Reunited with the family after 73 years

February 10, 2015 by Henry Benjamin
Read on for article

Photographs, documents, cutlery and sheet music secreted away by a chazan in an attic in wartime Czechoslovakia and discovered 72 years later have been reunited with his descendants in Sydney.

Eva Wittenburg and Alex Gottschall, the cache and the candlesticks

Eva Wittenberg and Alex Gottshall, the cache and the candlesticks  Photo; Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Rabbi Samuel Gottschall and his wife Eva hid their prized possessions in the attic of their home in Presov in the Eastern part of today’s Slovakia. They were both murdered in Auschwitz.

Rabbi Samuel Gottshall's sheet music

Rabbi Samuel Gottschall’s sheet music

The cache was discovered by a workman working in the roof of the former Gottschall home late last year and told local media about his discovery.  An enterprising journalist located the Gottshall family in Sydney…Alex Gottshall and his sister Eva Wittenberg, grandchildren of the murdered rabbi and his wife. Eva’s daughter Lianna was the first family member to sight the contents of the cache travelling from her home in Paris to Presov to watch them as they were being carefully cleaned.

On January 2, the authorities in Presov lodged the box of sentimental treasure at the Post Office and on January 6 it began its journey to Sydney. It arrived on February 6, a Thursday and Eva Wittenberg and her brother Alex Gottshall decided to wait until just before Shabbat to open it and make physical contact with their grandparents’ belongings after 72 long years.

Among the cache they found an illustrated document setting out the yahrzeit dates of Samuel’s parents Issachar Dov and Toba Hinda Gottschall who died in 1938 and 1940. The document included the yahrzheit dates up until 1965.  The cache also contained an empty glass jar and three tiny empty jewellery boxes. Alex Gottshall said: “In every likelihood the cache may have been ransacked a long, long time ago.”

Reading the Yahrzeit list

Reading the Yahrzeit list

Among the cache they found their grandfather’s music…chazzunot which had been printed and published and music he had penned himself proudly bearing his own name at the top of the music.

Rabbi Samuel and Rebbetzin Eva’s son Rabbi Benjamin Gottshall survived the war and made a new life for himself and his wife Jana in 1949 in Australia spending some time in New Zealand.

The man who was to make a mark for himself within the Jewish communities of New South Wales, Brisbane and Wellington brought with him to Australia photographs identical to some of those discovered in the cache. Although he did not live to witness his parents’ treasures, the box was opened in front of the Shabbat candlesticks they left to their children…reuniting a modern-day family with the relics of its past.

Eva and Alex told J-Wire: “We looked at these precious family memories which had survived 72 years in hiding and said ‘you’re home with the family again. You are in safe hands.” Eva Wittenberg added: “After I had bensched licht (lit the candles) and my husband John had made kiddush, I went to the box I had placed the items in (the original packaging from Slovakia was in a big mess).

I put my hands on the top of the large picture frames and the heavy old Baal Tefilla music book from 1877, and said:  “Dear Grandfather Grandmother and all the Gottschall family, now you’re safe at home with your descendants, the Shabbat candles are burning once again and kiddush has been said, so Gut Shabbes and am Yisrael Chai!”



4 Responses to “Reunited with the family after 73 years”
  1. Laura Wagner Gabbai says:

    What a lovely story…I’m so glad your grandparents’ possessions are now in your hands again. Xxx

  2. Raymond Phillips says:

    Truly wonderful, treasured items from the family’s past catching up with the present. Even more remarkable all the items survived, as the Nazis searched high and low for valuables.
    To the Gottschall family treasure them dearly as a reminder…

    • sonia morris says:

      What a lovely story and such a happy ending at least for the candlesticks.

      • Steven Sedley says:

        Not only do we have very fond memories of the Gottschalls, Rabbi Gottdschall officiated at our wedding, but they were also warm close friends of my parents, part of the small Hungarian, Czechoslovak, Austro-Hungarian group in Wellington. I also have a memory of a Mr. Gottschall,who was the choir master of the Pava Street Synagogue in the 9th district of Budapest. I was a member of this choir as a boy chorister in 1944 until the German occupation of Hungary, when it became too dangerous to go out at night to the choir rehearsals. Mr. Gottschall was a very strict, almost scary angry looking gnome like old fashioned choir master who conducted, like they used to in earlier times, with a tuning fork. I was instructed to stand there with the boys, listen, absorb the music, but on no account utter a sound until I became familiar with the style of the choir. This was also the practice of the Vienna Philharmonic. My career as a chorister came to end before I was allowed to be heard. I don’t know what happened to Mr. Gottschall, almost certainly a relation of Rabbi Gottschall, but it is unlikely that he survived the Holocaust.

Speak Your Mind

Comments received without a full name will not be considered
Email addresses are NEVER published! All comments are moderated. J-Wire will publish considered comments by people who provide a real name and email address. Comments that are abusive, rude, defamatory or which contain offensive language will not be published

    Rules on posting comments