After Boston native Andi Pollinger’s mother died of breast cancer, she inherited a triangular pendant with her mother’s date of birth, a green Jewish star, the name of her hometown of Frankfurt, and the word “Shaddai,” which means “God” in Hebrew. For Pollinger, the charm was an easy way to remember the late Ruth Wermuth, who survived Nazi Germany and died when Pollinger was only 12 years old, along with the other possessions she inherited such as jewellery, scrapbooks and her wedding dress.
Before the borders were closed in Germany, Wermuth’s family fled the country to London in 1940, eventually settling in Bridgeport, Connecticut, escaping the terror of the concentration camps where millions of Jews were murdered.
Decades after Wermuth’s death in 1970, Pollinger discovered the 1929 pendant in her mother’s possession was one of fewer than a dozen similar Jewish relics from pre-Holocaust Germany after reading a New York Times article about a similar pendant unearthed at a Nazi death camp in 2017. According to the Times report, Anne Frank also had a follower.
Pollinger was stunned to learn she owned such a valuable pendant, which likely served as a birth charm and protective amulet for Jewish girls born in Frankfurt in 1928 and 1929, she said. It represents a thriving Jewish community before the Holocaust, Pollinger said, an aspect that is as important to document as the horrors inflicted on the community.
“[The pendant is] not set with rubies or the like. But it’s valuable for his memory and his time,” said Pollinger, a resident of downtown Boston. “It records a time when the Jewish community was alive, when there was art and literature and music and culture and traditions that were practiced and celebrated.”
Pollinger never expected to part with such a valuable pendant until he attended a webinar in March at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The webinar encouraged New Englanders to donate their Holocaust memorabilia to preserve authentic, first-hand artifacts for generations to come.
Although it was a frightening thought to reveal the only physical memories of her mother, Pollinger recognized that donating Wermuth’s pendant, as well as other Holocaust-era family relics, had its perks. It was a way of honoring her mother’s experiences, preserving them indefinitely and taking a burden off the shoulders of her own children and grandchildren who should have inherited and cared for the irreplaceable memorabilia.
“I wouldn’t have to carefully wrap it all up and give it to my sons and say, ‘Never lose this stuff when I’m gone,'” said Pollinger, 65, adding that the artifacts can now be studied by researchers and students for the coming years.
After sending the artifacts to the museum in July, Pollinger said she left the FedEx office in tears, struggling to accept the artifacts were gone but happy that her mother would be proud.
Fred Wasserman, curator of acquisitions at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, said donations like Pollinger’s help the museum authentically commemorate the experiences of Holocaust survivors, since many of them have already died or are in their 80s and 90s.
“After that generation leaves, all of these materials that we are collecting will allow the museum to continue to teach the history of the Holocaust with a very high level of authenticity,” Wasserman said.
Wasserman said the museum accepts about 400 collections of artifacts annually, but they’re always looking for additional donations from Jewish individuals and families.
The museum’s Americans and the Holocaust exhibit was in part the inspiration for a new documentary by Ken Burns, The United States and the Holocaust. The series examines America’s response to the Holocaust, including how much Americans knew about the horrors unfolding overseas and why the country continued to turn away refugees as 6 million Jews in Europe were ghettoized, starved, tortured and murdered became.
In order to paint a picture of Jewish life before, during and immediately after the Holocaust, the museum accepts a wide range of items. Some include documents, photographs, memoirs, music, artwork, moving images from the 1930s, oral history, home video, and more.
“The generation of eyewitnesses, the generation of World War II is certainly passing,” Wasserman said. “The museum is truly in a race against time to preserve these memorabilia and preserve the stories of these people’s lives.”
To donate artifacts, email [email protected]