The Vukovar synagogue may have a new lease on the future, but it also has a mysterious past.
“A Story from Vukovar,” a documentary film made last year, chronicles the search for treasures from the Vukovar synagogue that were buried in a cellar dug out of the hillside clay just before the German army arrived in 1941.
Alfred Pal, 80, and Jelka Malevich, 91, are two witnesses who remember the treasure being buried in two boxes in the cellar, which in the meantime has been covered up with earth.
The cellar belonged to Pal’s aunt. Malevich was the close relative of the two young men who actually buried the boxes.
In October 2001, with the support of Croatia’s Ministry of Culture, an excavation was begun into the stone-hard clay. The filmmakers recorded the dig, but nothing was found.
“It’s difficult to say who could have taken the boxes with the treasure — the Torahs, prayer books, candelabra, documents etc. — and whether it happened in 1941, 1945 or later,” said Pal, who initiated the search for the hidden treasure. “But somebody must have found it and has kept silent about it. Anyway, I didn’t want to take this story with me to the grave.”
Many people ask why he kept silent about the treasure for so long, and why he didn’t try to look for it himself, Pal said.
“I simply was never able to consider it,” he said. “In the first place, after the war I was not in a hurry to return to Vukovar. Of all my family I was the only survivor.”
In addition, he said, “This cellar belonged to my aunt, but the house was empty and I didn’t go into the cellar, so as not to raise suspicions that something might be there. If I had gone in, someone might have followed me.
“I thought that as it was buried, it should stay so, if need be even for 500 years, as the people to whom it all belonged were in any case no longer among the living,” he continued. “Besides, in the postwar situation, I would have immediately been arrested if it were known that I was looking for buried treasure.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.