Advanced Search

Learn About The Holocaust

Special Collections

My Saved Research




Skip to main content

Kenyan wood bust of an African youth owned by a German Jewish refugee family

Object | Accession Number: 1989.306.13

Search this record's additional resources, such as finding aids, documents, or transcripts.

No results match this search term.
Check spelling and try again.

results are loading

0 results found for “keyward

    Kenyan wood bust of an African youth owned by a German Jewish refugee family


    Brief Narrative
    Carved wooden bust of an African male in profile, with the hair and stretched earlobes of a Maasai warrior, acquired by Gisela Berg and her family in Kenya where they lived after fleeing Cologne, Germany, in May/June 1939. The family was warned by neighbors to leave their home in Lechenich prior to the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9-10, 1938. Their homes were vandalized and the family decided to leave Germany. Jill's father Josef, his brother George, and cousin Ernest fled to the Netherlands. They were arrested, but their uncle, Herman Meyer, hired a lawyer and the men were detained but not deported. This gave the family time to find a country where they could emigrate legally. A friend got them permits for British-ruled Kenya and eventually seventeen family members relocated to a cattle ranch near Nairobi. When the war ended in May 1945, the family decided to leave Africa. With the help of two cousins in the US, visas were obtained for the family. Gisela, 14, her sister Inge, 18, and her parents Josef and Klara along with other family members, arrived in Boston in March 1947.
    received:  after 1939 June-before 1947 March
    creation: Kenya
    received: Kenya
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Jill Berg Pauly
    Subject: Jill B. Pauly
    Gisela (Jill) Renate Berg was born on May 1, 1933, to Josef and Klara Meyer Berg, in the small farming community of Lechenich, Germany, near Cologne. Her father was born there in 1896 to Max and Clara Davids Berg and had a brother Georg. Klara was born on November 13, 1904 in Linnich/Duhren to Bertha Schwarz Meyer. The Berg family had lived in the area since the 1600s. Josef and his brother worked with their father in his cattle business. Gisela had an older sister, Inge, born on March 27, 1929. The Bergs were an observant Jewish family. Max was the president of the local synagogue association.

    After Hitler was appointed Chancellor in January 1933, antisemitic restrictions became increasingly harsh. Max had to arrange to have a non-Jew run their business.That May, one of Jill’s uncles began removing large sums of money and putting it in Dutch banks. Her sister, Inge, was no longer allowed to go to the public school and was sent to live with her grandmother where there was a Jewish school she could attend. Warned by neighbors of the impending Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9-10, 1938, many family members went into hiding in Cologne. Their homes were broken into and most of their belongings were destroyed. Several family members lived crowded into one apartment. They could no longer enjoy such things as picnics, going to the moves, and taking vacations. Gisela was never allowed outside; her parents were so worried about her safety that they kept her indoors at all times. The following week, Jill's father, his brother, George, and cousin, Ernest, fled to the Netherlands to escape arrest. They were imprisoned upon their arrival for illegal entry. The police told Herman Meyer, Klara’s brother and a resident of Holland, that the men were going to be deported back to Germany the next day. Herman contacted Maurice Silversmit, a leader in the Jewish community in Rotterdam. He told Herman to confront the police and tell them that written permission from The Hague was needed to return them to Germany. This gave him time to hire an attorney and request asylum for the three men. This was granted, but they had to remain in a detention center.

    The family decided to look for another country where they could enter legally. Rosel (Marx) Berg, the wife of Karl, Josef’s cousin, had a relative who had emigrated to England in 1937. She called him daily from Cologne seeking assistance. This relative had a younger brother, Herman Strauss, who worked for a law firm in Kenya. He was able to secure the family visas for Kenya, a British colony at the time. Herman Strauss paid the mandatory 50 pounds per person for entry papers. Josef, George, and Ernest were released from the detention center in May on the condition that they leave for Kenya. Josef and George were the first members of the Berg family to arrive in Africa. They were interned in Camp Roever, then went to Nairobi where Josef rented a house from Lord and Lady Nepye. Ernest and Else Geisel were married in Maurice’s home before leaving Holland. They then went to Genoa, Italy, to meet more than a dozen members of the family who had left Germany: Inge, Jill, and their mother Klara, Sara Meyer Berg, wife of Joseph Berg and Gisela's maternal aunt, Rosel Marx Berg and her eighteen month old son Egon, Max and Clara Davids Berg, Jill’s paternal grandparents, and Berta Schwarz Meyer, her maternal grandmother. They sailed on board the SS Usambara and arrived in Mombasa, Kenya, in June 1939. Karl and Josef Berg arrived from Germany in August.

