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Silver-plated table fork with Nazi emblem acquired by a former concentration camp inmate

Object | Accession Number: 2014.316.4

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    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Silver-plated table fork with a Reichsadler stamp acquired by Laszlo Meisels, while recuperating in Hillersleben, Germany, after his liberation from a prisoner transport train by US troops in April 1945. Laszlo and his family were living in the small town of Nádudvar when Nazi Germany occupied Hungary in March 1944. The authorities quickly established a Jewish ghetto in the town, and Laszlo and his family, along with the Jews from surrounding towns were forced inside. Soon after, Laszlo’s father, Lajos, was conscripted for forced labor service and taken away. In June, Laszlo, along with his mother and two younger brothers were deported as slave laborers to a farm on the outskirts of Vienna, Austria. In December, they were transferred to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, and placed in a section for prisoners intended to be exchanged. On April 7, 1945, they were put on a transport bound for Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. On April 13, midway on the journey, the guards abandoned the train near the town of Farsleben, Germany. Later that day, Laszlo, his family, and the other prisoners were liberated by American troops. They were then taken to Hillersleben, where a German Army Research Center and testing grounds had been converted into a hospital and displaced persons (DP) camp by the American army. Laszlo and his family recuperated there and then returned to Hungary, where they reunited with Lajos in September 1945. They stayed until immigrating to North America in the late 1950s.
    Date
    found:  1945 April
    Geography
    found: Hillersleben (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Leslie Meisels
    Markings
    front, handle, stamped : R H
    back, stem, maker's mark, stamped : WELLNER / AL(?)A(?) / 99(?)
    Contributor
    Subject: Leslie Meisels
    Manufacturer: August Wellner Sohne
    Biography
    Leslie Meisels (1927-2018) was born Laszlo Meisels in 1927, to Lajos (later Louis, 1900-1987) and Etelka (later Ethel, nee Berkovitz, 1904-1970) Meisels in Nádudvar, Hungary. He had two younger brothers: György (later George, 1933-1972) and Ferenc (later Frank, b. 1934). Nádudvar was a small town with a single, Orthodox congregation of around 45 families who were integrated with the rest of the town. Laszlo’s family was moderately Orthodox, kept kosher, and attended synagogue every Friday and Saturday. There was no Jewish school, so Laszlo attended the town’s public school. Lajos owned a kosher butcher shop located on a lot owned by Etelka’s father, who also had a large house and store in the center of town. Lajos earned a modest income; however, in 1933, worsening economic conditions led the family to lose the property and business.

    In 1934, Lajos purchased a small hand soap business, and the family moved to the town of Balkány in 1935. Balkány was a smaller town with a larger Jewish population, and a Jewish school. In 1938, larger corporations forced Lajos out of business, and the family moved back to Nádudvar, where Lajos was hired by a family acquaintance to work in a flourmill. Laszlo competed elementary school that June, and began junior high that fall, commuting daily by train to the nearby town of Hajdúszoboszló.

    The sense of normalcy was short-lived. During this time, Hungary began allying itself with Nazi Germany. Beginning in March 1938, Hungary began instituting race laws modeled on Germany’s Nuremburg Laws. These laws banned Jews from certain professions, civil service, and military service. Instead, Jewish men had to participate in compulsory labor service. Lajos was called up for forced labor several years in a row, but was able to get out of it with the help of his employer. In October 1940, Hungary officially allied with Germany, and participated in the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Many of the Jewish forced laborers were sent east with the army and were killed during the war. Laszlo began experiencing increasingly harsh antisemitism at school, and he left school in February 1941, to begin an apprenticeship with a cabinetmaker.

    When the war began to turn against Germany, Hungarian authorities attempted to back out of the alliance. In response, Germany invaded and occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944. On May 1, Nádudvar’s entire Jewish population was forced into a ghetto centered on the synagogue. The Jews of three nearby towns were also relocated there, pushing the ghetto population to about 200 people in a dozen houses. Laszlo’s family of five, along with his paternal grandmother, Sarlota Meisels (nee Flesch, 1874-1945), lived in a single room. Soon after, Lajos was conscripted for forced labor service.

    After Lajos was taken away, Laszlo took over his father’s horse and wagon, and was assigned the job of taking refuse out of the ghetto and bringing in permitted supplies. On June 5, everyone in the ghetto was ordered to assemble in front of the synagogue square and surrender all gold and jewelry. They were taken by cattle car to the provincial capital of Debrecen, and deported three days later. Their train was initially bound for Auschwitz concentration camp, but was rerouted after partisans bombed the tracks. After seven days of traveling with little to eat, they arrived in Strasshof, outside of Vienna, Austria.

