000 books,” David said, “but you do need the right books for many age groups.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)