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Wooden sculpture of a grieving woman made by a Lithuanian Jewish artist

Object | Accession Number: 2016.111.1

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    Wooden sculpture of a grieving woman made by a Lithuanian Jewish artist

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Wooden sculpture depicting a woman grieving over a loved one’s body carved by Jakovas Bunka to commemorate the Jews who were massacred in Plungė, Lithuania in 1941. In August 1940, Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union. On June 22, 1941, German forces invaded Soviet-occupied Lithuania, and Jakovas’ family fled east into the Soviet Union. Many Jews from Plungė were unable to flee, and within days local collaborators locked them all in the Great Synagogue with no food, water or fresh air. On Sunday, July 15, the Jews were marched to a forest where the adults were shot by drunken guards and the smallest children were beaten to death to conserve bullets. Roughly 1,800 victims were thrown into mass graves, dead or wounded, and covered with dirt. Similar actions were carried out across the area, leaving more than 2,200 Jews dead by the end of July. The Bunka family boarded a refugee train to Novosibirsk, Siberia, and settled on a collective farm nearby. Jakovas, his brother, Avrom, and their father, Leib, joined the Red Army. Leib and Avrom were killed in 1943 and1945 respectively, while Jakovas was among the soldiers that rode into Berlin in April 1945. Jakovas remained in Plungė to commemorate the Jewish culture that once thrived there and maintain the Koshanner Memorial honoring the Jews who were massacred by Lithuanian fascists and Nazi collaborators.
    Artwork Title
    Day of Pain
    Date
    creation:  after 1983-before 2014
    Geography
    creation: Plungė (Lithuania)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Esther and Howard Margol
    Markings
    front left base, carved : Hebrew characters [Day of Pain]
    Signature
    back right base, carved : Hebrew characters [Y Bonek?]
    Contributor
    Subject: Jakovas Bunka
    Artist: Jakovas Bunka
    Previous owner: Howard Margol
    Subject: Howard Margol
    Biography
    Jakovas (Jacob Josef) Bunka (1923-2014) was born in Plungė, Lithuania, to Leib (1895-1943) and Toybe Ril Bunka. Jakovas had three sisters, Dina, Hene, and Chane, and one brother, Avrom Lazar. His father fought for Lithuanian independence after World War I, and was awarded a Freedom medal and some land to work. Roughly half the town’s population of 5,000 were Jewish. Jakovas’ family regularly attended synagogue and celebrated the High Holidays and Jakovas attended a local Jewish primary school. In 1933, the Bunka family moved to Klaipėda (previously Memel, Germany), where Leib worked in a factory. Following his Bar Mitzvah on July 13, 1936, a Jewish community representative proposed sending Jakovas to the Telzer Mechine to prepare for Yeshiva [a school for Talmudic study]. Jakovas went to live in Telšiai, where he was supported by the community because his parents could not afford to help.

    In March 1939, Klaipėda and the surrounding territory was annexed by Germany. All of the Jews and many Lithuanians were forced to leave, especially current or former soldiers, like Leib. Jakovas, returned to Plungė with his family. He was a talented woodworker and apprenticed with a local carpenter. In September, Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland, and many Polish Jews fled to Lithuania. In August 1940, the Soviet Union annexed the remainder of Lithuania. Under Soviet rule, Jews lost their economic and cultural autonomy, had their religious and educational institutions shuttered, and their property confiscated by the state.

    On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded Lithuania, and Jakovas and his family fled eastward with 300 other Jews. German planes shot at civilians as they fled, and bands of Lithuanian fascists stopped Jews and shot them. Within days local collaborators rounded up the remaining Jews and locked them in the Great Synagogue with no food, water, or fresh air for two weeks. Some were dragged into the closed courtyard and were forced to burn their holy books, carry heavy wooden blocks until they collapsed, and endured beatings, whippings, and crude taunts by the Lithuanian guards. On July 14, forty Jewish men were taken into the nearby Koshan forest to dig six large pits. The following day, a Sunday, the Jews were driven out of the synagogue and marched through the main streets as their neighbors watched. They were marched to the forest and the adults were shot by guards who were getting drunk on whiskey and the smallest children were beaten to death to conserve bullets. Roughly 1,800 victims were thrown into the pits, dead or wounded, and covered with dirt. Similar actions were carried out across the area and more than 2,200 Jews had been murdered by the end of July.

