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National Society of Colonial Daughters essay award with case won by a Polish Jewish refugee

Object | Accession Number: 1989.277.18 a-b

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    National Society of Colonial Daughters essay award with case won by a Polish Jewish refugee

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    Brief Narrative
    Medal and presentation case awarded in 1949 to twenty year old Nina Schuster by the National Society of Colonial Daughters "for a patriotic essay of superior merit, titled "The Contribution of Our Immigrants." Nina was originally from Rotkitno, Poland, where she lived with her parents Yeshua and Masha, and siblings Yitzthak and Chana. Rokitno was occupied by the Soviet Union in September 1939. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Nina's mother was arrested and hanged. Nina and her family were moved to Berisov ghetto (Barysau, Belarus.) In August 1942, Nina escaped to the forest during an SS raid. Shortly after this, the ghetto was surrounded and the inhabitants murdered by German SS and local Ukrainians. While hiding, Nina encountered an uncle and two cousins. They joined the Kopvak partisan group and Nina learned to be a nurse. In February 1943, the partisan commander Kopvak sent Nina to technical school in Moscow, where she remained until the war ended in May 1945. She went to Poland to search for survivors, but found none. Nina then went to Eschwege displaced persons camp in Germany. In February 1947, she left for America to join her maternal aunt.
    issue:  1949
    issue: United States
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Nina Schuster Merrick
    Issuer: National Society, Colonial Daughters of the Seventeenth Century
    Subject: Nina S. Merrick
    Nechama Szuster (later Nina Merrick)) was born in Rokitno, Poland, (Rokytne, Ukraine) on May 18, 1929, to Yeshua and Masha Bryk Szuster. Her father was a builder, mostly of ovens, but also houses. Nechama had two older siblings, a brother Yitzchak and a sister Chana. The family was orthodox and somewhat observant, but her father was especially devout. The family was divided politically divided. Her brother was an ardent Zionist, and her sister belonged to Dror, a Zionist organization, and her mother was communist. Nechama belonged to HaShomer Hatzair and attended Beth Sefer Tarbut, a private Hebrew school. Her sister attended the Polish school. They did not associate with many Polish people as most were very antisemitic. But the Jewish community was very closeknit and Nechama had a happy childhood.

    In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland from the west and the Soviet Union invaded from the east Rokitno was occupied by the Soviet Union. Her mother spoke Russian and was one of those chosen to teach the Russian constitution. The Hebrew school was closed. It reopened as a Yiddish school. Nechama’s mother did not want her to study Yiddish, so Nechama was enrolled in the Ukrainian school. In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. A pro-German Ukrainian group took over the government of the town. But it was a time of chaos and uncertainty as control of the village seemed to switch from one armed faction to another. Soon, SS personnel arrived and harsh anti-Jewish measures were enacted. Nechama and her family fled to a small village, Glinne, where most of her father's family lived. The first time she saw German soldiers was when they arrived with Polish police to arrest her mother. Her mother had been a delegate for the Soviet government, traveling to different districts and serving in court. Now Masha was targeted by Polish residents and taken away. A while later, they learned that all the Jewish residents of a nearby village had been killed by their Ukrainian neighbors. A few days later, a Ukrainian delegation arrived from that village to ask the Jews in Glinne to take the corpses away and bury them. Nechama’s maternal uncle Necham Bryk arranged the transport and burial. Soon after this, German troops arrived and Nechama and her family were forcibly relocated to a few Jewish houses surrounded by barbed wire in Berisov (Barysau, Belarus.) They had to wear yellow patches that said Jude on the front and back of their clothes. All residents were required to do forced labor. Nechama and her sister Chana peeled potatoes for German soldiers. Her father and brother worked outside the ghetto for Ukrainians. One night in August/September 1942, they were awakened by barking dogs and shouting. The SS raided their home. Her maternal uncle, who was head of the ghetto was shot, along with his young son. Nechama ran to the room where her father was praying. Soldiers were there, waiting for him to finish, and one of them grabbed Nina and said he was going to kill her. In the chaos, she managed to pull free and jump out of a window. She ran off and hid in the woods.

