"I said to myself, 'Oh, sure,' but I told her to bring it by and we'd take a look at it," Toler said. "When she got here, Josh got on his computer and started calling up pictures of German concentration camp doors" and the two began comparing them to the artifact in the woman's truck.
They determined that the door came not from Auschwitz, but more likely came from Dachau, Germany's first concentration camp, which the Nazis used as a model for the camps that followed.
Toler and Brooks checked the hardware on the door, some of which was still being made by German manufacturers, to see if authentic, time-appropriate hinges, locks and other fixtures were used. As it turned out, they were.
"I about had a stroke," Toler said. "It was real. It came from the bunker block, where people deemed enemies of the state were kept."
The door is now the centerpiece of a Holocaust exhibit at the museum that includes photographs of Dachau from the collection of the late Gen. Shirley Donnely of Crab Orchard, an Army chaplain during World War II, along with scrip from the SS canteen at the Buchenwald death camp and other items.
"Without question, the Dachau door is the most extraordinary Holocaust relic in West Virginia and one of the larger Holocaust relics in the United States," Toler said.
Toler said many items displayed at the museum were donated by veterans and their families, including out-of-state visitors who stopped at the museum while making a trip on the Turnpike and returned with artifacts from their closets and garages.
"And you would not believe how many hollows I've been up" to follow up on calls about prospective museum pieces, he said.
Toler said he hopes the collection assembled so far "will be the basis for a statewide veterans museum. That's what our board wants and what our veterans deserve."
The Raleigh County Veterans Museum is located at 1557 Harper Road in Beckley. Operating hours are from 1 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, call 304-253-1775 or fisit www.rcvm.org.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.