Hannalore Temel was a Jewish girl born in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1930. Almost two years after the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, German authorities deported Temel and her family to the Theresienstadt ghetto. From there they were sent to the Riga ghetto in January 1942. When they arrived in Riga, authorities told the family to leave their luggage on the train for it to be delivered to them. They never saw these last remnants of their belongings again.
In the ghetto, Temel attended a one-room school with other Jewish children imprisoned there.1 She soon befriended Gerda Gerstl, a Viennese girl whose parents had been murdered upon their arrival in Riga.2 One day, their classmates showed them rings that a silversmith had made from silver spoons smuggled into the ghetto. The silversmith, a Latvian Jewish man named Isser Lurie who worked with Temel’s father in a German uniform depot, soon made Hannalore and Gerda similar rings.3 Temel’s and Gerstl’s initials were engraved on the faces of each of their rings. The ring featured here belonged to Gerstl and the inside of the band is engraved with the words: “Riga ‘Ghetto’ 13. III 43.” The date reads "13 March 1943"—Temel’s 12th birthday.
In the context of life in a Nazi camp, gifting an object made of silver meant giving up a precious means of bargaining for food.4 Temel later described how her family, like many people in the ghetto, traded anything they had for food—often at risk of severe punishment by ghetto authorities.5 For example, despite the threat of violence and even death, Temel’s mother and father would barter for food using clothing her husband had smuggled out of the uniform depot where he was forced to work. Given these risks and humiliatiations, it is striking that they allowed their daughter to keep such a gift.
Temel later reflected on how the terrible experiences of the ghetto impacted her memory. At one point, she realized she told an interviewer she had been in the ghetto for three years, but then corrected herself to say that she was only there for about a year and a half.6 In the autumn of 1943, as German authorities destroyed the ghetto and murdered or deported its inhabitants, Temel was sent with her mother to the Kaiserwald concentration camp established outside the city.7 Temel noted that every day in the ghetto felt like a year because of the extreme hardship.
When Temel and Gerstl learned that they would be separated after the liquidation of the ghetto, they exchanged their rings. Temel kept the ring, hiding it in her mouth during "selections," when people were chosen to be deported to other camps or to their deaths. Other times, she wore it with the engraved face turned in toward her palm, keeping it hidden. She likely did this so that the ring would be less noticeable, since prisoners were not allowed to keep any items of value.8 She managed to keep the ring throughout her imprisonment in Kaiserwald, Stutthof, and other camps.
After Temel and her mother were liberated by Soviet troops in 1945, they returned to Brno. Temel said that she now "proudly" wore her ring. In contrast, although her exact fate is unknown, Gerstl did not survive and so Temel’s own ring was lost along with her close friend. In an oral history recorded 50 years later, Temel showed the camera that she was wearing this ring on her hand and remarked that it was all that remained of Gerstl.
Many years after the war, Temel wrote that because she believed that the ring is the only such example made by Lurie that remains, she decided to donate it to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The origins of the ring, and the bond of friendship which it represented, point to a variety of experiences shared by Jews imprisoned in ghettos across Europe. In what ways might the meaning of the ring—and Temel's memory of those events—have shifted long after the girls separated forever?9