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Concentration camp uniform coat worn by a Polish Jewish prisoner

Object | Accession Number: 1996.5.4

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    Concentration camp uniform coat worn by a Polish Jewish prisoner

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Striped uniform coat issued to Erich Sakofski (later Harvey Shreibman) while he was imprisoned at Flossenbürg concentration camp between February and March 1945. Erich was living in Pruzana, Poland (now Pruz︠h︡any, Belarus), with his parents, Nachum and Rachel, and his older brother, Avrum, when Poland was invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939. Pruzana came under Soviet control with authorities shuttering all Jewish institutions and quickly closing or nationalizing all businesses, including Nachum’s. On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded Soviet-occupied Poland, and by September, all Jews in Pruzana were living within a closed ghetto. In late January 1943, the Jews of Pruzana were deported for collaborating with partisans. Avrum hid during the deportation, hoping to join the resistance afterwards, but likely perished. Erich and his parents were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center. Erich was selected for work details, while his parents were likely sent to the gas chambers. After six weeks in quarantine, Erich was transferred to the main Auschwitz camp and moved to Auschwitz-Monowitz (Buna) in March 1944. In January 1945, as Soviet forces advanced on the region, all Auschwitz camps were evacuated. Erich was deported to three concentration camps in Germany: Sachsenhausen, Flossenbürg, and Platting before being liberated by US forces during a forced march on May 2, 1945. Following the war, Erich lived at Weilheim and Prien am Chiemsee displaced persons (DP) camps in Germany. On December 14, 1947, Erich sailed to the United States aboard the SS Marine Tiger.
    Date
    issue:  1945 February-1945 March
    Geography
    issue: Flossenbürg (Concentration camp); Flossenbürg (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Harvey Shreibman
    Contributor
    Subject: Harvey E. Shreibman
    Biography
    Erich Sakofski (later Harvey Shreibman, 1925-2007) was born in Pruzana, Poland (now Pruz︠h︡any, Belarus) to Nachum Dawid (1895-1943) and Rachel Ross (1897-1943) Sakofski. He had one older brother, Avrum. Nachum ran a leather business selling raw materials to shoemakers. Nachum was very devout, and attended services at the synagogue three times a day. While at services, Rachel would mind the store, and sometimes Erich would help. Avrum had completed his studies at the local Gymnasium, or public secondary school, while Erich attended school at the local Yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish secondary school.

    On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded western Poland, and in mid-September, the Soviet Union occupied eastern Poland in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Pruzana fell under Soviet control, and all private businesses were banned. This forced all of the Jewish merchants and shopkeepers, as well as cultural and religious institutions, to close. Soviet authorities seized and nationalized Nachum’s store, and marked his passport to indicate that he was a businessman, which severely lowered his social status. There were very few jobs for Jewish people, and Nachum would have received the worst possible position that required him to work on the Sabbath, a sacred practice he was not willing to break. This decision left him with no income, and had a large impact on the family. Several times that fall, members of the Soviet security forces invaded the Sakofski family’s home in order to call Nachum a parasite for depending on others for his livelihood.

    Erich’s school was shut down after the invasion, and he was required to attend the Soviet public school and sit through many lectures centered on Soviet indoctrination. The Soviet authorities established a teacher-training course, which Avrum successfully completed and quickly found a post in a neighboring town that helped support his family. In 1940, security forces dug up the family’s yard on the pretense of looking for a cache of black market goods. Although innocent, Nachum was arrested and imprisoned nearby, and the authorities banned the family from helping him. After several weeks, a well-connected relative facilitated his release and Nachum returned home very sick and terrified.

    On June 22, 1941, German forces invaded the Soviet Union, and entered Pruzana five days later. In September, German authorities ordered the establishment of a closed ghetto in Pruzana. Erich’s family already lived in the enclosed area, but they had to share their home with many people who had been forced to move there. Conditions in the ghetto were crowded and dirty, with very little food, no medicine, and many diseases. To ensure their people were viewed as useful, the Judenrat volunteered to have the Jews in the ghetto make boots and other supplies for the German military.

    In the second half of 1942, an underground resistance formed in the ghetto and began working with partisan groups outside. On January 27, 1943, two partisans approached the Judenrat in the hopes of strengthening their association. The German authorities found out, and charged the Judenrat with collaboration. The following day, the authorities began loading Pruzana’s Jews onto transport trains. Erich’s brother, Avrum, decided to hide in a bunker so he could join the resistance. Erich stayed with his parents so that he could help them if they were sent to a labor camp. Erich, his parents, and an uncle were forced onto crowded train cars, and Rachel was separated from them. After three days and nights with no food or water, the train arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center. When he got off the train, Erich saw his mother and ran over to see her. They were quickly forced apart, and Erich returned to his father in the men’s group. Erich was selected for one group, and his father was placed in another, then loaded onto trucks. Erich’s parents and uncle were likely gassed.

