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Prayer book owned by a Jewish Austrian musician and concentration camp inmate

Object | Accession Number: 2017.101.2

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    Brief Narrative
    A 1913 compilation prayer book (Seder Tefillat Yisrael) owned by Herschel Herman Merkur in Vienna, Austria, before the Holocaust and brought with Adolf (later William), one of his 7 children, when he immigrated to Australia postwar. On March 13, 1938, Germany annexed Austria. New legislation was created that quickly restricted Jewish life. Two of Herman’s older children, Lise and Isak, emigrated. In November, following the Kristallnacht pogrom, Herman’s son Bernhard was arrested and imprisoned in Germany, and later emigrated. In fall 1939, Herman and his family were moved into the ghetto and he was forced to brush tar onto the asphalt streets. His daughter, Franzi, escaped to France not long before Herman, his wife, Mina, and their youngest sons, Sigi and Adolf, were deported to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia, in October 1942. In November, Mina died of dysentery. On September 28, 1944, Adolf and Sigi, were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center in German-occupied Poland. In October, Herman was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he was sent to the gas chamber and killed on October 9, 1944. In May 1945, Sigi died in Kaufering VII, a sub-camp of Dachau concentration camp. After the war, 6 of Herman’s 7 children were still alive, three having survived imprisonment in several transit, labor, and concentration camps.
    Seder Tefillat Yisrael
    Alternate Title
    Prayer Book - Prayers for Israel, German translation
    publication:  1913
    publication: Vienna (Austria)
    publication: Budapest (Hungary)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Janet Merkur
    spine, stamped : Hebrew characters [Seder?]
    Subject: Herschel H. Merkur
    Original owner: Herschel H. Merkur
    Publisher: Verlag von Jos. Schlesinger
    Herschel Herman Strauchler-Merkur was born on February 23, 1882, in Chodorow, Austro-Hungary (now Khodoriv, Ukraine), to Moses Merkur and his wife. Herschel often went by his middle name, Herman, or the nickname Hersch. He carried his mother’s maiden name, Strauchler, because the Austrian authorities would not acknowledge his parents’ marriage, which was performed by a rabbi and was not a civil marriage. Herman was a talented musician and played the fiddle. He married Hermina (Mina) Mircie Fendel. Mina was born in February 1885, in Kalush, Austro-Hungary (now Ukraine), to Moses and Ruchel Thalenfeld Fendel. In approximately 1905, the couple and their son, Isak (1902), moved to Vienna. They had 6 more children: Auguste (Gusti, 1907), Lise (1914), Bernhard (1917), Sigmund (Sigi, 1920), Adolf (later William, 1922), and Franziska (Franzi, 1925.) During World War I, Herman fought for Austro-Hungary. After the war, Herman, a Klezmer or traditional Jewish musician, started a musical ensemble, Ruska Ukraninska Troopa Volga. He led the ensemble, which often played on Polish, Russian, and German occasions, at varied society and community events, and as the sound track for silent movies. These performances were not very frequent, and without a second income source the family was not well-off. They lived in a crowded, one bedroom apartment in a large building, and the younger children shared beds. Adolf and Sigi were both musically inclined, and would perform solo or with Herman to bring in extra money. Herman and Mina often spoke Yiddish, but their children all spoke German and attended local schools. They were very traditional and regularly celebrated Shabbos and the high holidays. While in Vienna, Herman and the family began using Merkur as their last name, dropping the Strauchler most of the time. Herman’s oldest daughter, Gusti, married a Catholic and converted.

