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Wrist watch with a brown band and engraved initials saved from Vilna ghetto

Object | Accession Number: 2005.198.2

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    Wrist watch with a brown band and engraved initials saved from Vilna ghetto

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Wrist watch with a brown band owned by Tema Ginzburg that originally belonged to her uncle, Benjamin Ginzburg. Before the family was imprisoned in the Jewish ghetto in Vilna (Vilnius), Lithuania, he altered it from a pocket watch to a wrist watch to make it easier to keep in the ghetto. During the liquidation of one of two ghettos in October 1941, Benjamin was deported to Estonia, then Stutthof concentration camp, where he was killed. He gave the watch to his brother, Moise, Tema's father, before leaving. Moise wore the watch for a while; he was deported to Chelmno concentration camp and killed in 1943. At some point, the watch was given to Tema. The Ginzburg family were prosperous merchants in Vilna, Lithuania, who experienced increasingly severe persecution as Jews through the Soviet annexation in 1940 and the German occupation in the summer of 1941. Over 7000 Jews were massacred by the Germans and the Lithuanians in the Ponary forest near Vilna that summer, including Tema's grandmother and uncle. In 1943, the Germans liquidated the Vilna ghettos. Tema's mother and father were deported and killed. Nineteen year old Tema escaped and was sheltered throughout the war by a friend of her mother's, a Polish woman, Josefa Mackiewicz. In 1953, she learned by chance that her twin sister had survived the Holocaust and was living in the United States.
    Date
    use:  1941 September-1943 September
    Geography
    use: Vilna ghetto (Poland) (historic); Vilnius (Lithuania)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of George de Ratafia
    Markings
    watch face, under the 12 : O. FRESARD / LUCERNE
    back, engraved : E.B.L.
    Contributor
    Subject: Tema de Ratafia
    Biography
    Tema Ginzburg was born on November 6, 1925, to Moise and Rachel Rubenstein Ginzburg in Vilna, Poland (Vilnius, Lithuania). Moise, born in 1899, was a coal and lumber merchant and Rachel, born in Russia, was a teacher. Tema had an older brother, Benjamin, and a twin sister, Eta. Although the family was not religiously observant, the children attended the Jewish school in Vilna where they learned Yiddish. Moise bartered fuel to pay for their tuition.

    Antisemitism had long been a dominant force in Lithuania; pogroms occurred regularly. In the late 1930s, Jews were no longer allowed to operate certain businesses, and Moise’s business suffered greatly. In 1940, the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania. As Tema remembers it, most of the antisemitism under Russian rule came from the Polish working class. Blue collar workers organized a number of pogroms, with the Poles yelling: “The Jews may have the houses, but the streets belong to us.” These antisemitic groups enforced boycotts of Jewish owned businesses, preventing other Poles from shopping there, which devastated the Jewish community. Most were merchants since they were barred from many other professions. Her father’s business began to fail and other family members had to help him financially. Her brother, Benjamin, was extremely gifted intellectually, and for this reason was the only Jew allowed to attend the non-Jewish gymnasium.

    Everything changed when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Thousands of Jews fled Vilna for the Soviet Union, but most did not have time to escape before the Germans arrived. Almost immediately, the Germans began issuing anti-Jewish decrees. They staged an attack on their own soldiers and leaflets were distributed throughout Vilna that proclaimed the Jews had killed the Germans and had to be punished. German and Lithuanian killing squads began their work and by the end of August 1941, over 7,000 Jews, including Tema’s grandmother and uncle, had been shot in the Ponary forest near Vilna.

