94-year-old Israeli recreates his German childhood in miniature

94-year-old Mosche Samter has brought his childhood memories of Germany before the Nazi seizure of power to life in hundreds of hand-crafted miniature models.

94-year-old Israeli recreates his German childhood in miniature
Mosche Samter holding his miniature model of a shoe shop. Photo:DPA

A classroom straight out of the 1930s, an authentic shoe shop with German advertisements hanging from the walls, and a scene from a synagogue as a community begins to pray. These are the happy memories of 94-year-old Israeli Mosche Samter, who spent his childhood in Germany before the Second World War.

After he fled to Israel with his family, Samter often longed for the lost world of his childhood. One day, after noticing a broken shutter on his terrace door, he had the idea to bring his memories to life with his own hands. His first thought had been to throw the old piece of wicker away. “But then I thought: I can make something out of this,” says the bright-eyed 94-year-old.

Samter began to craft miniature models of the scenes from his childhood. He built a tiny replica of the shoe shop where his father had worked. The store’s name, “Schuhwaren-Haus S. Hamburger” is clearly inscribed on the front and an advertisement in German hangs on the wall: “Schwarze Woche – Jetzt Schuhe kaufen!,” meaning “Black week – Buy black shoes now!”

The inside of Samter's miniature shoe shop. Photo:DPA

The only Jewish child in class

Particularly close to his heart is the model of his old classroom in his hometown of Reichenbach in Saxony. “I was the only Jewish child in the class,” explains the friendly old man with bushy eyebrows, who still speaks German without an accent. Old-fashioned wooden desks and chairs are positioned in rows one behind each other. On the tables are tiny ink bottles and styluses. “I used shoelace eyelets for the black ink,” explains Samter, something with which he remains pleased to this day.

A small black and white photo hangs on the wall, in which Samter can be seen amongst his former classmates. The year is 1936: the year his family fled Germany to what was then Palestine. At that time Mosche was still known as Herbert. But soon after his arrival in his new home he was rebaptized. His German name remained with his childhood memories in Germany and a Hebrew name took its place. “The teacher said: ‘There aren’t any Mosches in the class so I’ll call you Mosche,” Samter remembers, laughing. “Since then I’ve been Mosche.”

Circled: Mosche Samter, with his former classmates. Photo:DPA

During the Second World War Samter served in the British army. When the North African Campaign led by German General Erwin Rommel began in 1941, everyone was worried the “desert fox” would be able to advance with his troops all the way to Palestine. “Naturally all young Jews were called up to serve in the English military. That was our good deed.”

'I had a good childhood'

His family had even greater worries during this time as news of the Holocaust spread. “We had relatives who were still in Germany, and who were in danger, or who'd already been killed”, he said. His father’s sister and her family were murdered by the Nazis. When the war ended, Samter travelled back to visit his relatives in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). “My last German relative is still alive and is living in a retirement home in Hanover”, said Samter.

His flair and enthusiasm for the crafts stems from his early years. “I went to a craft work group even before I started school,” says Samter. “There we worked mainly with a fretsaw and plywood.” Throughout the years he has enjoyed building toys for his own three children and his 27 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In September Samter will turn 95. His pace of life has slowed down and he has difficulty walking and a caregiver to help him in his everyday life, but his eyes are alert. And it is since his retirement that he’s fully delved into his complex miniature worlds.

For the past 30 years since his retirement he has created around eight models a year. Two years ago the widower decided to open a showroom to show off his treasures. His private museum Great Mini World in Jokneam Illit in the north of Israel currently has dozens of his models on display to the public.

The question as to which model is his favourite, he cannot answer. “I’m fond of them all.” The motifs are very diverse. One creation shows tiny violins and other musical instruments, another Jews praying in a synagogue.

The strongest creative motivation is, however, nostalgia. The model-builder enjoys thinking back to the times before the Nazi seizure of power and his flight out of Germany. “I had a good childhood.”

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Eight online events in Germany not to miss in February 2021

With tougher Covid-19 restrictions now in place in Germany, travelling and socialising have become increasingly limited. So we’ve compiled a list of fun events for you to enjoy from the comfort of your own home!

Eight online events in Germany not to miss in February 2021
The entrance to Berlin's Alte Nationalgallerie. Photo: DPA

Here are some events and ongoing activities to look out for in February.

Berlin Philharmonic returns to the 1920s, Saturday, February 13th 2021 at 6:45pm

Berliner Philharmoniker is streaming the 1920s First Symphony Opera, one of German composer Kurt Weill’s early performances. 

As described by the orchestra, this piece’s music is “captivating and triumphant”. The music was composed in 1927 and its story takes place in ancient Greece. 

Final Girls Film Festival, February 4th at 1pm to February 8th at 11:59pm

Final Girls Berlin Film Festival showcases horror cinema that’s directed, written, or produced by women and non-binary filmmakers. 

The festival is committed to creating space for female voices and visions, whether monstrous, heroic or some messy combination of the two, in the horror genre.

Berliner Festspiele, Strong Pieces Stream, Until March 

Berliner Festspiele is showing two of their top picks.

“The Misanthrope” is a Molière’s classic staged by Anne Lenk, and translated by Jürgen Gosch and Wolfgang Wiens. It’s been called a straightforward delight with an exceptional concentration of language and wit. 

And “Man appears in the Holocene” is staged by Alexander Giesches after Max Frisch’s novella about mankind’s Sisyphus-struggle against their own doom.

König Gallerie, 'Dreaming of Alligator Head' by Claudia Comte, January 21st 2021- January 12th 2022

With her digital solo exhibition Dreaming of Alligator Head, Comte creates a scenario that is impossible in reality: She plants her underwater sculpture park in the König Gallerie app. The digital visitors inside experience a fascinating underwater world without having to go on a physical journey. 

Comte also seeks to raise awareness of marine environments and ask how an artistic object can change the world. Check out the exhibition on the König Gallerie app. 

Galerie Tanja Wagner, How to be human, until February 13th 2021 

Celebrating 10 years of the opening of her contemporary art gallery, Tanja Wagner’s exhibition, How to Be Human showcases her personal favourite works of artists she has collaborated with.

It includes Grit Richter’s famous work, Das Letzte Wort, as well as other works that in Wagner’s opinion, seek to explore the question ’How to Be Human’. 

Alte Nationalgalerie Online, until further notice

The Alte Nationalgalerie was set up as a “sanctuary for art and science”. The idea for a national gallery was realised after the donation of a collection of paintings by Caspar David Friedrich to the Prussian state. 

Since Covid-19 has made it difficult to visit the otherwise very popular museum, the gallery has made its collection available online until further notice. 

Naturkundemuseum Berlin, Beats and Bones Podcast and Livestream, Mondays at 7pm, until further notice 

Berlin’s Naturkundemuseum is offering a podcast series where nature experts from the museum answer questions about the diversity of nature, evolution, the formation of the earth, climate change and insect death.

They explore questions such as “Who knows our earliest ancestors were 480 million-year-old jawless fish?” Or, ‘What is the Achilles heel of Tyrannosaurus rex’? 

Catch new episodes every Monday on Instagram, along with a live stream through the museum with experts accompanying you through the collection and exhibition. The previous episodes are available on Spotify as well as Youtube. 

Anne Frank Zentrum, All about Anne, until further notice 

The Anne Frank Zentrum's exhibition “All about Anne” is normally presented at Hackescher Markt in Berlin-Mitte. Since lockdown, the exhibition has been made available online. 

Its exhibition tells the story of Anne Frank's life and the time in which she lived. It also explains why her diary is so well-known today and shows that her thoughts are still relevant.