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Objects of Memory


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Friendship Ring from the Riga Ghetto

A friendship ring saved by a girl in the Riga ghetto.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Hannelore Temel

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

Temel eventually changed schools because she could no longer stand walking by ghetto's gallows on her way to the classroom. See Temel's oral history in the Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation, interview 8824. Temel later remarked of the gallows, "I can still see them when I look through the windows of my mind." 

In a 2003 essay, Temel wrote that she saw Gerstl as a sister. Hannelore Temel, "The History of Gerda’s Silver Ring," 2–3, 2003. Donor File, US Holocaust Memorial Museum. On the role of friendship in the Lodz Ghetto, see Blanka Rothschild's oral history

Lurie also made wedding rings, engraved with the couple's initials, in the ghetto. They became so popular that he started to sell rings as fashion items to ghetto prisoners and even to German soldier. See Gertrude Schneider, Journey into Terror: Story of the Riga Ghetto (New York: Ark House, 1979), 93. See an example of a silver ring made from a spoon in the ghetto, possibly also by Lurie, in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's collections.

See Helene J. Sinnreich, "Coping with Hunger in the Ghettos: The Impact of Nazi Racialized Food Policy" in Food, Culture and Identity in Germany's Century of War, eds. Heather Merle Benbow, Heather R. Perry (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 103–24. Later, when Temel was in concentration camps, she describes not having a spoon to eat with in Stutthof (Temel, "History of Gerda's Silver Ring," 3). Spoons—their necessity for survival, their value for bartering, or their use to measure meager rations—come up frequently in testimonies about concentration camps.

 

 

Temel recounted one story of how her mother was caught bringing butter in from her forced labor labor assignment shoveling snow in the city. Her punishment was having her head shaved and being forced to stand at the entrance to the ghetto holding a sign that stated in German, "I bartered." See Temel's oral history in the Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation, interview 8824. On food shortages and forced labor inside and outside the ghetto, see The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Vol. I, Ghettos in German-Occupied Eastern Europe, Part B, by Geoffrey P. Megargee, Martin Dean (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 1019–1022. Survivor Susan Taube also describes forced labor outside the ghetto in a 2013 oral history interview.

Her temporary misremembering may actually reveal something important about her experience in Riga. In History and Memory after Auschwitz, Dominick LaCapra examines how misremembering can offer important information about how people experienced and later remember an event. See LaCapra, History and Memory after Auschwitz (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), 19.

Temel describes her experiences in Kaiserwald in "A Sad Time To Be Young," in Muted Voices: Jewish survivors of Latvia Remember, ed. Gertrude Schneider (New York: Philosophical Library, 1987), 197–206. Her father was deported from Kaiserwald and did not survive.

For more on prisoners' attempts to conceal items of value in camps, see the related item in Experiencing History, Portrait of a German Girl in a Handmade Frame.

For more on the transition of a personal object from the Holocaust into an object in a museum, and how an object can stand for the memory of a person, see Jeffrey Wallen and Aubrey Pomerance, "Circuitous Journeys: The Migration of Objects and the Trusteeship of Memory" in Objects of War: The Material Culture of Conflict and Displacement, eds. Leora Auslander and Tara Zahra (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018), 248–76. Other examples of spoons, not from Riga, made into different items include this ring and this lighter.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Hannelore Temel
Accession Number 2003.407.1
Date Created
March 13, 1943
Dimensions Height: 0.750 inches (1.905 cm) - Width: 0.625 inches (1.588 cm) - Depth: 0.625 inches
Material Metal.
Maker / Creator
Isser Lurie
Owner
Hannalore Temel
Gerda Gerstl
Location
Riga, Latvia
Terezín, Czech Republic
Reference Location
Brno, Czechoslovakia (historical)
Object Type Equipment
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