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Wooden perfume bottle holder with recessed designs owned by a Yugoslavian family

Object | Accession Number: 2017.609.2 a-b

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    Wooden perfume bottle holder with recessed designs owned by a Yugoslavian family

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Wooden perfume bottle holder owned by a member of the Gaon family in Yugoslavia, during the Holocaust. The Gaon family, Menachem (Mento), his wife Lottie and their son Izzica, lived in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia when Germany and its allies invaded and occupied Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941. Central Yugoslavia, including Sarajevo, was formed into the independent state of Croatia, ruled by the Ustasa. Soon after occupation, Mento and Lottie were arrested and sentenced to 15 days hard labor. Later that year, the family escaped to the city of Split in the Italian-occupied zone where they would be safe. The Italian authorities treated Jews fairly, and rejected German demands to transfer Jews to German camps. In January 1942, the Italian authorities transferred the family from Split to Hvar Island. While there, Lottie arranged for her niece, Esther Mussafia, whose parents had been killed in concentration camps, to join them. From Hvar, they were transferred to Rab Island and interned in the Rab concentration camp. The Jewish section of Rab was equipped with food, schools, and a library. However, the Slovenian and Croatian section was kept in squalid condition and many prisoners died. In September 1943, after Italy surrendered to the Allies, the prisoners revolted and liberated themselves. Mento and Lottie then joined a partisan group and the family lived in the forests of the Velebit Mountain range, until the war’s end. In 1948, the Gaons immigrated to Israel.
    Date
    acquired:  before 1941 April 06
    Geography
    use: Yugoslavia
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Yaffa Gaon
    Contributor
    Subject: Menachem Gaon
    Biography
    Menachem (Mento, 1904-?) and Lottie Gaon (nee Danon, 1908-?) lived in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (now Bosnia and Herzegovina). Sarajevo had a Jewish population of approximately 10,500 before the war, making it the third largest Jewish center in Yugoslavia. Lottie and Mento were married in 1936 and had a son Izzica, (1938-1997). Lotties’s young niece, Esther Erna Mussafia (b. 1932) was in the wedding party. Mento was a civil servant who traded spices, wheat, and coffee for the government. Lottie was a housewife but occasionally helped her father, Moric, who owned a large textile store. The family were Sephardic Jews, descendants of Jews who were forced out of Spain or Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition. They regularly attended the Sephardic synagogue in Sarajevo, which was the largest in the Balkans. Mento and his brother, Baruch, sang in the choir group, which was called Fanfaro. Earlier in their lives the two of them travelled with the group and sang throughout Europe. The entire extended family was very active in the community, following the precedent established by their grandfather, Rafael. Antisemitism was uncommon in Yugoslavia, but after Hitler took power in Germany, it began to grow.

    On April 6, 1941, Germany and Italy, supported by Hungary and Bulgaria, invaded Yugoslavia. The Germans took Sarajevo on April 15, and plundered and desecrated the Sephardic synagogue. Yugoslavia was partitioned, and central Yugoslavia, including Sarajevo, was formed into the independent State of Croatia, which was governed by the Ustaše and administered by the Germans. The regime enacted anti-Jewish laws, confiscated property and money, ordered Jews to register themselves, and forced male Jews to work hard labor. Most of the Gaon’s extended family members were taken to the camps, where nearly all of them perished. In April, Mento and Lottie were arrested and forced to do fifteen days hard labor. In November, Lottie and Mento hired a man to smuggle Lottie and Izzica to the Dalmatian Coast. The coast was occupied by the Italians, and the Jews there were treated well and not persecuted as in the other Yugoslavian zones.

    Jews were barred from using public transport, so Lottie and Izzica travelled on a horse and buggy to the train station, where they met the smuggler. Lottie and Izzica boarded the train with the smuggler, but they could not get travel passes, meaning they could have been arrested at any time. They took the train through Mostar, and Metković, and arrived in Split, in the Italian occupied zone on the Dalmatian Coast. Mento could not travel with them, but joined them in Split a short time later. In January 1942, the Italian authorities transferred all three of them along with several other Jewish refugees in Split to Hvar Island.

    While on Hvar, Lottie arranged for her niece, Esther, to come and live with them on the island. Esther, her father, Elijahu (1905-1941?) and mother, Rebecca (1912-1942?) were unable to escape the Ustaše and were arrested in Sarajevo near the end of 1941. Elijahu was taken to Jasenovac concentration camp, where it is presumed he was killed. Esther and Rebecca were taken to Đakovo concentration camp. Rebecca was deported and killed in the spring of 1942, likely in Auschwitz. Esther was able to avoid deportation and stayed in Osijek until May, when she travelled to Hvar and joined her remaining family.

    In October, 1942, Mento, Lottie and Izzica were transferred to the concentration camp on the island of Rab, and Esther joined them in May, 1943. The concentration camp at Rab held Slovenian and Croatian opponents of the Italian regime in overcrowded tents. The Slovenian and Croatian prisoners lived in abysmal conditions, they were malnourished and not equipped for the cold weather, which resulted in many deaths. However, the Jewish prisoners were treated well and lived in barracks in a separate section. They were allowed to form their own school with a small library and had a sizable kitchen. The Jewish prisoners were brought to Rab as a defensive measure against German efforts to pressure Italy to participate in the deportation and murder of their Jewish prisoners.

    In September 1943, after Italy surrendered to the Allies, the prisoners in the Rab camp revolted and liberated themselves before the Germans could come and take control of the camp. They then formed a partisan group called the Rab Brigade which fought against the Germans and the Ustaše. Mento and Lottie joined the partisans and brought Izzica and Esther with them. They all remained with the partisans, and lived in the forests of the Velebit Mountain range in the regions of Lika and Kordun until Yugoslavian liberation in May 1945.

    After the war, they returned to their old house in Sarjevo. Mento worked with the Yugoslav government and Izzica returned to school. In December, 1948, Mento, Lottie and Izzica immigrated to Israel aboard the Radnick. Esther immigrated to Israel on December 26, on the Kefalos. Mento, Lottie and Izzica settled in Tel Aviv. Izzica joined the Israeli Air Force, became a designer, and worked at the Israel Museum.

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Containers
    Category
    Cases
    Genre/Form
    Containers.
    Physical Description
    a: Handmade, wooden, drum-shaped perfume bottle holder with recessed designs and a removable lid (b). The bottle holder has a round, flat center with a small, circular base and a short threaded neck. Inscribed and painted on the front is an image of a red rose on a black stem, with three green leaves. The front and back have raised lips along their edges with a recessed band of small, black, spiraling circles. The backside has a centered flower outline with a spiral center, surrounded by a background of small, black-painted divots inside a frame of recessed black circles. The outside has several spiraled circles arranged in a line around the center. At the top is a small, cylindrical, threaded neck. The exterior is coated with lacquer and brown with the exception of the top of the threads, which are uncoated, and tan colored. The interior of the bottle holder is an unfinished, thin cylindrical shape. The base is small and round with a concave bottom.

    b: Handmade, cylindrical, wooden lid with a finial. The lid tapers in slightly at the bottom, and has a band of recessed, small, black, spiraling circles around the exterior. The finial tapers up to a round crown with a recessed, stippled top with five, evenly spaced, recessed black lines extending down from the peak. The interior is cylindrical and threaded. The exterior is coated in lacquer.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 4.000 inches (10.16 cm) | Width: 2.125 inches (5.398 cm) | Depth: 1.000 inches (2.54 cm)
    Materials
    overall : wood, paint, lacquer

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The wooden bottle was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2017 by Yaffa Gaon, the widow of Izzica Gaon.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 21:50:58
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn594849

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