The Torah was written in Romania, the kefiyyah came from Sarajevo, and the collection box from Germany. The bookcase was bought in Ikea of Paramus.
Inaugurated four weeks ago, the small Holocaust museum housed on the second floor of the New Synagogue of Fort Lee, overlooking the sanctuary, is the brainchild of artist Ronnie Streichler and Rabbi Meir Berger.
Congregant Gerda Warburg donated several artifacts to the museum. Photo by Ronnie Streichler
"I had the idea for a museum, but I didn’t know how to start," he said.
Streichler, 67, who is an artist and a member of the synagogue, said the rabbi gave her complete freedom to design it and build wooden cases or whatever she deemed necessary to protect the artifacts.
For many years, half of the second floor was used to accommodate worshippers for the High Holidays and the other half for storage.
The first piece for the museum was a sculpture the rabbi had kept in the basement of his house. Its name is "We Are Chosen," and it was made and donated by Lee Madison, a Bergen County resident.
Each item comes with an explanatory note, but the story behind them is sometimes more interesting that the item itself.
The Nazi wound badge: It was bought by Streichler at a flea market in Rhinebeck, N.Y., where Streichler has a farm.
The Torah: Opened on the last column of Parashat Ki Tetze, which mentions Amalek, it was written in Transylvania, survived the Holocaust, was taken to Israel, and then wound up in Essex, N.Y., where Berger bought it from a man who collects Torah scrolls.
The sculpture featuring eight heads cut in half and mounted on barbed wire: Titled "Looking Out Into Darkness," it was made by Bruce Freund, a dentist in Englewood Cliffs.
The tallit katan: Crocheted by Clara Wertheim in 19’8, it was worn by her son, Alfred Wertheim, when he was a child.
A "Nazi" armband: Bought by Streichler on e-Bay, the item is a fake, for which American Express didn’t charge Streichler for the $70 she paid for it. She believes it was artificially "aged."
Also included in the exhibit are prayer books for Shabbat and the holidays, some printed in Austria and Germany, as well as a Scroll of Esther, kiddush cups, a menorah and a Havdalah set, all in silver, donated by Gerda Warburg, a congregant.
Other congregants have donated books.
Artist and curator Ronnie Streichler and Rabbi Meir Berger stand in front of "We Are Chosen," one of the pieces in the New Synagogue’s museum. Photo by Daniel Santacruz
Walter Marburg, Gerda Warburg’s husband, left Germany in 1933 for the United States and was one of the founders of the New Synagogue, which was inaugurated in 1933. He served as its president for six years and died in ‘001.
Streichler, who acknowledged that she had very little knowledge of the Holocaust before embarking on the project, said the experience was "an extremely emotional and beautiful" one in which she learned a lot.
"I did a lot of crying, but it was rewarding," she added.
Berger praised Streichler’s work and said the museum would not have been possible without her dedication.