Sole surviving kippa from shul burned in Kristallnacht on display

Jewish skullcap from synagogue torched by Nazis during 1938 pogrom is on display at Polish museum.

September 15, 2016 17:21
2 minute read.
Kristallnacht Nazis

The sole surviving kippa from a synagogue burned by the Nazis in Kristallnacht on display in Poland . (photo credit: GÓRNOŚLĄSKIE MUSEUM)

A kippa salvaged from the ashes of a Polish synagogue destroyed during Kristallnacht is on display at the Górnośląskie history museum in the city of Bytom. The display is part of an exhibition that opened this week in the presence of local leaders, and showcased the history of the city, formerly the German city of Beuthen.

The kippa belonged to a teenage boy named Shmuel Hirsch, who escaped the horrors of the “Night of Broken Glass” and moved to Israel ahead of the rest of his family. Shmuel’s kippa survived the flames that engulfed the family’s synagogue and was rescued by relatives. It is the only tangible remnant of the shul, save for a monument that now stands there.

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The Beuthen pogrom was staged on November 9-10, 1938, during which Nazis smashed windows and burned down Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues and killed dozens of Jewish residents.

After the attacks, many of the city’s Jews were among the hundreds of thousands sent to concentration camps. The Hirsch family managed to flee to Israel, and took Shmuel’s kippa with him. Shmuel had by that time settled in Yokne’am in the Lower Galilee, where he worked in agriculture and became deeply involved with his synagogue.

Before his death in 2007, Shmuel sent his kippa to the museum in his birthplace, along with a note explaining that he wished for it to be visible to the current generation and generations to come. The kippa lay in storage for years until a new museum director, Leszek Jodlinski, became moved by the story of the object and decided to host an exhibition to commemorate the subject and honor Hirsch and his family.

Jodlinski, who is a historian, took it upon himself to track down the Hirsch family, and eventually located Shmuel’s daughter, Michal Hirsch-Noy, who supplied the museum with related information and pictures.

The kippa had remained in the Yokne’am family home for many years, but nobody was aware of it symbolism, nor did they know that Shmuel decided to send it back to his birthplace.

Hirsch-Noy traveled this week to Poland to visit the exhibition, titled, “Shmuel Hirch’s Kippa,” which features pictures and documentation of the family and the Jewish community’s life in the city. At the exhibition, one can also listen to a recording of Shmuel, who all his life sang for synagogue choirs, both in Europe and in Israel.

Jodlinski also took Hirsch-Noy to her father’s childhood home, an emotional journey for Michal. “I stood on the very steps where he played as a child,” she said, noting that the architecture had been left untouched.

Hirsch-Noy told The Jerusalem Post that she was overwhelmed by local interest the exhibition had generated. “It’s unbelievable how many people came,” she said. Speaking at the exhibition’s opening, Jodlinski described the kippa as an important and unique monument by which to remember the Jewish community in Bytom.

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