The Holocaust is a nightmarish moment in history—an event where there are no beautiful memories, only terror and devastation.
But after nearly 80 years, this German Jewish family received a rather beautiful heirloom from that time—a Hebrew Bible hidden by their ancestors who perished in the Holocaust.
The Leiter Bible was discovered in 1990 behind a double wall in the attic of an old house in Oberdorf, Bopfingen, Germany, during renovations.
The family that bought the house kept the Bible for almost 30 years before selling it to art historian Gerhard Roese via eBay in April 2017 for around $75.
As someone who knows plenty about art, Roese immediately knew that the book had historical significance. The Bible was bigger than most models on the market—it weighed 22 pounds, is almost 30 inches long, and is three inches high.
The artifact’s most noticeable feature is the words “Die Heilige Schrift der Israeliten” embossed on its front. It also had illustrations from Gustave Doré, one of the most prominent book illustrators of the late 19th century.
Roese eventually donated the Bible to a local synagogue near the house where it was found and began his mission of reuniting the book with its destined heirs.
After almost four years, word of the artifact got to Jo-Ellyn Decker, a research and reference librarian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Luckily, a small postcard inside the Bible provided clues about its original owner—a man named Eduard Leiter.
Eduard and Ernestine Leiter is a Jewish couple from Stuttgart forced by the Nazis to move to Oberdorf, Bopfingen, to live with seven other Jewish families. They were sent to Theresienstadt, a ghetto and concentration camp outside Prague, in August 1942.
Before leaving Oberdorf, the couple hid all their valuables and personal items—including the 1874 edition of the Jewish Bible—hoping they would return and get them back someday.
Sadly, they never did. The couple was killed in a Nazi extermination camp along with an estimated 925,000 fellow Jews. The lone survivor in their family was their son, Sali. However, Decker had little hope of finding any living relatives during her search for the intended heirs of the Leiter Bible.
But eventually, she found that Sali had changed his name to Charles and moved to the U.S. This discovery led her to his great-grandson, Jacob Leiter, on LinkedIn. Decker sent him a message, and the two began corresponding.
“At first, I was kind of shocked,” Jacob, 27, said about the Bible. “We really didn’t speak too much about my great-great-grandparents.”
Jacob called his grandmother, Susi Kasper Leiter—a child Holocaust survivor—and told her about the heirloom they didn’t know existed. Over the next four months, the pair spoke to Decker and learned more about their family history.
A US Holocaust Memorial Museum representative traveled with the Bible from Germany in June this year and delivered the book to the rightful heirs Jacob and Susi at her Manhattan apartment.
“I just think that with all the terrible terror and inhumanities in this world, I can’t believe that I have such pleasure and such magic that I should live to see something that remains of the Holocaust that is good — and that’s the Bible,” Susi, 94, said. “There’s nothing else good to remain from there.”
For Jacob, learning more about his ancestors and receiving this priceless heirloom with his grandmother is a once-in-a-lifetime experience he will never forget.
“I kept saying throughout the whole process how lucky I am that I have my grandmother to experience this with,” he said. “Just doing this in its entirety with her is something I’ll remember forever.”