Archaeologists have discovered these remains of rare Jewish prayer books whose owners were murdered by the Nazis and they are now being revealed to the public for the first time.
The discovery was made in Zuelpich, which is a town in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, in March 2020.
The items were discovered during construction work that was being monitored by archaeologists. It was noted that the printed paper and wood fragments, despite their poor condition, featured Hebrew characters and a Gothic script, and they were sent off to be analysed.
After research conducted by the Rhineland Regional Council (LVR), it was then revealed that the fragments were in fact Jewish prayer books from the beginning of the 20th century, the LVR said in a statement obtained by Newsflash.
Dr Erich Classen, head of the LVR Office for Ground Monument Preservation in the Rhineland (LVR-ABR), said: “The circumstances of the find suggest that the text fragments were probably buried during World War II. Thanks to research by the city of Zuelpich, we can specifically connect this to individual Jewish fates during the Holocaust.”
The fragments were located directly under the pavement on Martinstrasse in the town. The site was investigated by AbisZ-Archaeologie, under the supervision of the LVR, led by Christian Riedl.
They were in very poor condition, with the LVR saying that removing them was a “laborious undertaking, because the paper had deformed into a pulpy mass and the individual sheets were difficult or impossible to separate.”
During their investigation, the excavation company found that there had originally been a house at that location.
Research by Rita Reibold from the Zuelpich City Archives revealed that a Jewish cattle dealer called Moritz Sommer had lived there with his family.
The house, including the rear stable and shed, was destroyed by a bomb in the final stages of World War II. Before that, the house had been used by the Nazis as a “Jewish house” from 1941 onwards.
From May 1941 onwards, local Jews were kicked out of their homes, so that the buildings could be made available to other people, in what Hans-Gerd Dick, cultural advisor for the city of Zuelpich, explained was an attempt to “aryanise” the homes.
The people who were forcibly evicted from their homes were resettled in a few houses in the district that were still under Jewish ownership at that point.
These houses were called “Jewish houses” by the Nazis. Due to massive overcrowding, the living conditions in these houses were poor.
From the surviving files it can be seen that at least three families and one other person were accommodated in the house with the Sommer family.
Moritz Sommer, his wife Lina and their son Kurt were deported to Minsk in Belarus on 20th July 1942, where they were murdered four days later in the Maly Trostinez extermination camp. None of the other residents survived either.
The LVR explained: “It is likely that the prayer books were buried in a wooden box by the Sommer family or one of the families also housed there, under the floorboards of a shed behind the house, in order to hide them there and protect them from third party access. In the post-war period, the area was used to expand the street, which meant that the text fragments ended up under the pavement.”
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