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.”