Memorial at Monroeville synagogue features Holocaust artifacts
A trunk that served as a Jewish family's lifeline during World War II now stands as the center of a Holocaust memorial in Monroeville more than 75 years later.
The historic chest belonged to Harry Schneider and his family, built from scratch in Austria by his father while in a displaced persons camp after World War II. Today, it is displayed in the lobby of the Temple David synagogue, holding a rotating display of items from the Holocaust.
“I feel that, in his honor, it's a good thing for me to donate this and for more people to be able to see something that came out of the Holocaust,” Schneider said.
Schneider, 80, was just a kid when his family escaped into Russia and then Austria after the Germans invaded Poland. Although not remembering much from the time, he does recall his father pulling together what little material he could find to make the chest.
The memorial debuted on Nov. 9 in honor of Kristallnacht, a night in 1938 when Nazis burned down synagogues and Jewish homes, schools and businesses in Germany. More than 130 community members joined Rabbi Barbara Symons at Temple David, with multiple Holocaust survivors and their families sharing their stories.
“We had a dedication to the Holocaust that included our eighth- and tenth-graders delivering a speech on what it means to never forget,” Symons said. “It was all really very powerful.”
With the wooden trunk as the centerpiece, three prayer books dating back to the late 1800s laid open in Temple David's lobby. As the congregation's memorial group receives more donations, the display within the chest will change.
“The idea is that we will keep the exhibit rotating so it's an ongoing opportunity for learning,” Symons said. “It brings our congregants together and connects us with the community.”
The prayer books donated by Robi Bendorf are also survivors of Kristallnacht. Protecting the books, Bendorf's father latched onto them as he fled Germany to work on a farm in the Netherlands.
The books never left his father's side, as he and his mother hid in a farmhouse attic to avoid being taken to concentration camps.
“They survived Hitler and the people who wanted to destroy Judaism,” Bendorf said. “Now, here they are in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, and my wife and I are very happy to donate them.”
When Bendorf was given the books just a couple of years ago by his mother, he wanted to find a purpose for them other than just sitting on his shelf at home.
“They need to exist in a meaningful way, otherwise they just fit in my closet and nobody but me and my wife would even know they exist,” Bendorf said. “By donating them, they get to stay forever and the story behind them gets to be told.”
Christine Manganas is a freelance writer.