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Embroidered white pillowcase used in hiding in Poland

Object | Accession Number: 2008.222.2

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    Embroidered white pillowcase used in hiding in Poland


    Brief Narrative
    Pillowcase that belonged to Helena Amkraut Lusthaus, embroidered with the initial's of her maiden name. She used the pillowcase while she and her daughter, Elzbieta, lived in hiding under assumed identities as Catholics in Milanowek in German occupied Poland. When the war began in 1939, Helena and Elzbieta were living in Tarnow in German-occupied Poland with Helena's mother, Sophie Lieberman Schiff. On June 11, 1942, the Germans came to the house searching for Jews to deport to the concentration camps. Four year old Elizabeth hid, but her grandmother was taken by the Germans and shipped to Belzec extermination camp, where she was killed. Helena and her daughter fled Tarnow and survived the war under false identities as Polish Catholics, sheltered by a Catholic family in Milanowek until January 1945 when the area was liberated by the Soviet Army.
    use:  1942-1945
    use: Milanowek (Poland)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Elizabeth Lusthaus Strassburger
    back, button hole band, stamped in black ink : XXMAUS
    back, inside button hole band, stamped in black ink : 0357
    Subject: Elizabeth Lusthaus Strassburger
    Subject: Helena Lusthaus
    Elzbieta Lusthaus was born on May 15, 1938, in Krakow, Poland to Edmund and Helena (Amkraut) Lusthaus. Edmund was born in Brzozow on August 2, 1899, and attended medical school at Jan Kazimierz University in Lvov. Helena was born in Przemysl on June 8, 1911, but grew up in Sanok and worked as an assistant pharmacist. Edmund and Helena married on May 17, 1936, and settled in the resort town of Iwonicz.

    When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Edmund was drafted into the Polish army. At the time of the invasion, Edmund was visiting his parents in Stryj which soon came under Soviet control after that country invaded Poland. Edmund was deported to a prisoner of war labor camp in Novosibirsk, Siberia. In November, Helena and her baby daughter went to Tarnow to live with Helena's mother, Sophie Lieberman Schiff. Helena's father, Isak Amkraut, was divorced from Sophie and lived in the Netherlands, where he owned a diamond cutting business. In the initial stages of the war, Isak was able to support Helena by sending her food and diamonds.

    In 1941, they were relocated into the Tarnow ghetto. Helena was assigned as forced labor as a seamstress in a German Army uniform workshop outside the ghetto. In June 1942, police rounding up Jews for deportation came to the apartment. Sophie told Elzbieta to hide under the bed, but Sophie was arrested and deported to Belzec killing center. Helena had been safe from earlier deportation actions, but now, afraid for Elzbieta, she went into hiding. She was able to buy false identification papers for Elzbieta and herself and, a few days later, they fled Tarnow using the false identities of Maria and Barbara Stachura, Polish Catholics. Christian friends of her mother had found a family willing to hide them for money. They settled in Milanowek, where they lived with Kazimierz and Genowefa Bandyrowa and their two daughters, Wisia and Hanka. The two girls took care of Elzbieta, known as Basia. During police inspections, they would smear her face with dirt to hide her Semitic features. The family knew they were Jewish but Elzbieta did not. She attended school and church and Helena worked as a pharmacist. After the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto in the summer of 1943, German authorities intensified their efforts to find Jews in hiding. Helena worried that they would be discovered and sometimes kept Elzbieta from school or hid her in the basement and drugged her to keep her quiet. The city was liberated by the Soviet Army in January 1945.

    After the war, they learned that the house in which they had been hidden was a safehouse for the Polish underground. Elzbieta was told that she was Jewish; she went to the church and asked the priest if that meant she would go to hell; he told her yes and to get out. They returned to Krakow and Helena placed Elzbieta in a convent for a week while she looked for surviving relatives, but most had perished during the Holocaust. She assumed that Edmund was dead and decided to leave Poland. In May 1945, she bribed a Russian Jewish soldier to smuggle them in shipping crates across the border into Czechoslovakia. From there, she and Elzbieta went to Austria and stayed for nearly three months at the Rothschild Hospital in Vienna, Austria. They then moved to Funk Caserne displaced persons camp in Landsberg near Munich and were transferred to a sanatorium for malnourished children in Strueth near Ansbach. In May 1945, a medical inspection team arrived at the camp. Helena recognized one of the doctors as a friend of her husband’s. He told her that her husband was alive and stationed with the 2nd Polish Corps, British Army, in Italy. Edmund was able to send an ambulance to bring them to Ancona around September 1945. In December 1946, the family moved to England. Edmund was demobilized in 1948. The family lived in Bedlington until their immigration to the United States in May 1951. They were sponsored by Helena's maternal aunt, and her husband, Dr. Michael and Selma Lieberman Mahler.

