The silver Torah shield originally formed part of the holy ark at the Oude Pekela synagogue
A museum in Pekela in the east of the province of Groningen has bought a valuable silver object in New York that belonged to the former synagogue in the town. The Torah shield (that serves as decoration to the holy Torah scrolls) was hidden in Amsterdam in 1940, and was therefore able to survive the war.
Bizarrely, the silver piece was silently sold at a Sothebys auction in New York in the year 2006. Now,
The Captain’s House in Pekela has bought the piece of Jewish heritage back, again at a New York auction. The silver Torah shield was made in 1906 in Groningen. “This will definitely be the masterpiece of our museum,” says chairman Feike Oppewal, reports RTV Noord.
It is the most expensive purchase in the history of the museum, and has been made possible thanks to financial support from donors. The Torah shield is a silver decoration of about 20 by 30 centimeters that is placed around the top of the scrolls in a synagogue mantle.
This Pekelder shield was made in 1906 by the Groningen silversmiths of Weering and van Duinen on behalf of the women’s group Bigdei Koudesj (clothes of holiness).
Just like many valuables of Jewish communities in Groningen, such as Wildervank, Veendam and Winschoten, this shield was deposited in 1940 at the Chief Rabbinate’s offices in Amsterdam. The valuables were never discovered by occupying Germans during the war, but after the war no members of the relevant Jewish congregations were alive to return the pieces to.
In 2006 the silver was quietly sold at an auction at Sotheby’s in New York. The total proceeds amounted to more than a million.
The Pekelder Torah shield was bought by an unknown person at the 2006 auction for 9,000 US Dollars. “In January we received a tip from Jeanne van Ammers, a well-known silver expert, who had seen the shield being put up for sale again at an online auction house in New York’, says Oppenwal.
“Thanks to a number of supporters and generous donors, we were able to buy it for 6000 dollars and then there is a very substantial amount of auction costs, VAT, etc. on top. But it is worth it, because this will really be the masterpiece of our museum. It is of course very strange that it was sold at an auction in New York at the time, but we are very happy that it is now back as a reminder of the Jewish community of Pekela.”
The first Jewish families settled in Pekela in around 1680, and by 1870 had swelled to around 400 people (including a well-known father-and-seven-sons musical group). At the start of the second world war there were about 150 Jewish people in Pekela, of which 131 died during the Holocaust. Twelve were hidden by the Drenth family in nearby Stadskanaal.