    While his group waited to take showers, Erich asked one of the uniformed prisoners when they would see their families. After a short pause, the man pointed to a nearby smokestack and explained that the smoke was their families. After showering, Erich was issued a striped uniform, but kept his own boots because the guards ran out of wooden-soled shoes. The following day, Erich’s group was marched to the “Gypsy camp,” and quarantined for six weeks. During this time, Erich and the others were often subjected to random beatings and other brutal treatment. The group was then marched to Auschwitz, and assigned to skilled work groups. Initially, Erich claimed to be a shoemaker, but later admitted that he had only been an assistant. The guards allowed him to stay in the group and gave him a simpler task.

    In March 1944, Erich was transferred to Auschwitz-Monowitz (Buna) and placed on a coal-shoveling work crew. This was difficult work, and Erich knew he would not survive long. Erich’s kapo introduced him to one of the men who controlled the group assignments, who was also from Pruzana. The man helped Erich to switch his assignment to a painting group where his cousin worked. In mid-January 1945, as Soviet forces advanced on the region, all three Auschwitz camps were evacuated. Erich was deported to a series of concentration camps in Germany, including Sachsenhausen, Flossenbürg, and the subcamp, Platting. On April 25, the subcamp was evacuated and the prisoners sent on a forced march. Erich’s group was liberated by the U.S. Army on May 2, near Traunstein. Five days later, Germany surrendered.

    After the war, Erich began to list himself as being five years younger than his actual age. From June 25, 1945 to March 1, 1947, Erich was at Weilheim displaced persons (DP) camp in Germany. By June 30, 1947, Erich was living at the Children’s DP camp at Prien am Chiemsee. Erich’s brother likely perished in the Holocaust. On December 14, Erich boarded the SS Marine Tiger in Bremen and sailed to the United States, where he lived with an aunt and uncle. He later changed his name to Harvey Erich Shreibman. In 1953, Harvey married Thelma Bucknoff (1929-1988) in New York City. The couple had two children and settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he owned and operated Harvey’s Men’s and Boy’s Apparel. Harvey regularly participated in synagogue activities, and served in the US Army Reserves during the 1950s. In February 1993, Harvey married his second wife, Rachel Goldfrad (1938 – 2001).

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Clothing and Dress
    Object Type
    Coats (lcsh)
    Genre/Form
    Prison uniforms.
    Physical Description
    Blue and gray, vertically striped, knee-length, long-sleeved, mediumweight, twill weave cloth coat. The blue stripes are printed on both sides of the gray cloth, and the seams are machine-stitched with black thread. The collar has pointed ends with rounded tips, and the underside is reinforced with a facing of heavily faded striped cloth. The collar is fastened with a silver-colored metal hook and eye closure, and the eye is now detached and missing. On the front, two thick, circular, black plastic buttons are stitched just to one side of the upper right placket. Below the buttons, three evenly spaced, circular sections of cloth have been cut away where three buttons were once attached. There are five corresponding, finished, horizontal buttonholes along the left placket. On the left breast is a discolored brown rectangle where a prisoner number patch was likely attached. Sewn to the front of each hip is a flap-top patch pocket, with a gray, plain weave cloth lining the underside of the flap and banding along the top edge. The left pocket is torn and detached along one side. The coat’s back, center seam has a 13-inch vertical vent. The sleeves are lined and the inner chest is faced with gray, plain weave cloth. The inner placket is faced with mismatched sections of discolored striped cloth. A narrow facing strip is sewn on the interior at each hip to reinforce the pockets. On the exterior lower front right side, is a large, hand-darned repair in gray thread. The hem has been altered by hand with black thread, and is frayed and detached in several places. The cloth is worn and heavily discolored overall. There are small holes on the lower back and sides, and portions of the vent edge and hem have been torn away. There are large sections of dry, cracked, gray accretions on the lower back and sides.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 40.250 inches (102.235 cm) | Width: 16.625 inches (42.228 cm)
    Materials
    overall : cloth, thread, plastic, metal

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The coat was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1996 by Harvey Shreibman.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-06-02 08:46:26
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn11666

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