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Tallis with bag given to a Czechoslovakian Jewish man by a U.S. Army chaplain

Object | Accession Number: 2018.297.4 a-b

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    Tallis with bag given to a Czechoslovakian Jewish man by a U.S. Army chaplain


    Brief Narrative
    Tallis and fabric pouch given to Bernat Berkowitz (later, Berk) by a U.S. Army chaplain while he was in a displaced persons facility in Germany between May 1946 and December 1947. A tallis is a specialized shawl worn by Orthodox Jewish males during morning prayers. Bernat lived with his parents and three younger brothers in Chust, Czechoslovakia, when the region was annexed by Hungary with the aid of Germany in 1939. On April 20, 1944, the entire family (except Bernat’s brother, Herman, who was an apprentice in Budapest) were forced into a ghetto in Chust, and then deported to Auschwitz concentration camp in German-occupied Poland. Bernat’s parents, Regina and Israel, and youngest brother, Isik, were killed soon after their arrival, while Bernat and his brother, Samuel, were separated and both sent to numerous camps. Bernat was sent to Fünfteichen and Mauthausen, where he was liberated by American forces on May 5, 1945. After the war, Bernat reunited with Samuel and Herman in Czechoslovakia. In August, Samuel immigrated to London and then to the United States, while Bernat and Herman lived in the Pocking displaced persons (DP) camp in the American zone of Germany. While there, both brothers contracted tuberculosis and were treated in multiple facilities until they were transferred to the Etania Jewish Sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland, in December 1947. While in Davos, Bernat met Adela (Ada) Kochanski, a fellow Holocaust survivor, who was also receiving treatment for tuberculosis. In the fall of 1948, Bernat married Ada. In 1949, Herman immigrated to Australia, and in 1950, Bernat and Ada followed him there before moving to the United States around 1954.
    received:  after 1946 May-before 1947 December
    received: Germany
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Steve, Linda, and Amanda Berk
    a. atarah, woven band, white thread : [Hebrew characters] [Blessed are you oh God, King of the Universe Who has sanctified us with his commandments, and commanded us to wrap ourselves with tzitzit]
    b. interior, tag below the zipper, printed, black ink: [illegible]
    Subject: Bernat Berk
    Bernat Berk (born Bernat Berkowitz, 1926-2017) was born in Chust, Czechoslovakia (Khust, modern-day Ukraine), to Israel (1898-1944) and Regina (1900-1944) Berkowitz. Israel owned a brick factory in Chust while Regina was a housewife. Bernat had three brothers, Herman (1928-1985), Samuel (1929-2015), and Isik (c. 1932-1944), and attended a public primary school for eight years. In 1938 and 1939, Germany, Hungary, and Poland annexed territory from Czechoslovakia. Hungary occupied Chust (Huszt in Hungarian) in 1939, increasing anti-Jewish sentiment, violence, and persecution. In 1943, Herman moved to Budapest, Hungary, to begin an iron-working apprenticeship, and the following year was sent to a labor camp in Budapest, where he remained until liberation in 1945.

    On March 19, 1944, Germany occupied Hungary, their former ally, when the country attempted to negotiate an armistice with the western Allies. In April, German authorities established three separate ghettos in Huszt, under the management of a five-member Jewish Council and a Jewish police force. On April 20, the Berkowitz family was among the 11,000 Jews forced into a ghetto and soon thereafter was among the 440,000 Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz concentration camp in German occupied Poland. Israel, Regina, and Isik were killed at Auschwitz soon after arrival while Bernat and Samuel were separated and each deported to numerous camps. Samuel was sent to Buchenwald, Bochum, and Dachau concentration camps in Germany, where he was liberated by American forces on May 5, 1945.