    They joined members of Helena’s family in New Jersey. Edmund had to retrain to get a US medical license. Helena worked in a bakery to support the family. In 1955, they moved to Maryland where Edmund had obtained a medical position. Edmund, age 61, died on April 20, 1960. Helena, age 76, passed away on March 1, 1987. Elizabeth (Liz) became a psychiatric social worker. She married John Strassburger in 1961 and they had two children.
    Helena Amkraut was born June 3, 1911, in Przemysl, Austria-Hungary, now in Poland. Her parents were Isak Amkraut, a diamond cutter, and Sophie Lieberman. Helena graduated high school in Sanok, Poland, and then studied pharmacology in Lvov. On May 17, 1936, she married Edmund Lusthaus, a medical school graduate born August 2, 1899, in Brzozow, also in Austria-Hungary, now in Poland. They settled in Iwonicz Zdroj, a health resort village in southern Poland, where Edmund established a private practice. On May 15, 1938, they had a daughter, Elzbieta, born in Krakow because Edmund insisted on going to a large city hospital. The family was assimilated and spoke Polish in the home. They were one of the few Jewish families in Iwonicz.

    Germany invaded Poland September 1, 1939. Edmund was drafted into the Polish Army Medical Corps. Shortly after this, the Soviet Union invaded from the east in mid-September and Edmund was captured and sent to a camp for Polish prisoners of war in Novosibirsk, Siberia. Helena and Elzbieta went to Tarnow, Poland to stay with Helena's mother, Sophie Lieberman Schiff. Sophie was divorced from Helena's father, Isak Amkraut, who, lived in the Netherlands, where he owned a diamond cutting business. He was able to send food and diamonds to help support the family in Tarnow under the increasingly harsh German rule. In November, the Jews were ordered by the German to wear Jewish badges. Helena worked as a forced laborer in a German military uniform workshop. She was marched out of town and back every day, escorted by Jewish guards. Because she worked for the German military, she survived two pogroms to reduce the Jewish population. On June 11, 1942, the Germans rounded up 3,500 Jews in Tarnow. Elzbieta, then age 4, was home with her grandmother Sophie when the Germans came. She hid while her grandmother was taken away. Sophie was deported to Belzec extermination camp. The Germans announced their intent to make Tarnow Judenfrei, free of Jews, and Helena went into hiding with Elzbieta. Aided by Christian friends, Helena was able to purchase false identification papers for herself and Elzbieta with the names Maria and Barbara Stachura, identifying them as Christian. Helena and Elzbieta escaped Tarnow on April 24, 1943, for Milanowek, near Warsaw, where friends had found someone willing to accept a large sum of money to hide them. Shee and Elzbieta lived in the house of Kazimierz and Genowefa Banderowa and their daughters, Wisia and Hanka. The home was a safe house for the Polish underground resistance movement. Elzbieta attended school and church and did not know she was Jewish. Helena worked as a pharmacist.

    In January 1945, the Soviet Army liberated Milanowek. Helena and her 7-year-old daughter could return to their real identities. She left Elzbieta for a week in a convent while she searched for relatives, learning that many of them had perished in the Holocaust. Assuming that her husband had died in Siberia, she decided to leave Poland. In May, she bribed a Russian officer to smuggle her and Elzbieta in shipping crates across the border to Czechoslovakia. They made their way to Vienna, Austria, and spent 3 months in the Rothschild Hospital, before being transferred to the Landsberg displaced persons camp near Munich. In May 1945, a medical commission arrived at Landsberg, and Helena recognized one of the doctors as a friend of her husband. He informed her that Edmund was alive. In 1941, when Germany had invaded Russia, Edmund and other Polish prisoners in Siberia had been released to join the Polish army-in-exile. He served in the Middle East, North Africa, and finally in Italy. When he was informed about his wife and daughter, he sent an ambulance to bring them to Ancona, Italy. Later in 1946, Helena acted as a liaison officer for the unit. The reunited family relocated in December 1946 to Bedlington, England. In May 1951, they emigrated to the United States. They were sponsored by Helena's maternal aunt and her husband, Dr. Michael and Selma Lieberman Mahler, who had emigrated before the war. Edmund, age 61, died April 20, 1960. Helena died, age 76, on March 1, 1987.

    Physical Details

    Furnishings and Furniture
    Household linens
    Object Type
    Pillowcases (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Square, faded white linen pillowcase with embroidered design. Above the center is a diamond witlh 2 initials; it is surrounded by an arc of embroidered flowers, with linked cutwork diamonds squaring off the upper corners. On the left side is a pocket seam with 4 thread covered metal rings with corresponding button holes.
    overall: Height: 16.620 inches (42.215 cm) | Width: 19.620 inches (49.835 cm)
    overall : linen, thread, metal
    front, center, embroidered : HA

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The pillowcase was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2008 by Elizabeth Lusthaus Strassburger, the daughter of Helena Lusthaus.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 21:51:04
    This page:

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