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Gold painted metal box with engraved heart and initials made by a Jewish Polish slave labor camp inmate

Record Type:
approximately 1944 September-1945 January  (creation)
Accession Number:
1997.102.2 a-b
creation : Gleiwitz I (Concentration camp); Gliwice (Poland)
Brief Narrative:
Small gold painted metal box made by 22 year old Shmuel Spiegel to carry soap when he was a prisoner at Gleiwitz I slave labor camp from September1944 - January 1945. He engraved it with RG and SS, for Regina Gutman and Shmuel Spiegel, with a heart pierced by an arrow. Shmuel and Regina met in Pionki labor camp circa 1942. They were separated when the inmates were transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau in fall 1944 and had promised to meet after the war. In April 1941, Regina, 15, escaped the Radom ghetto in German occupied Poland for Pionki. She worked in a munitions factory, where she met Shmuel. He left Kozienice ghetto in September 1942 to work in Pionki labor camp. In fall 1944, the inmates were transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau where men and women were separated upon arrival. Regina was transferred to Bomlitz slave labor camp, an underground munitions factory, then briefly to Bergen Belsen, and then Elsnig slave labor camp. In April 1945, the camp was evacuated by trains, which were bombed. Regina was wounded, but escaped and hid in the forest until liberated on April 20 by Soviet troops. Shmuel was sent to Gleiwitz I slave labor camp. In January 1945, as Allied troops neared, the inmates were sent on a death march to Blechhammer where Shmuel escaped. Both returned to their home towns in Poland, searching for family, and found that nearly all their relatives had perished in Treblinka killing center. Shmuel learned that Regina was in Radom and sent a horse and buggy for her. As they learned of returning Jews being killed in pogroms, they decided to leave Poland. They reached Foehrenwald displaced persons camp in Germany where they married on May 21, 1946. With the assistance of Regina's maternal uncle, Samuel Kreps, in the US, they sailed for America in October 1947.
The box was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1997 by Regina and Samuel Spiegel.
a : 1.125 x 2.500 x 1.625 in. (2.858 x 6.35 x 4.128 cm.)
b : 0.500 x 2.500 x 1.625 in. (1.27 x 6.35 x 4.128 cm.)
b. front, upper left corner, stylized, tooled : RG [Regina Gutman)
b. front, lower right corner, stylized, tooled : SS [Shmuel Spiegel]
b. front, lower edge, tooled : R.S ! (?)
a : metal, paint
b : metal, paint
Conditions on Access:
No restrictions on access
Conditions on Use:
No restrictions on use
Subject : Regina Spiegel
Subject : Samuel Spiegel
Artisan : Samuel Spiegel
Regina Gutman was born on May 12, 1926, in Radom, Poland, to Kadysh and Brandla Kreps Gutman. She had five older siblings: Motek; Rozia, born 1917; Hanka, born 1919; Abram, born 1921; and Cela, born 1923. Kadysh was born in 1886 and Brandla in 1888, both in Radom. Kadysh was a leather cutter for a large shoe factory, then had a shop with partners. Brandla was a dressmaker before becoming a homemaker. The family was very loving and closeknit. They kept kosher and attended shul. Regina attended a public school and then Hebrew school at night. In 1935, Brandla’s brother Samuel Kreps, who lived in New York, sent Kadysh papers to come to the US, but he would not leave his wife and children.

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Motek was in England and did not return. Rozia and her husband Leon Gelblat moved to Leon’s hometown, Pionki. Germans occupied Radom on September 8 and Jews were targets of attacks and many were killed. Businesses and items of value were taken. Jewish children could no longer attend schools. Jews had to wear white armbands with blue stars to mark them as outcasts. Kadysh lost his job and stayed indoors because Jewish males were taken from the street for forced labor. Samuel Kreps had sent them $300 and that kept them fed for a while. After that, Regina’s sister Rozia, a dentist, supported the family. Food was scarce and rationed and Jews got half as much as non-Jews. Regina, 13, the youngest, was sent to stand in the breadline. Polish children who identified Jews for the SS pointed out Regina and she was tossed out of line and beaten.