    Jakovas’ family escaped into the Soviet Union, and kept moving until they reached Pechora. They lost track of Jakovas’ older sister and her husband, who ended up going south to Tashkent (now Uzbekistan). Jakovas and his family boarded a packed refugee train to southwestern Siberia. The train cars lacked bathrooms and were so packed that people slept sitting up. Their only provisions were cold water and a daily bucket of soup for each car. Children, like Jakovas’ sister Hene, would beg for food from other refugee trains. After two months of travel, the Bunka family arrived in Novosibirsk. They went on to Bolotnoye, where they found temporary lodging in a basement. They had no money and were often starving. Once, Jakovas was able to feed everyone with potato skins he found and roasted. Eventually, Jakovas’ torn clothing and foreign language raised suspicions, and he was arrested. A special evacuation representative for Lithuanian citizens came to speak with Jakovas, released him, and promised that his family would be helped. Soon, people from a nearby kolchoz [collective farm] near several other farms hosting families from Plungė, took Jakovas’ family to live with them. The Bunkas were warmly welcomed and given a small, cramped room.

    On February 21, 1942, Jakovas, his father, and many other refugee men from Plungė were mobilized with the 16th Lithuanian Division of the Red Army. Jakovas, 19, became a machine gunner assigned to a Special Machine Gun Battalion, while his father joined a regiment of foot soldiers. That summer, Jakovas learned that his sister’s Polish husband died of starvation, and that she had joined the family in Siberia. In early 1943, the Division set out to join a larger force. For 10 days, Jakovas trekked through heavy snow carrying ammunition and eating flour mixed with hot water. In bitterly cold weather, the Division moved into place on the Oryol Steppes near Alexeyevka and Kursk-Oryol, along the Soviet front. Jakovas was severely wounded during a bloody battle and was taken to a hospital in Zlatoust. Another man from Plungė arrived at the hospital and told Jakovas that his father had been killed in battle on March 8. Later, Jakovas was assigned to the Dansk Cossack Corps, which marched through White Russia (Belarus) and Poland in 1944. Jakovas’ brother, Avrom, joined the army and served at Field Post 54 in Kaliningrad and was killed on March 12. In early 1945, Jakovas was shot in the neck as his unit advanced on Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany. In April, after he recovered, Jakovas rode into Berlin as part of The Thundering Cavalry Guardsmen of the Twenty-First Cavalry Regiment.

    On May 9, 1945, the war ended in Europe. Jakovas served in the Soviet Occupying Military in Germany until spring 1947 when he was discharged as a highly decorated, non-commissioned officer. His mother and sisters had returned to Plungė, so he joined them. Jakovas worked as a military instructor and a housing inspector before returning to carpentry at a furniture factory. In 1950, Jakovas married a Lithuanian woman, Dalija, and they had three children. His sisters married and, like many others in Plungė, they and their mother immigrated to Israel. Jakovas stayed in Plungė to commemorate the Jewish culture that once thrived there. After retiring in 1983, Jakovas began to carve sculptures with Jewish themes. His work was exhibited often and he became a prominent, Lithuanian folk artist. He was responsible for maintaining and protecting the Koshanner Memorial, ten mass grave sites near Plungė and placed commemorative wooden sculptures and memorial stones at each. By 1999, Jakovas was the last Jew living in Plungė.
    Howard Margol (1924-2017) and his identical twin brother Hilbert (b.1924) were born in Jacksonville, Florida, to Morris and Sarah Margol. The twins had an older brother Melvin (1921-1992) and a younger sister Bernice (later Wolf, b. 1930). The twins did everything together, including graduating from high school early in January 1942. Howard knew that he and Hilbert would eventually be selected for military service, and wanted to spend as much time in college as possible. During his freshman year at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Howard participated in ROTC with his brother, and they both served in a horse drawn artillery unit. In October, US Army representatives approached Howard, Hilbert, and many of their friends with a proposal: if the young men enlisted in the Army Reserve, they would be able to finish school before being called up for active duty. This convinced both Howard and Hilbert to enlist in the Reserve. Four months later, both were called up for active duty. They reported to Camp Blanding, Florida, on April 3, 1943, and several days later, they were moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for basic training.

    Howard and Hilbert were slated to attend Officer Training School, but a friend on the general’s staff got them reassigned to the Army Service Training Program (ASTP) so they could stay in school. The program sent soldiers to universities in order to fill demand for junior officers with particular technical skills like engineering, foreign languages, and medicine. They attended Syracuse University and the University of Illinois from the fall of 1943 into February 1944, when the training program was ended. In March, Private First Class Howard Margol was assigned to the 104th Infantry, nicknamed the Timberwolf Division, and sent to desert training at Camp Granite in the Mojave Desert of California. Shortly after his arrival, Howard’s Division was sent to Camp Carson in Colorado, for mountain training because the front had moved from North Africa to Italy. Hilbert was assigned to the 42nd Infantry, nicknamed the Rainbow Division, and sent to Camp Gruber in Oklahoma. The brothers wanted to be together and Howard kept requesting a transfer to the 42nd. Howard asked his mother to send a letter to the White House requesting that her sons be allowed to serve together, and she did so. The request was successful, and in the summer of 1944, Howard was transferred to Battery B, 392nd Field Artillery in the 42nd Division, with Hilbert.