    Bernat was first deported to Fünfteichen, the largest sub-camp of the Gross-Rosen system in Poland. This sub-camp partnered with an armaments factory that manufactured 75mm and 150mm cannons and torpedo launchers. Most of the prisoners were forced to work in the factory and endured 12-hour shifts and a three-kilometer round trip walk to the plant. On January 21, 1945, the SS began evacuated the prisoners in Fünfteichen, and sent them on a four-day forced march in subzero temperatures back to Gross-Rosen. Approximately 1,000 of the 6,000 prisoners died during the march.

    On February 15, 1945, Bernat was deported to Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where he was liberated by American forces on May 5. After liberation, Bernat moved to Chemotow, Czechoslovakia, where he worked as an auto mechanic and was able to earn enough money to reunite with his younger brothers . Samuel immigrated to England in August 1945. In May 1946, Bernat and Herman immigrated to the American zone in Germany, settling in Pocking displaced persons (DP) camp. While there, both brothers contracted tuberculosis, and were transferred from the Pocking hospital to the DP hospital in Zaitzkofen, Germany. The brothers’ American uncle Martin, who lived in New York, arranged and paid for their transfer to the Etania Jewish Sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland, where they arrived on December 5, 1947. Samuel emigrated from England to Chicago in April 1948. After recovering from TB, Herman left Switzerland in October 1948, and immigrated to Australia in 1949. He immigrated to California in the 1950s.

    While in Davos, Bernat met Adela (Ada) Kochanski (1927-?), who was also receiving treatment for tuberculosis. Ada was born in Łódź, Poland, was forced into the Łódź Ghetto. After four years, she was deported to multiple concentration camps, including Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Rochlitz, and Kraslitz. The two married in the fall of 1948, and moved to Basel in 1949. On July 24, 1950, the couple left Switzerland for Brisbane, Australia with assistance from the American Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) and the Australian Jewish Welfare Society, and changed their last name to Berk. Around 1954, the couple immigrated to Washington, D.C., where Ada’s parents lived. In 1959, Bernat became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Bernat and Ada had two children and relocated to be close to his brother Samuel near Chicago. After Ada died, Bernat moved to Arizona, where he remarried and belonged to the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors’ Association until his death.

    Physical Details

    Jewish Art and Symbolism
    Ceremonial objects.
    Physical Description
    a. Long, rectangular, shiny off-white cloth shawl with matching sets of blue stripes on the short ends. Each end has a wide blue central stripe flanked by four blue pinstripes and a set of eight narrow, alternating white and blue stripes on each side. The edge of each end is folded over, hemmed, and has a fringe of 15 strings that have been folded over, threaded through holes and knotted in two places to create a crisscrossing fringe. Each corner is backed with a reinforcing square of off-white fabric, with a central hole cut through both layers and reinforced with thread stitching. Threaded through each hole is a tzitzit, an intricately knotted tassel formed from several folded and bundled strings. The long, unhemmed edges are finished with a blanket stitch. Centered along one of these edges is a white brocade atarah [neck band], a rectangular ribbon with pointed ends, embroidered with white Hebrew text. The corner threads are frayed, and the edges, tassels, and fringe are lightly soiled.
    b. Rectangular, black cloth pouch with a tan lining and a silver colored metal zipper closure on the front, near the top edge. Each face is sewn from multiple pieces of rectangular fabric, which are folded over to the opposite side at the top and bottom, and stitched together on the sides. The front is comprised of two unevenly sized sections while the back is made of one larger section and two smaller ones. Sewn on the inside of the zipper is the remnant of a white tag printed with black ink. The fabric edges covering the zipper and the top of the pouch are torn and frayed, and there is a small hole in the face of the pouch.
    a: Height: 20.125 inches (51.118 cm) | Width: 69.125 inches (175.578 cm)
    b: Height: 10.125 inches (25.718 cm) | Width: 8.875 inches (22.543 cm)
    a : cloth, thread, string
    b : cloth, thread, metal, ink

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The tallis and bag were donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2018 by Steve, Linda, and Amanda Berk, the son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter of Bernat Berk.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-24 14:00:09
    This page:

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