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Mezuzah with an embossed rising sun used by a prewar German Jewish emigre to the US

Object | Accession Number: 2012.455.2

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    Brief Narrative
    Gold colored embossed mezuzah used by Dr. Leo Nast, a chemical engineer who left Hamburg, Germany, for the United States in July 1934. According to the Torah, every doorpost in a Jewish home should display a mezuzah klaf, a small parchment scroll inscribed with two prayers. The scroll is enclosed in a case so that it can be affixed to the right doorpost. It serves as a reminder of the covenant of faith and a notice that this is an observant Jewish home. Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Leo had long opposed the politics of Hitler and the Nazi Party and Leo and his wife Bertha decided to leave Germany. Their immigration was sponsored by the Catalin Corporation, a plastics company that employed Leo after his arrival in the US. The Nazi dictatorship enacted anti-Jewish laws and the persecution of Jews grew increasingly harsh. In 1939, Leo arranged for his mother, Frederica, to come to the US. In May 1940, he sponsored the immigration of his niece, Johanna Cohn, her husband Arthur, and their 18 year old daughter Irma, from Breslau, Germany.
    emigration:  1934 July
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Irma Cohn Clemens
    Subject: Leo Nast
    Subject: Irma Clemens
    Leo Nast was born on October 3, 1885, in Schulitz, Germany. He had a sister, Frederica, and the family was Jewish. He attended Heidelberg University and studied chemistry. He became interested in the production of plastics and, at the age of twenty, received a patent for the creation of his first plastic. Leo received his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1912 and became a chemical engineer. He moved to Cologne and worked at a plastics factory. During World War I (1914-1918), he served in intelligence for the German Army. Leo married Berte (Bertha) Kautz, who was born in 1889 in Cologne. After the war, Leo moved to Hamburg to work at the Triton Works company.

    In January 1933, Hitler came to power in Germany. Anti-Jewish laws were enacted to disenfranchise Jewish people. Leo and Bertha decided to leave Germany. The Catalin Corporation of America wished to hire Leo and sponsored their immigration visas. They left London on board the SS Manhattan and arrived in New York on July 14, 1934. Leo worked for the Catalin Corp. in New Jersey. In 1935, he helped found the Superlithe Corporation in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 1936, Leo became the vice president, treasurer, and technical director at the Universal Plastics Corporation in New Brunswick.

    During the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9-10, 1938, Jewish synagogues and businesses all over Germany were vandalized and there were mass arrests of Jewish males. In 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Leo wished to get his sister, Frederica, out of Germany. He needed to be a US citizen to sponsor her, but was a few months short of the five year minimum residency required to apply for American citizenship. Leo applied anyway, explaining his family circumstances. With the help of the governor of New Jersey, he was able to obtain her visa and she arrived in the US in 1939. Leo and Bertha became naturalized American citizens that year. In 1940, Leo sponsored the emigration of Frederica’s daughter Johanna Cohn, her husband Arthur, and eighteen year old daughter Irma, who lived in Breslau, Germany. Arthur was born in Switzerland and obtained a Swiss visa, which also covered Johanna and Irma. The family arrived in America in May 1940. They stayed with Leo at first, who also provided Arthur got a job at the plastics company. Leo and Bertha later moved to Delaware. Bertha, age 74, died in 1963. Leo, age 78, died in July 1964.
    Irma (Irmgard) Cohn was born on April 27, 1921, in Breslau, Germany, to Jewish parents, Arthur and Johanna Cohn. Arthur, a merchant, was born on July 7, 1885, in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland. Johanna was born ~1896 in Schulitz, Germany. Her mother was Frederica Nast. Arthur was a merchant.

    Hitler came to power in Germany in January 1933 and increasingly punitive anti-Jewish laws were enacted by the Nazi Dictatorship. In 1938, Irma was working in the office of Gebrueder Wolff, which was owned by Guner Markus Wolff, a friend of her father’s, who owned a large number of liquor stores in Breslau. On the first night of Kristallnacht, November 9, when Irma arrived at work, she saw an office that had been destroyed by vandals targeting Jewish owned businesses. Her manager, who was not Jewish, told her to go home. On the way, she saw that the windows of many other Jewish businesses had been destroyed and the stores looted. When she got home, the Gestapo and a local policeman were searching the family’s apartment, looking for her father. The phone rang, and Irma mother answered. It was her father, Arthur, who had gone to Berlin earlier that day to visit a cousin for information on getting out of Germany. He was calling from the train station in Breslau to tell them he was on his way home. The Gestapo officer asked her who was on the phone and she answered honestly, although the police officer was indicating, from behind the Gestapo’s man’s back, that Irma should keep quiet. Johnna and Irma were told that Arthur was not to leave the apartment after he returned home and they told Arthur this upon his arrival. Johanna made Arthur sandwiches to carry in his pockets in case he was taken. The other Jewish men in the building had been arrested. The next day, the building was searched again, but their apartment was not searched and Arthur was not arrested. The family believed that the local police officer had removed Arthur’s name from the list.

    Johanna’s maternal uncle, Dr. Leo Nast, a prominent chemist, had emigrated to the United States in July 1934. Leo submitted affidavits of support to the US consulate which were needed to get visas. Leo also arranged an immigration visa for his sister, Irma’s maternal grandmother, Frederica Nast, and she left in 1939. Since Arthur was born in Switzerland, he was able to obtain a Swiss visa, which also covered travel for Johanna and Irma. The family sailed on the SS Manhattan from Genoa, Italy, arriving in New York on May 13, 1940. They stayed with Leo and his wife, Bertha, in New Jersey. Leo arranged a job for Arthur at his plastic company, Columbia Plastic Corporation. The family then settled in their own residence in New Jersey. Irma later married and became Irma Clemens. Leo, age 78, died in July 1964.

    Physical Details

    Jewish Art and Symbolism
    Object Type
    Mezuzah (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Narrow, rectangular, gold colored copper alloy metal mezuzah case constructed with a boxlike lid with a flat top and 4 side extensions folded over at right angles. It is attached to a wider flat base plate with an arched top edge and an embossed dot and scallop pattern along the side edges. The mezuzah klaf, a parchment scroll with handwritten Hebrew prayers, is inserted into the box through the bottom end which has 2 folding flaps. The scroll is visible through a semicircular opening surrounded by 14 curved lines creating an image of a rising sun. There are 4 small holes in the plate to hang the mezuzah.
    overall: Height: 2.875 inches (7.303 cm) | Width: 1.000 inches (2.54 cm) | Depth: 0.250 inches (0.635 cm)
    overall : metal, parchment, ink
    plate, back, engraved : K.F.B.
    scroll, black ink : [d] ד [s] ש

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The mezuzah was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2012 by Irma Cohn Clemens, the great-niece of Leo Nast.
    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:
    2023-09-01 09:04:14
    This page:

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