Mordechai Carmeli stared intently at the old flag as if it were the first time he'd seen it. But the flag has been woven into the fabric of his life for more than 60 years.
The light blue and white striped flag, with the star of David stitched in gold at its center, was shown for the first time since 1947 at Nassau County's Holocaust Center on Friday.
Carmeli, 81, of Haifa, Israel, and his family donated it.
Like the memories he locked away deep in his mind, the Holocaust survivor from Romania had kept the flag hidden in a box for more than six decades.
"When I opened it, I was shocked because I said what is doing here?" said Carmeli's daughter, Sigal Shmuely of Sea Cliff, Long Island. "Then I heard the story behind it."
That story begins in Bavaria, Germany just after World War II. After fleeing Romania and crossing Europe, a then 16-year-old Carmeli found himself in what was called a displaced persons camp with other survivors.
It was a time of great uncertainty for thousands of young people who had lost everything. Carmeli was designated as "counselor" to a group of young girls in the camp.
With hopes for a better future, 40 of those girls, ages 5 to 16, sewed the flag of a nation that did not yet exist. When Carmeli left the camp for Israel in 1948, the girls presented the flag to him as a gift.
"We have tears looking at it," said Carmeli's wife, Nira. "It's amazing."
"It's where it belongs," added Sigal Schmuely, who orchestrated the donation to a facility dedicated to educating the public about the tragedies and triumphs of the Holocaust.
"It's a symbol of freedom," said Carmeli's grandson, Dean Schmuely. "It's overwhelming how someone 16 could lead people and carry this with him."
"It seems like something out of a book, said grandson Eric Shmuely. "I can't believe my grandfather brought this over."
Carmeli has lived in Israel since its creation. But 64 years later, he can still see the faces of those 40 hopeful girls in the flag he has carried for so long.