George Sheinfarber survived Auschwitz with his father, Jakub, and his memories, but he died before he could obtain the personal effects of the more than a dozen relatives on his mother’s side who died together during World War II. Now Polish officials have returned his relatives’ effects — including a thimble, some coins, a knife and some cloth — to his widow and two daughters.
“I feel my father’s presence so strongly,” said his daughter, Gayle Nadler, on Sunday in New York after viewing the items. “I think that he would be so proud right now. We were able to help him accomplish something so important to him after he helped us accomplish so much.”
Sheinfarber learned of the deaths of his relatives while still in Auschwitz.
His mother and sister died in concentration camps.
His aunt and uncle, several cousins and close family friends had hidden in a pit in the forest. Individuals believed to be Polish bandits stumbled onto the hiding place, and shot all 16 people hiding there, including several young children. Sheinfarber’s uncle, away from the pit at the time, returned to find his family dead, and hung himself.
After his liberation in 1945, Sheinfarber returned to the site of the massacre.
Sheinfarber contemplated marking the site, or moving his relatives’ remains to a proper graveyard; he eventually decided to leave the dead in peace, planting a tree to mark the location.
In 1950, Sheinfarber immigrated to the United States at the age of 22, followed a year later by his father. He married an American-born woman, Edna, and had two daughters.
Memories were all that remained of the relatives on his mother’s side; his daughter Linda Jaffe explained. “The idea of having anything tangible from his family was unreal — he had nothing from any of his relatives,” she said.
Then, in August 2002, just as Sheinfarber was diagnosed with leukemia, he learned that the Polish Institute of National Memory was planning to exhume the mass grave site in order to conduct a murder investigation.
George Sheinfarber didn’t want Polish officials to dig up the mass grave in the town of Czerniewice, near Lodz, because he didn’t want the remains to be disturbed.
But after the Polish government insisted that the remains be dug up as part of an investigation into war crimes, Sheinfarber learned that personal effects had been found in the grave site.
He desperately wanted to see what the graves contained.
With the help of Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Sheinfarber’s relatives were buried in
December 2002 in a Polish Jewish cemetery. The family then petitioned the government to release the personal belongings.
Sheinfarber wrote, “Words cannot express the value these items have for me. While they have no intrinsic value, they are the only articles left in the world that belonged to my family before they were murdered in the Holocaust. They must look so simple, so old, so ruined. They could probably be mistaken for trash, yet they are so very precious because for me, they hold vitality and strength.”
Sheinfarber died on Aug. 16, 2004, the same day the gravestones of his former family members were unveiled.
On Sunday, Schudrich presented the personal remains to Sheinfarber’s wife and daughters, and the family hopes to display them to tell others about the brutality that struck their family.
“All these small things bring out the humanness of the suffering that took place,” Schudrich said.
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.