In April 1941, the family was forced into the ghetto. It was severely overcrowded because of 1000s of refugees and there was even less food. The family shared one small room. At the end of the year, Regina’s parents decided to smuggle her to Pionki to live with Rozia, although she did not want to go. The guard at the ghetto gate accepted a bribe to let Regina leave. She went by train to Pionki, where she took care of Rozia’s son Samek while Rozia worked. Pionki had the largest ammunition factory in Poland and a labor camp was set up to supply workers. After the ghetto was formed in Pionki, a non-Jewish friend of Rozia’s told her she had to find work for Regina, because not working made her conspicuous. He suggested the factory labor camp that was being formed and forged Regina’s paperwork to make her 16, the legal working age. Rozia paid a non-Jewish friend to take Samek and Rozia, Regina, and Leon took factory jobs. Regina worked with Polish civilians and cleaned windows. They left at night and returned to the ghetto. In August 1942, they were not allowed to leave the camp. They learned that the ghetto residents had been sent away on trains. Rozia was taken to the Gestapo because the Polish woman had turned in Samek and named Rozia as his mother. Regina and Leon were told later by a witness that Rozia had tried to escape with 18 month old Samek, rather than go to the trains, and both were shot. The Germans decided Regina had too much contact with Polish civilians and changed her job to unloading trains. Regina met and fell in love with 20 year old Shmuel Szpigel, who had left Kozienice in September 1942 to work in Pionki labor camp.

Around September 1944, the camp inmates were loaded on cattle cars and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Half the transport died before arrival. Shmuel and Regina agreed to meet in Kozienice if they survived. Men and women were separated during unloading. Regina was shaved, tattooed with prisoner number A14641, and given a striped uniform. They got very little food and had to stand outside for roll call for hours. She had to carry bricks back and forth. After six weeks, she was transported to Bomlitz slave labor camp, an underground munitions factory. She worked with dangerous gases that turned her hands yellow and cleaned volatile German anti-tank weapons. Failure to properly clean the weapons was considered sabotage and resulted in death. They were given underwear and sweaters to wear under their uniforms. There were Dutch civilian laborers in the Wehrmacht factory, and one man brought Regina an apple and bread daily. On October 15, they were transferred to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She was not assigned to work in the camp. It was filthy, with no sanitary facilities, and many people died every day from disease and starvation. After a short time, Regina was sent to Elsnig slave labor camp to work in the munitions factory. On April 13, 1945, Elsnig was evacuated and the inmates were put on cattle cars. On April 20, the SS told them they would be receiving an extra piece of bread for Hitler’s birthday. Shortly after the announcement, the train was bombed by Allied forces. Regina was injured, but not severely. She escaped into the woods with several others. Regina encountered a Soviet colonel, who told her she was liberated and Germany was defeated.

Regina and 14 other survivors went back to Poland, avoiding Soviet soldiers, and hiding in barns at night. In Radom, Regina waited for her family, until learning that her mother, brother, sisters, and brother-in-law had been sent to Treblinka killing center when the ghetto was liquidated. Her father had remained on a work detail in the ghetto, but was eventually sent to Treblinka. She was told that Shmuel was alive and he sent a horse and buggy to bring her to Kozienice. After they heard that Jews were being killed and attacked in many parts of Poland, they decided to leave and illegally entered Czechoslovakia. They went to Prague, then Germany, where they lived in Foehrenwald displaced persons camp in Waldram. Regina became ill and was hospitalized. She met a doctor who found her uncle Samuel in New York. Samuel sent papers signed by J. Edgar Hoover allowing her to come to the US. Samuel was Hoover’s tailor. They had to wait until their Polish quota number came up to emigrate. Regina learned that her brother Motek had illegally emigrated to the US, changed his name to Max, and joined the US Army. She delayed her wedding to Shmuel until he could attend. Regina and Shmuel married on May 21, 1946, in Foehrenwald. In October 1947, they sailed to New York. Shmuel changed his name to Samuel Spiegel. They settled in Washington, DC. Samuel worked with sheet metal and established his own business. Regina worked as a seamstress until she had children. They had three daughters. Regina and Samuel have shared their experiences for many years with community and school groups. For Regina, it is a way to keep her promise, to those who did not make it, to remember.
Credit Line:
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Regina and Samuel Spiegel
Funding Note:
The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
Physical Description:
a. Handcrafted, small, rectangular, silver colored metal box base with an iridescent, gold painted exterior. It has rounded corners and soldered seams.
b. Handcrafted, small, rectangular, shallow, silver colored metal box lid painted gold. The top has a tooled design with the initials RG and SS in the upper left and lower right corners and a heart pierced by an arrow in the center. The corners are rounded and the lid inserts inside the base to close.
Record last modified: 2015-09-01 16:31:00