    In December 1944, the Division boarded the USS General Gordon to Marseilles, France. In February 1945, the 42nd Division entered combat near Strasbourg, France. In March, the Division crossed into Germany and captured Dahn. While the 42nd was resting and reequipping, the Division Chaplain, Rabbi Eli Bonner, realized that Passover would begin in a few days. He printed a special edition of the Haggadah and returned to France to acquire wine, chickens, and fresh vegetables so that a proper Seder could be held for the Jewish soldiers. The Seder was held in a former German school where locals served more than 1,500 soldiers from all nearby units, including Howard and Hilbert. The Division crossed the Rhine River, and in April, captured Wertheim, Wurzburg, Furth, and Donauworth. On April 29th, the 42nd Infantry was one of three Divisions to liberate Dachau concentration camp, which held more than 30,000 prisoners. The 392nd had just advanced to a new position, and Howard and Hilbert were manning guns near each other when they noticed an odd smell in the air. One of the jeep drivers came up to them and said there was a strange camp they might want to see. After a five minute walk through the woods, they reached Dachau. The first thing Howard saw was a rail siding near the main gate with 35 or 40 railcars piled with dead bodies. In the camp, Howard saw many inmates and barracks and realized what the smell had been when he spotted the crematorium ovens. Soon after, the 42nd Division advanced to the southeast and captured Munich.

    On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered. Howard and Hilbert remained on occupational duty manning border checkpoints and dealing with refugees in Salzburg, Austria. One Friday, Howard’s unit was transporting several thousand Jewish refugees to a resort town in the Alps when, near sunset, cries went up throughout the convoy. The refugees refused to travel on the Sabbath, which would begin at sundown. Howard understood their concerns, but tried to explain that if they went just 20 more minutes, they could be in very comfortable hotels with hot food. The leaders insisted that they be able to celebrate one of the first Sabbaths they had the opportunity to observe in years. The soldiers pulled out blankets and set up mobile kitchens so that the convoy could stay on the side of the road until sundown on Saturday. That winter, Howard supervised German prisoners as they chopped wood to heat the displaced persons camps around Salzburg. In March 1946, Howard and Hilbert joined the 83rd Infantry Division in order to return to the US where they were honorably discharged in April. Howard and Hilbert returned to The University of Florida and in 1948, graduated with degrees in accounting. On June 28, 1948, Howard married Esther Landey (b. 1928) of Valdosta, Georgia. Howard and Hilbert joined their brother Melvin’s furniture business in Jacksonville. Howard and Esther had four children and eventually settled in Atlanta, Georgia. When Howard retired in the early 1990s, the family business had 42 locations along the east coast. As a retiree, Howard became very interested in genealogy and became a respected authority on Lithuanian genealogical research, leading Roots Tours to Lithuania for 20 years. He and Esther also began the Lithuania Latvia Fund to help rebuild Jewish communities in those nations.

    Physical Details

    Language
    Yiddish
    Classification
    Art
    Category
    Sculpture
    Object Type
    Wood sculpture (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Hand carved, light brown linden wood sculpture of a woman covering her face as she stands over the prone body of a smaller figure on the ground. She has straight, long hair worn loose down her back and stands upright, her hands raised to cover her face completely. Her simple, loose fitting, full length dress has a thick collar and the sleeves have slid down her forearms. Behind her is a tree with a forked top with all of its branches cut away. At her feet, the smaller figure wears long, loose clothing and lies face up on its back, eyes closed, with its rounded face framed by shoulder length, straight hair. The figure’s knees are drawn up and its arms are raised over the chest, hands held up towards the woman. The smaller figure is framed by 2 slender tree stumps cut low to the ground. The figures rise from an irregularly shaped oval base with the title and artist’s signature carved into the smooth edges in Hebrew characters and red cloth glued to the underside. The tree’s forked top is broken and has been reattached with adhesive.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 11.375 inches (28.893 cm) | Width: 7.000 inches (17.78 cm) | Depth: 5.250 inches (13.335 cm)
    Materials
    overall : wood, cloth, adhesive

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The sculpture was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2016 by Esther and Howard Margol.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-25 16:55:38
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn531294

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