    In the morning, Nechama encountered her paternal uncle Josef Szuster. They survived for weeks by begging from the Ukrainians, although it was risky. The Germans promised a pound of salt to anyone who turned in a Jew. Necham went to the home of a man who had worked for her father. He yelled out to alert the Germans, but she escaped. At another farm, the Ukrainian farmer was very kind, asked about their family, and told them that Josek’s two daughters were hiding in his haystacks. After a few months, they found and joined the Ukrainian partisans. The group commander, Sydor Artemovych Kovpak, a World War I hero, with one of the oldest and most effective partisan fighting units, was sympathetic to 13 year old Nechama, the only surviving member of her family. He told her he would watch over her as if she were his daughter. Nechama was taught to be a nurse, and to wash wounded fighters and hold them down during operations.

    In February 1943, the unit was ordered to join a Soviet offensive in the Carpathians and Kovpak sent Nechama to Moscow to keep her safe and to attend technical school. She worked in a factory and attended school. She was in Moscow until after the end of the war in May 1945. She then was given a trip to Poland to search for relatives. This was when she learned that her mother had been hanged after being arrested in 1941. Her father, sister and brother were killed around the time of the raid during which Nechama escaped. The village had been surrounded by German SS and local Ukrainian auxiliaries, who destroyed the ghetto and its inhabitants. Her entire extended family perished during the war. Instead of returning to Moscow, Nechama went to Eschwege displaced persons camp in Germany. She later lived on a Jewish collective farm. In 1947, Nechama was contacted by a maternal aunt in Washington DC, who wanted to bring her to America. On February 7, Nechama left from Bremen on the Ernie Pyle, arriving in New York on February 18. She resumed the schooling. Nina met Lajb Kusmirek, later Leon Merrick, at a party at her aunt’s one night. He was born Zgierz, Poland, in 1926. After the German invasion, he and his family left for Łódź, and lived in the ghetto from 1940 until its liquidation in 1944. Lajb survived slave labor camps, Kielce, and Czestochowa, and after being sent to Germany in December 1944, Buchenwald and Flossenbürg concentration camp. He was liberated during a death march by US troops on April 23, 1945. Leon emigrated to the US in 1949 and was drafted into the US Army in 1952. Leon and Nina married in 1952 and had two daughters. Nina and Leon have shared their experiences with numerous groups and volunteered for many years at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

    Physical Details

    English Latin
    Physical Description
    a. Circular, gold colored, 1.375 diameter medal with an attached striped ribbon. The front has an embossed image of a right facing eagle with spread wings clutching balanced scales in its talons, perched on a striped shield. Across the center of the shield is an open book; the scales dangle over the pages. On each side is an unfurled scroll with embossed Latin text: LUX JUSTITIA (Light of Justice.) An unfurled scroll with embossed English text borders the rim. The reverse is embossed with 4 lines of English text. The ribbon has 3 vertical stripes: red, white, blue. It is looped around a bail and ring on top of the medal, with a C clasp bar pin sewn at the top.
    b. Rectangular, cardboard box covered in dark purple velvet, which also covers the lid hinge. Dark purple leather is glued to the underside. A yellow, leather trimmed cardboard box is fitted into the base, with a removable cardboard insert covered in dark purple velvet with a dark purple ribbon loop at the top. The recessed lid interior is lined with yellow satin, which also covers the hinge.
    a: Height: 3.250 inches (8.255 cm) | Width: 1.500 inches (3.81 cm) | Depth: 0.375 inches (0.953 cm)
    b: Height: 1.625 inches (4.128 cm) | Width: 3.375 inches (8.573 cm) | Depth: 4.000 inches (10.16 cm)
    a : metal, ribbon, thread
    b : cardboard, cloth, paper, ribbon, adhesive

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The medal was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1989 by Nina Schuster Merrick.
    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:
    2022-07-28 18:29:36
    This page:

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