While rummaging through a packed Long Island tag sale closet, Jillian Eisman came across a blue and gray striped jacket, embroidered with numbers on the chest pocket, and immediately knew it was a prisoner’s uniform, the AP reported.
Eisman, who works as a director of marketing in Garden City, NY purchased the jacket for $2 and donated it to the Kupferberg Holocaust Center in New York City. "I knew exactly what it was, even before I saw the numbers (84679 on the chest)," Eisman told the AP.
Curators at the Holocaust Center traced the jacket back to Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp in Germany, and put the jacket on display. The jacket reportedly belonged to teenager, Benzion Peresecki (who later became Ben Peres), who was forced to make weapons for the German army during World War II. Peresecki spent four years in a relocation camp before coming to America. He rarely spoke about his time in Dachau and never told his children that he kept his jacket.
After he suffered from a fatal stroke in 1978, his daughter Lorrie Zullo—who was only 13 when her father died—found detailed records her father kept based on his uniforms serial number.
"It was known to us that my father and grandmother had both been in the Holocaust," said Zullo in an interview with AP, "We knew he had a brother who had been killed. But he did not talk about it much."
Exhibit curator Carly Lane explained that in Peres’ hometown of Lithuania, all Jews 16 and older were executed. Peres, who was 15 at the time, was spared, but his father and 17-year-old brother were murdered. Years later he was reunited with his mother and earned a high school equivalency diploma. He moved to the United States with his mother and wife and settled in New York City, where he graduated from Cooper Union. He later resided on Long Island, where he raised his family.
Historians say that jackets like these are extremely rare since most prisoners clothing was burned because of lice or other diseases, or because prisoners usually disposed or destroyed the clothes that contained such horrific memories. Lane believes that when Peres was liberated he made an effort to document his experience in order to prove his sufferings and survival.
"There is a reason why I was supposed to be in that house. … There is a reason why I was friends with someone who worked at a Holocaust museum. What are the chances of that? It is difficult to say everything is a coincidence," said Eisman to AP.