In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated January 27--the date of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau--as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation by Soviet troops of the largest Nazi death camp, on January 27, 1945.
In commemoration of this significant anniversary, we are featuring three Holocaust-related treasures in the Skirball's collection. These artifacts serve as poignant symbols of hope in the face of unspeakable despair and loss.
Dr. Siegfried Emmering, Portrait of Werner Weinberg, Bergen-Belsen, 1944, graphite on paper, 66.3269.
Werner Weinberg (1915-1997), a former faculty member at Cincinnati’s HUC-JIR Campus, was born on May 30, 1915 in Rheda, Germany. He served as a rabbi in Rheda until Kristallnacht, and shortly after escaped to Holland with his wife, Lisl. While in Holland, the Weinbergs had two children, Hannah and Susie. Hannah died a few years later from disease and suffering under Nazi persecution. Werner and Lisl sent Susie into hiding with a Christian family, before going into hiding themselves. The couple were eventually arrested and taken to Bergen-Belsen. Weinberg’s extraordinary survival narrative has been chronicled several times, including in his own book titled Self-Portrait of a Holocaust Survivor. The frontispiece of Weinberg’s autobiography includes this portrait that was made in May of 1944, while Weinberg was imprisoned at Bergen-Belsen.
Weinberg’s portrait was drawn in the hospital barracks by Dr. Siegfried Emmering, who had treated Werner for diphtheria. Weinberg kept the portrait with him until the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. The prisoners were ordered to leave all papers behind. Six months after leaving the camp, Weinberg’s portrait was returned to him by Regina Najman, another prisoner who had not been evacuated. The portrait was later given to the Gedenkstäte Bergen-Belsen. In 1995 Werner Weinberg wrote to Bergen-Belsen to ask for his portrait to be donated to the collection of the Skirball Museum on the Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR, where it remains today.
The Weinberg Torah, Rheda, Germany, 1845, 61.22
The Weinberg Torah is both a witness to the destruction of European Jewry during the Holocaust and a testament to the survival of the Jewish people. Commissioned by Isaak Stern and his wife Leah, the Torah was given to the Rheda Synagogue in 1845 by Leffman and Rosa (Stern) Weinberg. Ninety-three years later, just before Kristallnacht in November of 1938, the Torah was safely out of the synagogue undergoing repair when the building was torched that fateful night. The repaired Torah was then shipped to Holland where the grandson of Leffman and Rosa, Werner Weinberg, was living, having fled Germany. Following the German conquest of Holland, the Nazis agreed to grant monument status to three old synagogues in Amsterdam. Secretly the Weinberg Torah and other ceremonial objects were placed in these synagogues for safekeeping. In 1945, Werner Weinberg and his wife Lisl were reunited following their release from concentration camps. They returned to Holland to reclaim the Torah only to learn that it had been removed by the Nazis. Shortly thereafter, the American Military Government notified the Weinbergs that their Torah had been recovered. They reclaimed it and brought it with them to the United States in 1948, keeping it in their home. In 1975 Werner Weinberg, then Professor of Hebrew Language and Literature at HUC-JIR Cincinnati, presented “his precious Sefer Torah” to HUC-JIR on the occasion of its Centennial. Over the years, the Torah has been used for life cycle events of Weinberg family descendants, and most recently for the inauguration of HUC-JIR president, Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D.
Linda Gissen, Kristallnacht Yahrzeit, kiln-fused, enameled and slumped glass—engraved bronze and copper direct welded metals, 1992, 64.36
Gissen was one of 1000 artists who responded to the invitation to create work that expresses remembrance of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust for the publication Artists Confronting the Inconceivable. Winner of a bronze award, she made this statement in 1992: “This Yahrzeit (memorial) sculpture incorporates pieces of glass as a central element and theme. Intertwined in the shards are engraved memories of lost loved ones, barbed wire and an admonition: ‘Zachor’ ‘Remember.’ The bronze figures behind the barbed wire and the smoke images enameled onto the glass address the reality of Kristallnacht and the inconceivable horrors that followed. The Yahrzeit candle, which Jews traditionally light on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, is lit to remember and memorialize the Kristallnacht.”
Asked to comment on the piece 21 years later, the artist says: “It was my hope that in today’s world we would still not be facing similar issues of hatred and intolerance that we memorialize in this lamp. It seems that almost daily we learn of hatred and prejudice and fear of groups and most are of no harm to anyone. The smashing of religious icons and burning of holy manuscripts is still going on almost daily and not only in countries overseas, but here in the U.S. where we have prided ourselves for our tolerance and acceptance of others. Not a day goes by when most of us don’t hear a hateful remark directed at ‘the other.’”