A charm bracelet tells the story of the life lived by its wearer – where one has called home, who one has met, and the circumstances one has experienced. But for Greta Perlman, born a Czech Jew in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1904, her jewelry documents her four years surviving the Holocaust. It’s a remarkable artifact, one that Michael Tal, a curator at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, called “quite unique, and I have not yet come across one like it.”
Perlman assembled her bracelet, currently on view as part of the newly installed permanent collection at the Jewish Museum of New York, at Theresienstadt, the Czech “camp-ghetto” established by the Nazis in late November, 1941. The camp was largely a ghetto labor camp, a holding pen where Jews stayed before being deported to killing centers like Auschwitz. Theresienstadt’s horror was muted enough that the Nazis used it as a propaganda tool, beautifying it for an International Red Cross inspection in 1944, and making a propaganda film there later that year. Some 140,000 Jews—including numerous musicians, writers and artists—were held in Theresienstadt.
The Nazis deported Perlman to Theresienstadt on “Transport M,” one of the earliest such trips, on December 14, 1941, her 37th birthday. According to Claudia Nahson, a curator at the Jewish Museum, the 20 charms on her bracelet, made from brass, porcelain and wood and strung together on a cord, were either given to her as personal mementos, or bartered in exchange for food. Many charms have a connection to a man named Theo, who Nahson considers a possible love interest of Perlman. (Although Perlman, whose maiden name was Aufricht, was married, her spouse, Hanus Perlman, was not listed with her in the paperwork detailing Transport M.)
Among these potentially romantic charms are one that contains a Star of David encircling the initial, “T,” as well as two brass charms that each contain a ceramic shard in the shape of a pentagon, one inscribed “Greta Terezin 1.IX.43” on its back, the other inscribed “Theo Terezin 1.IX.43” on its back. The date, written in the European format for September 1, 1943, had a special meaning for Greta and Theo.
“It is a Jewish tradition to break a china plate after a couple becomes engaged and agrees to the tna’im, or conditions of marriage,” says Nahson. “The two matching potsherd charms suggest that Greta and Theo may have become engaged [on September 1 1943] in Theresienstadt.”
Nahson adds that from Nazi records, Holocaust scholars know that on September 5, 1943, the Germans sent two large transports of 5,007 prisoners in total from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz. She deduces that Greta and Theo became engaged once they learned of the planned deportation. “It is possible that Theo was [deported to Auschwitz], though this cannot be confirmed,” she says.
Credit : Jane Levere for www.smithsonianmag.com