A ketubah, scribbled on a pitifully dirty piece of paper but recording a union nonetheless. Yiddish newspapers produced for and in displaced persons camps the size of small farms. Zionist material published just a few years before the foundation of the genuine article.
The anonymous collector who put together the She’arit Haple’atah Archive, which will be auctioned off in its entirety on Jan. 31, must have been “very passionate” about the immediate postwar and post-Holocaust era of European Jewish life to have curated such a collection, said Darren Winston, head of books, maps and manuscripts at Freeman’s, an auction house.
“What I personally find fascinating,” said Winston, “and I think what Freeman’s finds fascinating, is that someone chose to put it together.”
Studying the archive, said David Bloom, a senior cataloguer who has been at Freeman’s since 1983, “was sort of overwhelmingly powerful.” “The material is very wide ranging, so it really gives you a feel for Jewish life in post-Holocaust, postwar Europe,” he said.
The She’arit Haple’atah Archive (Hebrew for “the surviving remnant”) consists of the ephemera created by and provided to the displaced Jews of Europe between 1945 and 1949: political pamphlets, poetry, siddurim and more, produced in the often-dire circumstances of the DP camps. Because it was made as inexpensively as possible, much of it was left behind when the camps themselves were closed. The last camp was open until 1957.
“It was never meant to survive,” Winston said. “It wasn’t meant to be something that was meant to be framed and put on the wall and survive for generations.”
And yet, he hopes, it’ll soon find a home.
An anonymous seller contacted Winston over the summer. Though not the original collector, the seller was keen on seeing the collection sold as a whole, a sentiment that Winston shared.
Collections like the archive, Winston said, don’t come around frequently.
“It’s easy to take one apart, it’s difficult to put one together,” he said. He compared selling off the individual parts of the collection to taking apart a vintage Aston Martin. Bloom added that he would consider it unethical to break apart the collection in any way.
Regardless, appreciating the totality doesn’t preclude picking favorites. The aforementioned ketubah has held Winston’s fascination, “written in longhand on a piece of notebook paper that’s been folded a few times,” he said. “It’s the best sort of example of a piece of ephemera.”
There’s also a 17th- or 18th-century Hebrew book, a rare printing for the period, bearing the official stamp of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Of everything to survive centuries, he said, “that this little square pile of paper stitched together is still around is remarkable.”
As for the auction itself — bidding is estimated to go to between $100,000 and $150,000 — Bloom expects interest to run high.
“When an archive that represents a little known aspect of the period after the Holocaust becomes available, you know there’s going to be strong interest in it,” he said.