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Circumcision knife with a glass and metal handle with a black wooden case used by a mohel

Object | Accession Number: 1992.8.30 a-b

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    Circumcision knife with a glass and metal handle with a black wooden case used by a mohel


    Brief Narrative
    Ritual circumcision [milah] knife and case used by Isaac Ossowski, a highly respected mohel who left Berlin because of the targeted persecution of Jews by the government of Nazi Germany. A mohel is a person qualified to perform the brit (bris) milah, the ritual circumcision of a male, Jewish child. The training includes both the medical procedures and extensive knowledge of Jewish laws and traditions. Rabbi Ossowski was a prominent member of the Jewish community in Berlin. He was head shochet [ritual slaughterer], mohel [practioner of ritual circumcision], sofer [scribe], and hazan [cantor or musical prayer leader] at the Alte Shul [Old Synagogue]. After Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, increasingly severe sanctions were enacted against Jews. The Ossowski family was repeatedly questioned by the SS (Schutzstaffel; Protection Squadrons) who gathered intelligence on opponents of the Nazi state and policed racial purity. In 1934, Isaac sent his youngest son, 14 year old Sol, to Lithuania to study at a yeshiva. In 1936, his sons, Joseph and Leo, left for the United States. In 1938, Isaac and his wife, Frida, and their daughter, Nettie, escaped Nazi Germany and joined Joseph in the US. Sol joined them there in 1939.
    emigration:  1938
    use:  approximately 1910-1938
    use: Berlin (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Sol Oster
    Subject: Sol Oster
    Sally (Sol) Ossowski was born on January 1, 1919, in Berlin, Germany, to Frieda Schwartzbardt, born in 1888, and Rabbi Issac Ossowski, born in 1877 in Lubraniez, Poland. Sol had two brothers, Leo, born on April 1, 1913, and Joseph, born in 1914, in Pfungstadt, and a sister, Nettie. His father was a prominent and active member of the Jewish community, serving as a shochet [ritual slaughterer], mohel [practioner of ritual circumcision], sofer [scribe], and cantor. The family attended the Alte Schul synagogue where Sol sang in the choir. He attended the Jewish Community School for Boys until he was 14 years old and was active in sports, plays, and clubs.
    By the early 1930s, and especially after Hitler's appointment as Chancellor in 1933, Sol noticed a change within society as people’s attitudes towards Jews began to change in response to the anti-Semitic policies of the Nazi government. The Ossowski family was the target of anti-Semitic behaviours and attacks, much of this due to his father's prominent position within the Jewish community. Some of Sol's friends stopped playing with him and neighbors no longer said hello. Members of the Hitler Youth attacked Sol on the subway, yelling “Jew, get out”, and attempted to open the doors of the moving train; Sol escaped, but not one person helped him. One day as they were on their way to temple, two SS (Schutzstaffel; Protection Squadrons) guards took Sol, his brothers, and father into the basement of a bar. Sol managed to escape, but was captured and returned; a neighbour talked the SS into letting them go. Another time, the SS forced their way into their home looking for contraband.

    As a result of this incident, Sol decided he wanted to leave Germany. Isaac supported this decision and made arrangements for him to attend seminary outside of Germany. Sol left in 1934 for a yeshiva in Ponevezh (Panevezys), Lithuania. He wanted to emigrate to Palestine and help establish a Jewish state. His brother, Joseph, got a visa for the United States with the help of a cousin, and emigrated in 1936. He sent Sol money for his living expenses. In December 1936, Sol received a letter from the German government requiring German citizens to register with the embassy in Kaunas and to hand in their passports. He was terrified that if he complied he would be stateless and unable to leave Lithuania. Sol believed emigration to Palestine was no longer an option. An Arab revolt in 1936 resulted in the British severely limiting immigration. He discussed his plight with Rabbi Kahaneman, the head of the Yeshiva. They decided that Sol should apply to the Tree of Life seminary in London. Sol no longer felt safe in Lithuania. Pro-Nazi groups were active in the country and anti-Semitism was growing stronger throughout the country. He decided to go into hiding in the Jasnegurke forest in January 1937. A farmer allowed him to live in his barn. Food was brought to him by the Green family whom he had lived with while in school. The mother, a cook at the Yeshiva, made food for Sol which her daughter brought to him. Once he received his acceptance letter from the seminary in June 1937, Sol came out of hiding and left for London via Denmark. He stayed for one week in Copenhagen with a local Rabbi before securing a ticket to London from the Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish humanitarian assistance organization that aided German Jews in their flight from Nazi Europe. He entered England on a student visa in June 1937.

    Sol’s parents and sister left Germany for the United States via Belgium in 1938, having changed their name from Ossowski to Oster. Sol completed university and emigrated to the U.S. in 1939. He married Frieda Perl on December 20, 1947, and they had a son. He was the longest tenured rabbi at Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek in Lima, Ohio, serving for more than 40 years. He retired in 1992, and was bestowed the honor of rabbi emeritus by his congregation. Leo died in 2008, Joseph in 2009, and his wife, Frieda, in 2011. Sol died on August 25, 2011, in Hilliard, Ohio at age 92.

    Physical Details

    Jewish Art and Symbolism
    Physical Description
    a. Double-edged, polished, steel knife with a rounded point and ridged center with a cylindrical, rectangular handle with glass, metal, and semi-precious stone adornments. The blade is soldered to a rectangular, gold colored, metal bolster engraved with a geometric design; in the front center is a rectangular, black semi-precious stone in a setting with an etched geometric pattern; on the back center is a rivet. Above the bolster is a clear glass cylinder through which is visible the metal rod that holds the handle together. Above this is a square, gold colored metal band with an etched geometric design and 2 black and 1 red semi-precious stones with engraved geometric patterns. Next is an amber colored glass jewel-like bead in a gold colored, metal lattice setting. Next is the top of the handle with an circular, hollow, gold colored metal filigree bead setting. A milah [circumcision] knife is sharp on both edges to avoid hesitation during use that might cause unnecessary pain to the child.
    b. Rectangular wooden knife case with a curved lid covered with black painted, shellacked paper. A curved gold metal latch is riveted on the lid, with a fastening hook riveted to the base. In place of hinges, the lid is attached in the back to the base by the interior white cloth lining. The interior of the lid and the base are carved to hold the knife. The interior of the base is lined with white paper, but thread remnants suggest it may once have been cloth covered.
    a: Height: 7.500 inches (19.05 cm) | Width: 0.750 inches (1.905 cm) | Depth: 0.750 inches (1.905 cm)
    b: Height: 1.625 inches (4.128 cm) | Width: 8.500 inches (21.59 cm) | Depth: 1.250 inches (3.175 cm)
    a : metal, semiprecious stone, glass
    b : wood, metal, cloth, adhesive, paper

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The circumcision knife and case were donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1992 by Rabbi Sol Oster, the son of Isaac Ossowski.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 18:22:09
    This page:

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