The artifact has the words "Die Heilige Schrift der Israeliten" — the Holy Scriptures of the Israelites — embossed on the front.
After nearly 80 years, a Hebrew Bible hidden by a Jewish German family that perished in the Holocaust returned to its rightful owners. The Leiter Bible was found behind a double wall in the attic of an old house in Oberdorf, Bopfingen, Germany, in 1990 during renovations. According to The Washington Post, the family that purchased the house held on to the large, gilded Jewish Bible for nearly 30 years before selling it to art historian Gerhard Roese through eBay in April 2017 for about $75. Roese immediately recognized that the Bible had historical significance. Weighing about 22 pounds, the almost 30 inches long and three inches high artifact had the words "Die Heilige Schrift der Israeliten" — the Holy Scriptures of the Israelites — embossed on the front.
It also contained illustrations from Gustave Doré, one of the most successful book illustrators of the late-19th century. Roese donated the Bible to a local synagogue close to the house where it was found and began the search to reunite the artifact with its intended heirs. After nearly four years, word of the heirloom reached Jo-Ellyn Decker, a research and reference librarian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Although the museum regularly helps people figure out what happened to their ancestors during the Holocaust, Decker revealed that finding an item to repatriate to living descendants "is almost unheard of." Many books were burned or repurposed by Nazis at the time.
Fortunately, there was a clue inside the Bible: a small postcard that confirmed Eduard Leiter was the owner. Eduard and Ernestine Leiter, a Jewish couple from Stuttgart, were forced by Nazis to move to Oberdorf, Bopfingen, to live with seven other Jewish families. In August 1942, they were sent to Theresienstadt, a ghetto and concentration camp outside Prague. However, before leaving Oberdorf, the Leiters hid all their valuables and personal items — including an 1874 edition of the Jewish Bible — in the hopes of returning and retrieving them someday.
They never did. The Leiters were eventually sent to Treblinka, the infamous Nazi extermination camp in Poland, where they were killed along with an estimated 925,000 fellow Jews. Their son, Sali, was the lone survivor in the family. However, during her search for the rightful owners of the Leiter Bible, Decker had little hope of finding any living relatives. "During the Holocaust, entire Jewish families were murdered," she said. "So, the thought of finding someone alive today that would be related to someone who was killed in Treblinka... is pretty unusual."
Decker started digging through every archive and search engine she could and found that Sali had changed his name to Charles and moved to the United States. This lead led her to Charles' great-grandson, Jacob Leiter, on LinkedIn. At his home in Long Island, Jacob Leiter opened his LinkedIn inbox to find a message that began: "I apologize for the 'out of the blue' correspondence." He recognized the names of his grandfather and great-grandfather and since the message looked legitimate, he messaged Decker back for more information.
"At first, I was kind of shocked," the 27-year-old said about the Bible. "We really didn't speak too much about my great-great-grandparents." Jacob called called his grandmother, Susi Kasper Leiter — who herself was a child Holocaust survivor — and informed her of the unexpected developments. Over the next four months, the pair talked with Decker and the caretakers of the Bible in Germany and learned more about their family history. Although they knew a bit about Eduard and Ernestine before, it was the first time they heard such a full account.
A representative of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum traveled with the Bible from Germany in June this year and delivered the heirloom to Jacob Leiter and his grandmother at her apartment in Manhattan. "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," said Kasper Leiter, 94. "There's nothing else good to remain from there."
Meanwhile, for Jacob Leiter, learning about his family history and reuniting with the priceless heirloom with his grandmother was an incredibly meaningful experience. "I kept saying throughout the whole process how lucky I am that I have my grandmother to experience this with," Jacob said. "Just doing this in its entirety with her is something I'll remember forever."