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Wooden canvas covered trunk used by Jewish refugees

Object | Accession Number: 2004.322.1

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    Wooden canvas covered trunk used by Jewish refugees


    Brief Narrative
    Boxlike trunk used by Renee and Sima Schwalb when they emigrated in 1949 to the United States from Belgium. In 1939, Sima and 2 year old Renee fled Vienna, Austria, with eleven other family members. They traveled by foot and Sima had to carry Renee most of the way. They reached Brussels, Belgium, where a Catholic couple, the Degalas, gave them refuge. After Germany occupied Belgium in spring 1940, it became too dangerous to stay together. Renee was sent to a convent for two years, and then moved to other hiding places. She was in an orphanage in Namur when Belgium was liberated in January 1945. Sima was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943. After the German surrender in May 1945, Sima returned to Belgium and mother and daughter were reunited. In 1949, they emigrated to the United States where they finally joined Renee's father Nicholas who had been there since 1939.
    use:  approximately 1950
    received: Belgium
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Renée Schwalb Fritz
    Subject: Renee Fritz
    Renee Schwalb was born on April 4, 1937, in Vienna, Austria, to Nicholas and Sima Schwalb. Nicholas was the owner of a successful men's clothing store. In March 1938, Nazi Germany merged Austria into the German Reich. Anti-Jewish laws were enacted to persecute Jews and exclude them from Austrian society. Nicholas's business was confiscated and his stock seized. In early1939, Nicholas went to the United States in order to prepare for the rest of his family to emigrate. Unfortunately he could not secure permission for his family to leave.

    As persecutions increased and Jews were being deported to ghettos and camps, the extended family decided to flee Austria. Thirteen family members traveled, mostly on foot, in small groups from Vienna to Belgium. Sima had to carry two year old Renee for most of the journey. Sima had a small suitcase that she would periodically open and Renee knew that meant they would have something to eat. Her mother had some jewelry that she bartered for supplies during the trek. Some members of her family, including Renee, stayed in Brussels with Mr. and Mrs. Degelas, a Catholic couple. After the Germans invaded Belgium in 1940, it became too dangerous to remain there. Renee was sent, with the help of the underground, to live in a Sisters of Charity convent in northern Belgium and given the name Suzanne LeDent. She learned to pray with a rosary and won medals for memorizing Catholic prayers. After two years, the convent was suspected of hiding Jews, so Renee was sent to live on a dairy farm in the Belgian countryside with a Protestant family. She was later sent to an orphanage in Namur.

    When the town was liberated by American troops in January of 1945, the eight year old girl became attached to American Serviceman Jack Schultz who was going to adopt Renee until he learned that she had surviving family members. Her uncle, Bernard Bressler, had been searching for her through the American Red Cross. He came for Renee and re-united her with her mother who had spent two years in Auschwitz concentration camp. The long separation made their relationship strained for some time. After waiting four years to rise to the top of the Austrian quota list, Renee and her mother emigrated to the United States to join Renee's father, Nicholas. Renee matriculated into the American high-school system with much difficulty because of the language barrier. She went on to graduate from Boston University. Renee married an American, Jesse Fritz, and they had two daughters.

    Physical Details

    Physical Description
    Rectangular brown canvas-covered wooden trunk with the lid attached to the base by metal hinges. There are 2 wooden support bands attached by metal plates and nails to the lid and base at the center. The leather handle is attached by a metal strap and nails on the right side of the base; a handle for the left side is missing. A metal lock and 2 metal buckles are attached to the base and lid. The interior is lined with offwhite canvas. There are stains and paper labels adhered on all exterior sides.
    overall: Height: 30.000 inches (76.2 cm) | Width: 28.500 inches (72.39 cm) | Depth: 20.000 inches (50.8 cm)
    overall : wood, canvas, metal, leather, paper, adhesive, ink

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The trunk was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004 by Renée Schwalb Fritz, the daughter of Sima Schwalb.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-09-12 08:02:32
    This page:

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