After Boston resident Andi Pollinger’s mother died of breast cancer, she inherited a triangular pendant engraved with her mother’s birth date, a green Jewish star, the name of her home city, Frankfurt, and the word ‘Shaddai,’ which means God in Hebrew. For Pollinger, the charm was a simple way to remember the late Ruth Wermuth, who survived Nazi Germany and died when Pollinger was only 12 years old, alongside the other belongings she inherited like jewelry, scrapbooks, and her wedding dress.
Before borders were closed in Germany, Wermuth’s family fled the country for London in 1940, eventually settling in Bridgeport, Conn., and escaping the terror of concentration camps where millions of Jews were murdered.
Decades after Wermuth’s death in 1970, Pollinger learned the 1929 pendant among her mother’s belongings 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 excavated from a Nazi death camp in 2017. Anne Frank also had a pendant, according to the Times report.
Pollinger was stunned to learn she owned such a precious pendant that likely served as a birth charm and protective amulet for Jewish girls born in 1928 and 1929 in Frankfurt, she said. It represents a thriving Jewish community before the Holocaust, Pollinger said, an aspect just as important to chronicle as the horrors inflicted on the community.
“[The pendant is] not encrusted in rubies or anything like that. But it’s precious for its memory and for its time,” said Pollinger, a downtown Boston resident. “It chronicles a time when the Jewish community was vibrant, when there were arts and literature and music and culture and traditions that were practiced and celebrated.”
Pollinger never expected to part with the pendant until attending a March webinar from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The webinar encouraged New England residents to donate their Holocaust memorabilia to preserve authentic, first-hand artifacts for generations to come.
Although it was a scary thought to give away the only physical memories of her mother, Pollinger realized donating Wermuth’s pendant, as well as other family Holocaust-era relics, had its benefits. It was a way to honor her mother’s experiences, preserve them indefinitely, and lift a burden from the shoulders of her own children and grandchildren who would have had to inherit and care for the irreplaceable mementos.
“I wouldn’t have to pack it all up carefully and give it to my sons and say, ‘Don’t ever lose this stuff when I’m gone,’” said Pollinger, 65, adding that the artifacts can now be studied by researchers and students for years to come.
After mailing the artifacts to the museum in July, Pollinger said she left the FedEx office in tears, struggling to accept that the artifacts were gone, yet happy to think her mother would be proud.
Fred Wasserman, the acquisitions curator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, said donations like Pollinger’s help the museum authentically commemorate the experiences of Holocaust survivors as many of them have already died or are in their 80s and 90s.
“After this generation is gone, all of these materials that we’re collecting are going to 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 takes in about 400 collections of artifacts a year, but they are always on the look out for more donations from Jewish individuals and families.
The museum’s “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibition was partly the inspiration of a new Ken Burns docuseries, “The U.S. and the Holocaust.” The series explores America’s response during 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 were forced into ghettos, starved, tortured, and murdered in Europe.
To help 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, 1930s moving images, oral histories, home movies, and more.
“The eyewitness generation, the World War II generation is certainly passing,” Wasserman said. “The museum is really in a race against time to preserve this memorabilia and to preserve the stories of these people’s lives.”
To donate artifacts, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.