By Mara Sonnenschein, Senior Manager for Communications
They came to the Museum to see The Sorceress but, after eating lunch at LOX at Café Bergson, and with some additional time before the show started, Dr. Mark Kleinman, his wife Reena, and his mother Amalie decided to visit the exhibition Ordinary Treasures: Highlights from the Museum of Jewish Heritage Collection.
And there, as they walked into the gallery, they saw it: Amalie, whose maiden name was Ruff, and her family in 1926, in a photo titled “Ruff Family in Front of Bakery.” The photograph, enlarged for display in Ordinary Treasures, is a glimpse into the prewar life of a Polish Jewish family.
That the photograph exists was not a surprise to the Kleinmans. A copy of it has hung in Amalie’s house since she came to America – a document showing a European Jewish family intact before the Third Reich ripped them apart in the years to come. The surprise was that it is on view in the Museum. Amalie’s younger sister, the baby of the family who wasn’t even born when this 1926 family photo was taken, donated the photo to the Museum’s collection in 1998, along with other items from the Ruff family.
As Dr. Kleinman noted by phone, “My mother, who recently turned 94, was able to see a photo of herself at the beginning of her life on view at the Museum.”
Amalie’s survival story, like that of every Holocaust survivor, is unique and terrifying and miraculous. Before World War II, they were a family of eight children; one baby died before the war started. Amalie lost her father and four of her siblings in the Holocaust. But Amalie, two of her sisters, and their mother not only survived but were able to stay together from ghetto to labor camp to concentration camp to the day of liberation. In addition, they managed to smuggle a few precious family photos with them throughout those horrific years.
Dr. Kleinman shared this joyous discovery on Facebook, and he phoned the Museum’s Collections department to find out more about who donated the family photo and when. The aunt who donated the photograph died a few years ago and had either not told her sisters about it or, because it was 1998 when she donated the photo along with some other Ruff family artifacts to the Museum, it was a forgotten conversation.
For the Kleinmans, the discovery was a happy surprise. For the Museum staff involved in unraveling this mystery for the Kleinmans, it was a reminder of how significant every artifact in our collection is.