As I arrived in Germany, I was expecting to find only paper traces of Leo's life. I learned about six months ago that the Bavarian state archive in Würzburg has hundreds of pages of files from the reparations lawsuits that my grandfather brought after the war, and just a few weeks ago I learned that the archive also has a slim Gestapo file on my great-uncle. It was these that I was interested in seeing. I knew these papers would give me at best only an indirect glimpse of Leo's life, but I was in no position to complain. This is a good deal more than remains about the lives of most victims of the Holocaust.
| ...But as I went to put the Gestapo file aside and turn to the tall stack of records from the reparations cases, I noticed an envelope taped to the inside of the front flap of the Gestapo file. Someone had written the word "Beilage" on it, which means "enclosure" or "attachment." And it did not lie flat; I could tell that something thicker than paper was inside.|
I reached in and pulled out two small packages, each perhaps the size of a large pack of chewing gum. They were pieces of thin cardboard that had been folded in thirds and then in thirds again, to enclose something. I unfolded one and out tumbled something solid, wrapped in blue onion-skin paper.
It was a medal.
I opened the other package. A second, identical medal, but without the ribbon.
These were the medals my great-uncle received for his military service and his injuries in World War I.
I held one in my hand, and as I realized that I was holding something that my great-uncle had held, my eyes filled with tears. I cried very softly – I was in a public space, and felt self-conscious. But I was not prepared for this – for the possibility that I might come upon even one of his belongings, let alone one that would have been so meaningful to him.
To be clear, that photo is a photo of a medal pretty much identical to the one I saw, but it is not actually a photo of my great-uncle's medal. The archive in Würzburg strictly forbids photography.
It was only later that I figured out how the medals came to be in the file. Leopold must have brought them with him when he was forced from his home in Bad Kissingen to the site in Würzburg from which he would be deported. Even at that late date – April 25, 1942 – he must have maintained a desperate hope that his military service in World War I might protect him from what lay ahead. These medals (and his useless left arm) were his proof of that service, the only protection that he had left.
But it was a vain hope. The Gestapo seized the medals, wrapped them up neatly in thin folded cardboard for me to find sixty-five years later, and sent Leo off to his fate.
I filed a request with the Staatsarchiv Würzburg. To be honest, I was expecting the archive to refuse my request, or to reply with burdensome paperwork and lengthy delays.
I was not expecting what I received in the mail today:
[translation: This is in reply to your understandable wish that both the military decorations in the corresponding Gestapo file (Gestapo-Stelle Würzburg 8137) be returned to the family of the victim. Because the approval of the Directorate of the Bavarian State Archives was necessary, there was a slight delay in delivering them. For this we ask for your understanding. The decorations were replaced in the file with a Polaroid photo."]
via cema full story is here and here