Silver-plated axe and sword shaped letter opener won in a prewar swim meet by Polish Catholic youth

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Silver-plated engraved axe and sword shaped letter opener awarded to Henryk Zguda before the war when he was a competitive swimmer with the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association.) The opener was made by Emil Goldwasser, a prominent jeweler in Krakow. Goldwasser's daughter was in Auschwitz when Henryk was. One night, Henryk and his friend, Kazio snuck into the women's camp to visit her and take her supplies. Kazio was a skilled trader and paid the guards to not shoot. He and Henryk used an open barrel to hold up the electric fence and to crawl through. Henryk, a 25 year old Catholic, was arrested in occupied Krakow by the German SS on May 30, 1942. On June 15, Henryk was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp. He was given a red triangle with the letter P to identify him as a political prisoner. He was transferred to Buchenwald on March 12, 1943, where he worked in the stone quarry. In spring 1945, Buchenwald was evacuated and, on April 10, Henryk was forced on a death march to Dachau. He was liberated by American troops on April 29. Henryk was hospitalized and then sent to Neu Freimann displaced persons camp. He returned to Krakow in 1946.

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  • Title: Silver-plated axe and sword shaped letter opener won in a prewar swim meet by Polish Catholic youth
  • Location: Poland--History--Occupation, 1939-1945.
  • Provenance: The letter opener was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004 by Nancy Zguda, the wife of Henry Zguda.
  • Subject Keywords: Concentration camp inmates--Germany--Biography. Concentration camp inmates--Poland--Biography. Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)--Poland--Personal narratives. Political prisoners--Poland--Biography. World War, 1939-1945--Prisoners and prisons, Polish.
  • Type: Office Equipment and Supplies
  • Rights: Permanent Collection
  • External Link: See the full record at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • Medium: Silver plated and vermeil metal letter opener in the shape of a sword blade and hilt topped by an axe head. The sword hilt has a stylized, crowned, Polish eagle above a geometric patterned rectangle and 3 ring pulls. There is a heart cut out at the top of the flat, beveled blade that then tapers downward to a point. Gold washed Polish text and a number are engraved on the blade center. The left side of the axe head has an S-curved blade with 2 curved, vertical grooves on either side of engraved, alternating circles and half circles. To the right is an irregular rectangle with a stippled ground and a half circle cut out. The right side resembles a naturalistic, 3 dimensional cast eagle head. The back of the hilt has a rectangle with a shallow stippled background, 4 corner rivets, and a central ring pull. Below is an engraved rectangle with a textured background and 4 holes. The reverse right side of the axe head has an irregular rectangle with deep, engraved circles.