This story begins in Germany, 1945. At the end of the war, thousands of Nazi soldiers were being rounded up, and sent off to holding camps. As they were being processed, possessions were given away, often to a pastor or priest. One of these pastors, US Army Chaplain, Captain Floyd Rolf later became a close family friend. We were perhaps his only Jewish friends?
On an otherwise unmemorable day, 51 years ago, Floyd was at our home and asked my father if he would like to have the Nazi medals and war memorabilia he had collected. My father, very understandably replied “Absolutely NOT, I want NOTHING Nazi!”… patient Pastor Floyd, thought, and carefully replied; “Please ask Mark, maybe he would want them?”
I’ve never seen a look on a face, before or since, like the look on my father’s that day when he told me this story. Agitation, sadness, curiosity… He held a hard brown and gold cigar box. “Floyd asked me, to ask you, if you’d like these Nazi medals from World War II?”… silence…
A seven-year-old boy replied almost immediately “YES!… to remember.” My father’s face was first shocked, then smiled, a strange, sad, surprised and awkward smile.
I have carried those medals with me, for over fifty years. Not often remembering them, but thinking of them… from time to time, I’d been offered large sums, but not by people I would be comfortable having them.
Upon my father’s passing last year in Jerusalem (Kiryat Yearim), and somewhere along the timeline of saying his daily Kaddish, the medals and Floyd came to mind… I wondered if maybe, Yad Vashem would want them?… or would they react the same way as my father had those fifty some years before? “I want NOTHING Nazi!”
I wrote on an early Friday morning; comforting myself they wouldn’t reply until the next week… thereby postponing the “inevitable” rejection. Their answer came quickly in a Sunday morning email: “yes,” they wanted the medals.
The head of restorations began her email with a warning: print out all our correspondence, and keep it at all times with the medals. Israeli airport customs would likely not look kindly upon Nazi War items.
We took the tram from City Center and arrived at the top of Mt. Herzl… down the hill, a staff member met us at the main entrance and escorted us to a back room.
I unwrapped the medals. For some reason that I can’t explain, I had kept them wrapped in my blue Bar Mitzvah Tallis bag. She told me my choice was “very interesting,” but “I’ve seen it before” with a warm smile… I felt comfortable with her understanding, yet embarrassed by the paradox I had created.
This wasn’t a trivial dust off setup. Ongoing restorations of silverware, dolls, books, furniture, artwork, etc. were everywhere. What struck me was the care, love and meticulous attention to detail that was invested in every item. These people truly loved and respected the owners of these items, not just the items themselves.
She escorted us, room by room, through countless numbers of well marked and organized drawers, opening many for us to examine. Every item had a unique and personal ID. The intentional intent being to “capture” the murdered person they had belonged to.
After returning, I received a nice “Thank You” letter.
After 50 years of wandering, Floyd’s medals were finally home, where they belonged.
Mark Goodley is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.