    In Strasshof, Laszlo’s family was among a group taken to a nearby farm for forced labor. They worked on the farm through the summer and fall, until the final harvest in November. The family was deported again and arrived at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, on December 4, 1944. They were placed in a section of the camp for prisoners intended for exchange, and kept their civilian clothes. Although they were not required to work, inadequate rations and crowded living conditions led to severe malnourishment and disease. Deaths within the camp were so frequent that a pile of bodies grew at the end of their barrack, because the crematorium could not keep pace, even running at full capacity.

    In the spring of 1945, Laszlo’s grandmother, Sarlota, became ill and was moved to the hospital barrack, where she died on April 9. On April 7, the rest of the family was put on another transport. Before boarding the train, Laszlo was able to steal a sack full of beets from a train on a nearby track. Their group was able to sustain themselves with the beets, but numerous people on their transport died during their five-day trip. On April 12, the train stopped for the night in Farsleben, near the city of Magdeburg. When the prisoners awoke the following morning, the train engine and SS guards were gone. The transport was found that day by the 743rd tank battalion, 9th American Army. The American soldiers took Laszlo, his brother György, and others who could walk to a nearby town, where they threw residents out of their homes and let the prisoners raid the kitchens and wardrobes. Eating so much after a severe deprivation caused Laszlo and György to get very sick, but they recovered due to their mother’s quick intervention. The surviving prisoners from the transport were put on US Army trucks and taken to the town of Hillersleben, where they were given showers, clean clothing, and a supervised nutrition regimen. Laszlo’s family met an Army chaplain who was distantly related to them and offered to arrange passage to the US. Instead, the family decided to stay and look for Lajos.

    On September 10, the family arrived in Budapest to find an aunt and uncle who had returned to their home after surviving in the Budapest ghetto. They informed the family that Lajos had also survived and he was home in Nádudvar. They contacted Lajos, and he immediately caught a train to Budapest. When Lajos had been conscripted into forced labor in May 1944, he was placed under a decent company commander. When they were ordered to march to Germany that summer, the commander led them on a circuitous route, until they were liberated by the Soviet army in the fall. Lajos returned to Nádudvar by November 3, a month before the rest of the family was taken to Bergen-Belsen. Lajos helped get the town re-established and organized supply convoys, leading him to start a transportation business.

    When Laszlo returned to Nádudvar, he prioritized completing his education. Between early summer and September 1946, Laszlo completed his cabinetmaking apprenticeship and passed the journeyman examination before joining his father’s transportation business. Lajos sold the business in 1950, and managed a state-owned cattle ranch. Following the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the brothers decided to leave Europe. That same year in December, they fled to a refugee camp in Austria, to await immigration visas. In January 1957, György immigrated to Canada, where he changed his name to George. In April 1958, Lajos and Etelka joined George in Canada, and changed their names to Louis and Ethel. Laszlo and Ferenc immigrated in December 1958, sponsored by an uncle who lived in Hartford, Connecticut, and changed their names to Leslie and Frank. In 1960, Leslie married Eva Sugar (born Eva Silber, 1939), a survivor of the Budapest ghetto. The couple later moved to Canada, where Leslie went into business with his brothers, and had two children. Throughout his life, Leslie regularly spoke about the Holocaust at schools, and wrote a book documenting his experiences.

    Physical Details

    Language
    German
    Classification
    Household Utensils
    Category
    Flatware
    Object Type
    Forks (lcsh)
    Genre/Form
    Silverware.
    Physical Description
    Heavy, silver plated dinner fork with a keystone shaped handle and flat tip with a slightly raised, plain flat center with pressed sides. The tapered stem arches and thickens at the neck where it is attached to the fork head. The heel has angled, pointed corners. There are 4 elongated, pointed tines; the 2 outer tines are shorter and angle slightly inward. The handle is stamped with a Reichsadler, an eagle with stylized wings holding a swastika in its talons. It is scratched and the marks are worn.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 8.250 inches (20.955 cm) | Width: 1.000 inches (2.54 cm) | Depth: 0.625 inches (1.588 cm)
    Materials
    overall : metal, silver

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The fork was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2014 by Leslie Meisels.
    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 17:54:54
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn89020

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