    On March 13, 1938, Austria was annexed into Germany, in what became known as the "Anschluss." German authorities quickly created new legislation that restricted Jewish life. The existing anti-Semitism in Vienna increased steadily, and many non-Jewish friends stopped interacting with the Merkur family. Herman’s daughter, Franzi, could no longer attend school, and his son, Adolf, lost his apprenticeship when the Jewish tailor he worked for had to close his shop. Many Jewish families began to leave, but Herman was not particularly political and believed that the Germans were only going after the wealthy Jews, so they would leave his family alone. Herman’s daughter, Lise, immigrated to Switzerland, and his oldest son, Isak, went to France. On November 9 and 10, during Kristallnacht, the Kaschlgasse Synagogue was burned down and German authorities came into the Merkur family’s building to round up Jewish people. The building was large, so the authorities did not make it to the their apartment. Herman’s son, Bernhard, was arrested and imprisoned in a jail in Aachen, Germany. After 4 months, he was released and immigrated to Belgium. Both Isak and Bernhard wrote to Herman, requesting that their younger brothers be allowed to join them. Herman forbade it because he believed they should stay with him and Mina.

    In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. In Vienna, the authorities began to regularly deport Jews in large numbers and moved Herman’s family into an apartment shared with 2 other families in the city’s second district, where they were concentrating Jewish families. Herman was forced to brush tar on the city’s asphalt streets, while Adolf made bricks and Sigi collected abandoned furniture from the homes of deported Jews. Sigi worked for the German authorities, which kept his family’s names off of the deportation lists. Herman’s youngest child, Franzi, managed to escape to France. In early October 1942, Herman and his family were ordered to report for deportation or be shot. On October 9, Herman, his wife, Mina, and their youngest sons, Sigi and Adolf, were deported to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia, on transport 45, train Da 525. Herman and Mina were put into small, crowded houses with older people, while Sigi and Adolf were housed in a bug-infested barracks with male forced laborers. Herman’s wife became ill very quickly, and on November 9, Mina, aged 57, died of dysentery. Adolf used his tailoring skills to make a few suits for a member of the Judenrat, Rabbi Mermelstein, which, when combined with Herman’s special status as a World War I veteran, kept the family’s names off of a deportation list. On September 28, 1944, Herman’s youngest sons, Adolf and Sigi, were deported on a crowded train. On October 2, Herman, like other veterans, lost the special status that had protected him from earlier transport. Seven days later, he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center in German-occupied Poland, on transport train Ep-1056. Upon arrival Herman, aged 62, was immediately sent to the gas chamber and murdered.

    In 1945, after Germany’s surrender on May 7, Herman’s surviving children returned to Vienna, where Gusti and her husband were still living. Lise and Bernhard returned from Switzerland, where they had reunited during the war. Franzi and Isak had both been imprisoned in French-administered detention camps: Franzi in Agde and Rivesaltes, and Isak in Le Vernet and Drancy. Isak was later deported to Auschwitz-Monowitz concentration camp in German occupied-Poland and then sub-camps of Buchenwald, Natzwiler, and Dachau concentration camps in Germany. Adolf and Sigi had been deported and were held at Auschwitz-Birkenau and then Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. Both contracted typhus in Kaufering VII, a Dachau sub-camp. Adolf recovered and Sigi died on May 2, 1945. Bernhard married and immigrated to Switzerland, as did his sister Lise. Franzi and Isak stayed in Vienna, and Adolf changed his name to William Adolf, married a Kindertransport refugee, Regina Morgenstern, and immigrated to Australia to raise a family.

    Physical Details

    Hebrew German
    Physical Description
    Book; 268 p. ; 10 cm.
    Prayer book with a worn black paper binding, Hebrew characters on the spine, and gilded page edges. The covers are embossed with decorative geometric and scrollwork elements with the ten commandment tablets (Luchot HaBrit) in a recessed panel on the front.
    overall: Height: 4.000 inches (10.16 cm) | Width: 2.875 inches (7.302 cm) | Depth: 0.875 inches (2.223 cm)
    overall : paper, ink, cardboard, adhesive, thread, gold leaf

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Geographic Name
    Vienna (Austria)

    Administrative Notes

    The prayer book was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2017 by Janet Merkur, the granddaughter of Herschel Herman Merkur and daughter of Regina Morgenstern and William "Bill" Adolf Merkur.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 18:16:00
    This page:

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