    On September 6, 1941, the Germans established two ghettos in Vilna. Tema and her family were crammed into one-room in the larger ghetto, ghetto #1. She remembers that the Poles and the Lithuanians were very excited to get possession of the former Jewish residents’ homes and belongings. The ghettos were filthy and unsanitary. There was little food or water. In mid-October, the Germans liquidated the smaller ghetto and massacred the inhabitants in the Ponary forest. Tema's aunt and uncle fled the ghetto for their hometown, but were denounced by their former maid and killed. Tema's father received a work permit, but her mother did not. To assist the family, Tema and her siblings found work in the ghetto; Tema cleaned the latrines. Though most of the Germans were quite brutal, one named Otto treated her well and sometimes gave her extra food. After the initial mass killings, the family lived in relative calm from spring 1942 to spring 1943. In the summer of 1943, the Germans began deporting Jews to Estonia and to concentration camps. The liquidation of the ghetto was completed by the end of September 1943. Children, the elderly, and the sick were sent to the Sobibor extermination camp or were shot in the Ponary forest. The surviving men were sent to labor camps in Estonia, while the women were sent to labor camps in Latvia.

    During the liquidation, Tema and her friend, Esther, fled to the home of an acquaintance of her mother, Josefa Mackiewicz, a Polish woman born in Kovno, who she knew would be willing to hide one child. Since Tema was blond and Aryan-looking, her mother sent her. Esther could not come to Josefa's house, but Tema could not bear to leave her behind so they left together. They ran to the woods, zigzagging to avoid being shot. After a few days, the forest supervisor saw them and shot and killed Esther. Tema escaped and returned to Josefa's home. She explained why she was there and Josefa decided that it was her Christian duty to protect her. After a few weeks, an antisemitic neighbor discovered Tema and threatened to denounce Josefa. Both women fled to the home of Joseph Raugiewicz, a factory owner in Kalisz. Joseph often helped Jews in exchange for money or sexual favors and he sued Tema and another young Jewish girl there at the time for sexual purposes. Joseph provided Tema with false Christian papers claiming her name was Leocadia Rynkiewich and Josefa had her baptized Teresa. The Gestapo arrested Joseph for harboring Jews, but his friend Piotr Piewcewicz warned Tema in time for her to escape. Turned away by family friends who feared to take her in because they had young children, Tema slept in burned out houses and lived on the streets. After a few weeks, the Gestapo released Joseph, and Tema returned to his home. Joseph sent Tema to Josefa, who at that time was also harboring a teacher, a lawyer, and a doctor in houses Joseph owned. They could not afford rent, so Tema again had to provide him with sexual favors. Josefa sheltered Tema until liberation by the Russians in July 1944.

    After the war, Tema moved to the Ribben region of Poland. She hitched a ride with a Russian soldier, who raped her. She eventually found work in a kitchen in Ribben. She disliked it there and moved to Warsaw, where she had a cousin. Soon she met her future husband, surname de Ratafia. Tema insisted to him that Josefa must come to live with them because she had risked so much to save Tema during the war. He agreed and Josefa lived with them for the next ten years, until she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1957. Tema also stayed in touch with Joseph and Piotr who became good friends of her husband. She learned that her mother, Rachel, and brother, Benjamin, had been sent to Estonia, then to Stutthof concentration camp, where they were killed. Her father, Moise, was murdered at Chelmno extermination camp. In 1953, an acquaintance of Tema's told her that she had met someone who looked just like her. In that way, Tema discovered that her twin sister, Eta, had survived and emigrated to the United States.

    Physical Details

    Language
    French
    Category
    Timepieces
    Object Type
    Wrist watches (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Rectangular, silver colored metal watch with bulbous sides and a rectangular bar attached to the top and bottom. It has a white circular face with a glass cover, blue hands, and black Arabic numerals, except for a red 12. Near the 6 is a circle with a counter for seconds. A narrow, brown, leather band is attached with thread to the metal pins at the top and bottom of the body. There is a gold colored metal buckle at one end and a turn screw on the right side. There are initials engraved on the back.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 8.625 inches (21.908 cm) | Width: 1.375 inches (3.493 cm) | Depth: 0.125 inches (0.318 cm)
    Materials
    overall : metal, leather, glass, enamel

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The wrist watch was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2005 by George de Ratafia, the son of Tema de Ratafia.
    Record last modified:
    2022-09-12 14:42:14
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn522913

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