There are no limits on what you might find at an estate sale. Treasure hunters spend their weekends digging through troves of personal effects and memories of strangers, hoping to find something incredible.
Antiques, furniture, and niche relics are the most common types of items people are willing to bring home with them. But occasionally, an estate sale will turn up something of far greater significance than a 19th century roll top desk.
Jillian Eisman was digging through a closet at an estate sale in Long Island, New York. Most of the items were run-of-the-mill and uninspiring. But out of the corner of her eye, she saw something that immediately grabbed her attention.
The faded blue and gray stripes were as haunting as ever. A symbol of genocide, hatred, and horror, Eisman had uncovered the uniform worn by a survivor of history’s most famous systematic killing machine.
While rummaging through an estate sale, Jillian Eisman found a jacket Jewish prisoners were forced to wear during the Holocaust.
She took the garment across the room and inspected it more closely. The numbers “84679” printed along the pectoral section of the jacket were all the confirmation she needed.
“I noticed the rust colored stains, the years of dirt, and a very distinct set of numbers. I almost knew instantly what I had found,” Eisman told documentarians from CUNY Queensborough.
She purchased the jacket for $2 and started researching it in databases available online.
By searching the serial number printed on the jacket, she found that it belonged to a man named Benzion Peresecki, a Lithuanian Jew who was taken to the Dachau concentration camp when he was only 15 years old.
Eisman was able to link the jacket to a man named Benzion Peresecki, a Jew who was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp.
Realizing the historical significance of the garment, Eisman contacted Marissa Hollywood, a friend who works as the Assistant Director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Center in New York City.
The Kupferberg Holocaust Center was able to take the research one step further and track Benzion Peresecki’s immigration to the United States.
Using information they acquired from the jacket and the house where the estate sale was being held, they identified Ben Peres as the original owner of the garment. Common in European emigration at that time, his name was shortened.
Having identified Peres, they were soon able to track down his daughter.
Lorrie Zullo said she was only 13 when her father passed away. She was totally unaware that he kept his jacket from the Holocaust, and she says he didn’t often talk about the horrifying ordeal.
“It was known to us that my father and grandmother had both been in the Holocaust,” Zullo told the Associated Press. “We knew he had a brother who had been killed. But he did not talk about it much.”
“He wanted to protect us as kids. He saw people die every day,” Michael Peres, Ben Peres’ son told the AP.
Peresecki became Ben Peres when entered the United States. His daughter, Lorrie Zullo, knew her father lived through the Holocaust, but he never shared details with her.
Historians say that it’s unusual for a survivor to have kept the “Juden” jacket they were forced to wear. Most were destroyed because they carried disease, or were discarded by their possessor to avoid being reminded of their ordeal.
The directors of the museum arranged a private viewing for Zullo to see the garment. It was the first time she’d ever seen it, and she was overwhelmed.
Museum directors say that she brought along a number of letters, photos, and home videos that helped paint a clearer picture of who Benzion Peresecki really was. Those items were made part of the museum exhibit.
Although Peresecki had offered few details of his history to his family, he had an obvious desire to make sure his story outlived him. Now it will be on display at the Kupferberg Holocaust Museum for years to come.
Museum directors invited Zullo to a private viewing of the garment where she became emotional. She donated a number of other items from her fathers life which are now on display.
“I didn’t even look through it before the sale,” Zullo said. “What are the odds of someone finding it and recognizing it for what it is and then actually donating it to where it should have gone?”
The coat was put on display as the centerpiece of an immersive, fully interactive exhibit at the Kupferberg Holocaust Center. After sitting in a closet for decades, its power and presence were clear for all to experience.