The Holocaust Museum of the New Synagogue of Fort Lee is seeking donations of holocaust memorabilia and artifacts. The museum opened three years ago, the brainchild of Rabbi Meir Berger and museum curator Ronnie Streichler, and occupies space on the synagogue’s top floor.
The museum started simply with a couple of Holocaust-themed sculptures donated to Berger by synagogue members and a Torah Berger was able to obtain that came from Daige, a small town outside Transylvania, Romania, where the Rabbi’s father was born.
In the ensuing weeks and months, donations to the new museum’s collection started pouring in. Photographs were donated by the American Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and other Jewish organizations around the country, and documents, artifacts and other pictures, letters and memorabilia were collected from synagogue members and others in the community.
“Initially when we opened up, we had the greatest impact when we were really soliciting for it,” Streichler said. “One of our biggest contributors gave us her entire collection, but she has since passed on.”
Streichler, who designed, built, mounted and installed all the displays museum visitors see today says the museum now faces the challenge of expanding upon what has become a very haunting and moving but beautiful display of a time that many would like to forget.
Steichler said that from time to time the museum still gets donations—mostly books—and they also receive some money on occasion, but in the past six months or so “we haven’t received any additional memorabilia, which is really sad.”
“Sadly, it’s mainly survivors that would have memorabilia,” she said. “And there are fewer and fewer of them as we are losing them. Some of them prior to passing on have donated their memorabilia—their artifacts—to the museum. But there are always more and more things that we would love to have.”
One item Steichler says the museum would particularly like to obtain is a yellow Star of David used by the Nazis during the Holocaust as a method of identifying Jews. Although, the museum features plenty of pictures of the symbol and a replica, they don’t have an authentic one.
“A number of people kept items that they treasured with them in the camps, or they gave them to friends to hold until they were to survive,” Steichler said. “So these are things that during that horrible period were very precious to people. And those that did survive, and as they’re aging now, and unless their children want them, we request that they be in a situation where the public has access to them.”
Berger proudly notes that Dr. Paul B. Winkler, Executive Director of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education with the New Jersey Department of Education endorsed the museum as one of the best in the state.
“To study the Holocaust, people must know the history and the tragedy prior to, during and after the events of 1933-1945,” Berger said. “It’s worthwhile for everybody to come in to see it.”
Emphasizing the educational mission of the museum, Berger points out Nazi images and memorabilia such as weapons, medals, coins and stamps are mixed in with the museum’s collection of Jewish letters, diaries, journals, documents and precious keepsakes, because, he says, “you have to prove to the children that it wasn’t fiction.”
“Because eventually nobody is going to remember it,” Berger said. “This is the background history on what they did. I suppose if I had a bigger building I could probably get some endowment funds and make a [bigger] museum. But I want the children to see this.”
Aside from collecting more memorabilia and expanding the collection, Berger said that would be his next biggest wish for the museum, and that he’s been somewhat disappointed with reaction from local schools so far.
“I wanted the schools to cooperate with us,” Berger said, adding that Winkler himself sent letters of invitation to local schools. “Because holocaust study is mandatory in the State of New Jersey, we have wooed the schools in the area, but they have not responded.”
But he said the museum is more than ready when they do respond, with assembly space for lectures and five eager volunteer teenage docents.
“If the children would come, they would comply,” Berger said.
The New Synagogue of Fort Lee is located at 1585 Center Ave. in Fort Lee.
The museum is open for classroom tours between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., and evenings and Sundays by appointment. For classroom or individual tours with docents contact Rabbi Meir Berger at (201) 947-1555.