By Mark Hallum
A 2015 estate sale in Long Island led to the discovery of a rare and alarming relic of the Holocaust—a jacket that had belonged to prisoner No. 84679 from the Dachau concentration camp.
Lithuanian Benzion Peresetski had been assigned the jacket when he was held captive in the camp. After his liberation in 1944, Peresetski kept the jacket, bringing it with him when he eventually moved to the United States. It stayed in his closet for the next 65 years—until 37 years after his death.
That jacket is the centerpiece of an exhibit currently at the Kupferberg Holocaust Center in Bayside. “The Jacket from Dachau: One Survivor’s Search for Justice, Identity and Home” tells the story of a man who was forced into a ghetto, suffered for 10 months at the hands of the Nazis, and then spent years in a displaced persons camp in Landsberg, Germany before seeking reparations in the United States as an emigre. During World War II, his brother had been murdered by the Nazis.
Once he got to America, Peresetski faced troubles similar to those experienced by other immigrants, such as unemployment and identity crisis. He changed his name multiple times and eventually settled on Ben Peres.
A photograph in the exhibit shows him in front of the Unishpere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park with a young boy in his arms. It was taken during the years he spent in New York City, from 1950 to 1968.
In 1968, Peresetski used the $4,173.70 he received from the German government for the pain and suffering he experienced as a victim of the Third Reich to make a down payment on a home for him and his mother in Bellmore, L.I. In 1978, Peresecki died at the age of 52 of a stroke during his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. The estate sale at the Bellmore house in 2015 uncovered an item his children did not even know he carried from his time in Dachau.
“This authentic jacket provides anyone who comes near it an opportunity to be instantly transported into the past. Few Holocaust survivor stories can be told so completely.” Dan Leshem, director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Center, said.
“I was stunned by the condition of the coat,” Leshem said. “After all, this is a 70-year-old garment. I understood this survivor wanted to make sure that this artifact outlived him, which it ultimately did.”
The exhibit offers a tangible link to the life of one of the many survivors of the Holocaust.
“The lessons of the Holocaust, particularly as contextualized within education about other genocides and crimes against humanity, offer an unparalleled opportunity to address the cultural, educational, and civic needs of our diverse community,” Dr. Diane Call, president of Queensborough Community College, said. “The KHC is neither a museum nor a library. We are a learning laboratory where students, survivors and members of the global community learn through their hearts, minds and actions.”
The full exhibit features documents and photographs of Peresetski’s life, which were provided to the museum by his daughter. Those artifacts take viewers from his time in the displaced persons camp after the war, to his life in New York City and Long Island.
The exhibit is expected to run through January.
The Kupferberg Holocaust Center is located at 222-05 56th Ave. and is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall