A museum staff member handles vintage film equipment on a cart with gloves.

Did you or members of your family survive the Holocaust as refugees in the Soviet Union? Do you have photographs, documents, household items, textiles, or other original objects related to this period in your family history? We are eager to hear from you.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage seeks to enrich its Permanent Collection related to the wartime experiences of Polish Jews who escaped the Holocaust by fleeing east into the Soviet Union. There, many refugees spent years imprisoned at labor camps in the arctic wilderness (also called Siberian work camps, or gulags). Others served in various units of the Soviet army or Polish army. Later in the war, many were evacuated south to Soviet Central Asia—like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Finally, at the end of World War II, many of these Jews were repatriated to Poland, where their homes, communities, and ways of life had been destroyed. Many then entered Displaced Persons camps in western Europe and eventually rebuilt lives in the United States and elsewhere.

This important refugee group is the largest surviving fragment of Polish Jewry, yet their stories are among the least represented in Holocaust museums. Often, they are not even thought of as Holocaust stories. However, the murder of 90% of Polish Jews – many of whom were family members of this group – is inextricably linked to these refugees’ experiences of displacement and dispossession. The stories of Polish Jewish refugees are indeed Holocaust stories and, in addition to academic research and scholarship, we rely on first-person accounts from visitors like you to tell a more complete story of this group’s experiences during World War II.

The Museum preserves objects – such as photographs, documents (identity cards, passports, ship tickets, letters, postcards, diaries), books, maps, posters, ritual objects, textiles (clothing, blankets, decorative artworks), household objects (tools, kitchen utensils), military medals and insignia, musical instruments, children’s toys, and more – in order to tell detailed stories about people’s everyday lives as they experienced them. Through these material objects, Museum visitors explore questions like: “How did people keep warm?” “What did they eat?” “How did kids learn or stay entertained?” “How did people practice Judaism?” “What did people do for work?” “How did people move from place to place?” “What did it feel like to leave home?” “How did people respond to extreme struggles like family separation, hunger, and disease?” “What new horizons did people encounter as a result of their displacement?”

If you wish to speak to curatorial staff about objects that may fit into this important area of Holocaust history, please contact us at collections@mjhnyc.org.

Homepage image: Portrait of Yocheved Joskowitz Spitz, Soviet Union, 1942-1945. Gift of the Frank family in memory of Riva Spitz Frank, 2022.3.11