Tuesday, March 20, 2007

An envelope of medals

Eric at Is That Legal has been searching for several years for any trace of his great-uncle, who – like so many – went into a German death camp and never came back out. (There's some back story here.)

Well, he found something that puts a lump in the throat of this total stranger:
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.

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.

Go read the whole thing.

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