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Skull faced hand puppet created by a German Jewish Holocaust survivor and World War II veteran

Object | Accession Number: 2017.213.2

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    Skull faced hand puppet created by a German Jewish Holocaust survivor and World War II veteran

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Handmade, papier-mâché hand puppet with a skull head, created by Albert Guenther Hess in New York as a way to cope with his experiences as a Holocaust survivor and soldier in World War II. Albert Guenther Hess’s family owned a successful chemical factory in the town of Pirna, Germany. Albert studied law, but also had a passion for music and film. In 1933, Albert was fired from his legal position in the Ministry of Justice because he was Jewish. He then took a position as a legal advisor for his family’s business. In 1937, he began working in Belgium as a representative for his family’s company. On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded Belgium and Albert, a German national, was arrested by the Belgian police and detained in Saint Cyprien. He was then sent to Gurs, and Les Milles detention camps in France by the Germans. In February 1941, Albert was released, and traveled to Marseilles. He immigrated to the United States and arrived in New York in March 1941. In 1943, Albert was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served as a translator and investigator for the military intelligence unit of the 44th Infantry Division. His unit assisted in the liberation of Dachau where Albert photographed and documented camp atrocities. Afterwards, he acted as a German translator and interviewer for Nazi prisoners, including Hermann Göring. Albert returned to the United States in 1945 and later served as a secretary for the United Nations.
    Date
    creation:  1956-1957
    Geography
    creation: Queens (New York, N.Y.)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Marie Brandes Hammerling
    Contributor
    Subject: Albert G. Hess
    Artist: Albert G. Hess
    Biography
    Albert Günther Hess (1909-1993) was born in Pirna, Germany, to Gustav (1862-1923) and Hermione (Hermine) Bauer Hess (1874-1955). He had two siblings, a brother, Manfred (1898-1980) and a sister, Isabella Ilse (1897-1985). The Hess family was a prominent Jewish family in Pirna. Gustav was a chemist and founded the Gustav Hess Chemical Factory in 1895. The factory specialized in the production of black enamel and oil varnishes used in the production of telephones, cameras, and the German Iron Cross medal. The Hess family was not particularly religious and were well assimilated into the community. In 1923, Gustav died suddenly and Albert's older brother Manfred took over the chemical factory. Albert's sister, Isabella married Alfred Rosenstern (1888-1960, later Roston). Music and film were two of Albert’s passions to which he devoted much of his time. He studied the piano for ten years, organ for one year, and could play the organ, flute, oboe, clarinet, and recorder. Albert wrote and published several papers, studies, and books on music. In the 1930s, Albert also began making travel and family films on 9.5mm stock.

    In 1928, Albert graduated from the König-Georg-Gymnasium in Dresden. He then studied law in Hamburg, Bonn, Berlin, Leipzig and London. In 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. The German authorities passed many anti-Semitic laws that isolated and restricted the everyday lives of the Jewish community. Albert worked for the Ministry of Justice in Dresden until July 1933, when he was fired for being Jewish. In 1934, Albert earned his doctorate from the University of Leipzig. He then went to work as a legal advisor for his family’s business. In 1935, in Brussels, Belgium, Albert married Anni Ilse Zobel (b. 1914) from Dresden. In December 1937, Albert immigrated to Belgium and began work as the Gustav Hess Chemical Factory’s representative to France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. He held this position until the end of 1939 when the company was forcibly taken over by ethnic Germans, a process called Aryanization. Albert's mother, brother, sister, and their families were able to escape to England in 1939. Manfred and his family remained in England while Hermine, Isabella, and her husband immigrated to the United States on the SS Pennland, arriving on December 23, 1939.

    On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and a few days later, France and England declared war on Germany, initiating World War II. On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded Belgium, and Albert, a German national, was arrested the same day by Belgian police. He was sent to the overcrowded and unsanitary Saint Cyprien internment camp in southern France. On May 28, Belgium surrendered to Germany, and the German Army continued on to defeat and occupy part of France. In October, Albert was deported to the Gurs detention camp in southwestern France. The camp was overcrowded and lacked food, water and clothing for the prisoners. In January 1941, Albert was transported to the Les Milles internment camp where he was finally released in February. Albert then travelled to Marseilles where he reunited with his wife, Anni. The couple left for Martinique and then travelled to the US Virgin Islands on the ship Fort De France, and continued on to Puerto Rico and then to the United States aboard the San Jacinto arriving in New York on March 27, 1941.

    In the U.S., Albert worked in a paint factory and taught music until 1943 when he was drafted into the army. Albert entered the U.S. Army on August 19 as a private with serial number 31340564. He served as a translator and investigator for the military intelligence unit of the 44th Infantry Division. The 44th landed in Cherbourg, France on September 15, 1944 and entered combat on October 18 in southern Germany. Albert and his men were at Berchtesgaden, the location of Hitler’s personal residence, Berghof, where they invaded the Nazi wine cellar. Albert assisted in the liberation of Dachau, where he photographed and documented camp atrocities. He acted as a German translator and interviewer for Nazi prisoners, including Hermann Göring. Albert was honorably discharged on December 4, 1945, as a Staff Sergeant.

    Upon his return from the war Albert divorced his wife and married Gisela Oppens (1912-1996) in September 1946. Gisela, a fellow German Holocaust survivor, had entered university in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1934, but was later expelled for being Jewish. She converted to Catholicism, to deter the anti-Semitism, but to no effect. In 1939 Gisela escaped to Portugal where she worked as a nanny until she was able to obtain passage to the United States on the Amarante on April 19, 1943. Albert received a Ph.D. from Cornell University and earned degrees in musicology and art history. He taught music at several universities, and served as a secretary at the United Nations. Albert and Gisela divorced, and Albert married Julia Kao (1916-2003) in 1960.

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Art
    Category
    Sculpture
    Object Type
    Puppets (lcsh)
    Genre/Form
    Hand puppets.
    Physical Description
    Handmade hand puppet with a papier-mâché head and a rectangular white cloth body that tapers in as it approaches the top. The round, light brown colored head is painted like a skull, with black, round sunken in eyes and nose and a white row of teeth and tapers down to a thin neck. The papier-mâché neck is wrapped around a cylindrical cardboard tube. The body is made from two pieces of cloth that are sewn together with white thread in plain side seams with a hemmed lower opening for a hand. The fabric at the top of the body is open and folded inward. The head sits in the opening and the neck is attached to the fabric with a rubber band on the interior. The cloth protrudes out just below the head on both sides to form two short arms. The cloth is faded and yellowed with several small red and green dot stains. The skull’s surface is rough and has several small cracks.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 15.250 inches (38.735 cm) | Width: 8.500 inches (21.59 cm) | Depth: 2.875 inches (7.302 cm)
    Materials
    overall : papier mâché, cloth, thread, paint, rubber, cardboard

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Geographic Name
    France. Germany. Belgium.

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The puppet was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2017 by Marie Hammerling, the daughter of Albert Guenther Hess.
    Record last modified:
    2024-01-17 15:18:09
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn561934

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