    After WW II began with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the British government arrested all adult male foreigners, including Josef, his brothers, and his father. They were released a week later with the condition that they work on the farms of British citizens conscripted for war service. The Bergs were classified as enemy aliens and could leave their homes only with the permission of a police commissioner. In late 1939, the Bergs purchased a 375-acre farm in Limuru and 125 acres in Maguga. They raised thoroughbred cattle and pyrethrum, a flowering plant used to make insecticide. There were two houses, quite different from the ones they had left in Germany. Gisela’s home had a tin roof and cement floors, no electricity or indoor plumbing, although after two months they did have running water. Karl and Josef had brought the Sefer Torah when they left on the last boat out of Hamburg. The family held their own religious services on the farm since they could not drive to Nairobi on the Sabbath. Other members of the local Jewish community attended and, from 1945-1947, her uncle George was cantor at the Nairobi synagogue. In order to earn money for the children’s school fees, Klara ran a vacation boarding house. They had guests every weekend. Their paternal grandparents also lived with them. They tried to have tutors at the farm for the girls, but this did not work. They were enrolled in the Limuru Girls School for three months. Gisela had never attended school and the language difficulties and isolation made it very difficult. They transferred to a British boarding school in Nairobi and Gisela changed her name to Jill because of the rampant anti-Semitism, as well as anti-German and anti-immigrant feelings. Jill was harassed by the other children and accused by some teachers of being a German Jewish spy and beaten with a ruler. She and Inge had to board with strangers to keep kosher and lived with three or four different families in five years.

    After Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, Herman Meyer, Adolf and Erna Meyer Baum and their daughter Hannah, who had left Germany in 1937, fled to Kenya with one suitcase. With the birth of Philip John Berg to Ernest and Else in 1942, there were seventeen family members in all. For a while, they could send packages and correspond with relatives still in Europe. But by summer, that stopped. Clara had three siblings, Max, Valentin, and Moritz, who, with their wives, Betty, Hedwig, and Ida, were last heard from in July 1942 when Max wrote to say they were all now deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp. Jill’s maternal grandmother Berta died ca. 1942 of lung cancer. Her grandfather Max, age 82 years, also died that year. Her grandmother Clara died in 1945. They were buried in the Jewish cemetery in Nairobi. Around this time, Jill’s parents rented a house in Nairobi to be with the girls.

    Many relatives from all sides of the family perished during the war. Clara, Jill's paternal grandmother, had nearly 100 cousins, but no survivors were found. The family made the decision to leave Kenya as soon as the war ended in May 1945. With the assistance of cousins John and Joseph Schwarz, who had emigrated to the US from Germany in 1939, they left Kenya on cargo boats and arrived in Boston in March 1947. The family settled in Vineland, New Jersey, where they operated a chicken farm and dairy business. In 1951, her sister, Inge, married Walter Katzenstein, a fellow refugee from Nazi Germany. In 1957, Gisela married Kurt Pauly. Kurt and his parents, Hugo and Selma Herz Pauly left Germany for Palestine in 1936, then left for the US in 1938. The couple had two children. Jill has volunteered for the USHMM for many years, sharing her experiences to teach "about hate and discrimination and the effects on mankind, and, always, every single time I enter the building, in memory of all who did not survive."

    Physical Details

    Physical Description
    Stylized, polished, hand carved dark brown wooden bust of a young African male. The figure has a narrow, elongated head with a high smooth forehead with a thick, ridged, bound lock of hair in the center. The hair on the top and sides is arranged in long, ridged rows, which taper into a bound tail at the nape of the cylindrical neck. The face has large, textured, almond shaped eyes, rounded cheeks, a long thin nose, and a deep groove above thick, closed lips. The ears are flat, with long, stretched lobes and triangular earrings. It is attached to an oval base with initials scratched in the underside.
    overall: Height: 8.375 inches (21.273 cm) | Width: 2.625 inches (6.668 cm) | Depth: 3.500 inches (8.89 cm)
    overall : wood
    bottom, scratched : LK

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The sculpture was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2015 by Jill Berg Pauly.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 19:55:04
    This page:

    Download & Licensing

    In-Person Research

    Contact Us