Remembering the Unforgettable: Artifacts from the Holocaust

From Hollie Davis, MLIS Senior Editor Antiques Reference – p4A

This month (today, January 18, in fact) marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the single largest revolt during the Holocaust and one that resulted in the eventual leveling of the Ghetto and the deaths of almost 70,000 Jews.  (13,000 were killed in the Uprising while the majority were executed at Treblinka.)  Like the rest of the world, the auction business still struggles with how to treat the Holocaust – as an act of horror best left firmly in the past, as a event requiring historic preservation, as a crime against humanity so large that no one should profit from it even through the sale of artifacts.

Much of the time, this is an esoteric, rhetorical discussion, as so little survives.  (Nazi-related material, of course, survives in greater quantities, but many auction houses still opt not to sell it.)  Judaic silver finds its way to market periodically and, if it is pre-war, commands the prices one would expect from early, quality, sterling silver.  (The Shabbat candlestick with menorah pictured above was actually made in Warsaw in 1860.)  But war-related ephemera is far rarer, although the objects that exist are surprising – mostly mail and paper currency.  It’s not something we normally expect, but generally speaking, prisoners in the concentration camps were allowed to send mail.  Of course, the circumstances were limited, it was heavily regulated and heavily censored, but letters and postcards survive, like this group from Theresienstadt.  (Peter Spier, illustrator of the children’s classics Petunia and The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night, and his family survived their internment at Theresienstadt.)

Some of the concentration camps, including Theresienstadt, issued “currency” as well.  In reality, it was more like scrip, in that it had no value outside of the camp.  The extent to which this currency was actually used versus simply served as propaganda is still debated, but it too survives, speaking volumes, just as the remnants of walls around the Warsaw Ghetto do, about how organized, extensive, and chillingly sanctioned the Holocaust was.


One thought on “Remembering the Unforgettable: Artifacts from the Holocaust

  1. Pingback: Heroes-70 Years Ago « The Constitution Club

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