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Child's peach silk sleeveless dress with embroidered flowers brought to the US by a Jewish family fleeing German occupied Poland

Object | Accession Number: 2009.376.25

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    Child's peach silk sleeveless dress with embroidered flowers brought to the US by a Jewish family fleeing German occupied Poland

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Child’s sleeveless peach silk embroidered dress that belonged to 3 year old Joanna Klein when she, her parents, Nadzieja and Jerzy, and her great-aunt, Elizawieta Palcew, escaped Warsaw, Poland, after living under German occupation since September 1939. Jerzy had applied for US visas in 1936 following Hitler’s remilitarization of the Rhineland, but was unsuccessful because of restrictive US entry quotas. Jerzy acquired false travel papers for roundtrip travel to Peru via Italy. The family traveled by train to Trieste where they obtained transit permits through Yugoslavia and Greece to Turkey. Up to this point, they had been accompanied by Nadzieja’s brother, wife, and child. But in Istanbul, Nadzieja’s family obtained US visas, valid for 3 months; her brother’s family had not applied previously and continued onto Palestine. Jerzy Klein's family and Elizawieta Palcew were evacuated by the British by train to Baghdad, and then Basra, in Iraq. From there, they sailed to Karachi and Bombay (Mumbai), India, where, in January 1941, they boarded an American cruise liner, the USS President Harrison, and arrived in New York on February 17.
    Date
    emigration:  1940 April 20-1941 February 17
    Geography
    received: Warsaw (Poland)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Joan Kent Finkelstein
    Contributor
    Subject: Joan Kent Finkelstein
    Biography
    Joanna Ludmila Klein (later J.L. Kent Finkelstein) was born November 15, 1936, in Warsaw, Poland, to Jerzy and Nadzieja Solomon Klein. Her mother, Nadzieja, born in 1904, was a literary critic and wrote for the liberal weekly Wiadomosci Literackie. Nadzieja received a PhD in 1928 from the University of Warsaw. Her father, Jerzy, born in 1901, was a mechanical engineer and a 1926 graduate of the Polytechnic Institute in Warsaw. As an independent entrepreneur, Jerzy directed such projects as installing sound systems in movie theaters and devised plans for an underground train system in Warsaw. Following Hitler’s remilitarization of the Rhineland in March 1936, Jerzy decided to leave Europe and applied for American visas. He obtained a British immigration visa, but not a work permit, despite previous study and work experience in England.

    In September 1939, Germany invaded and occupied Poland. In January 1940, Joanna’s nanny, a Volksdeutsche [ethnic German], returned from a family visit to western Poland and warned the Kleins to leave. They lived in Warsaw on Marszałkowska Street in a building owned by Joanna’s maternal great aunt, Elizawieta Palcew, who had immigrated to Warsaw from Moscow as a young wife. Now a widow, she operated a lucrative shoe factory and kept some of her savings in pre1933 American dollars. The family had also deposited funds with JDC [Joint Distribuion Committee.] Jerzy purchased travel visas and exit permits for round trip travel to Italy via Peru, from the Jewish-owned Orbis travel agency, which obtained them for fifty US dollars each from a corrupt German official in Krakow. The morning they were to receive their documents, Orbis was raided and closed by the Nazis, but the agency’s courier was tipped off about the raid by the non-Jewish doorman, and he personally delivered the permits. Jerzy had arranged to have nine steamer trunks and several suitcases forwarded; all arrived intact in New York.
    The Kleins left Warsaw by train immediately, about 20 April 1940, along with four other family members: 74-year-old Elizawieta Palcew, her maternal uncle, Zachar, his wife, Maryla, and their young son, Andrew. Joanna’s paternal grandparents, Herman and Regina (Krykus) Klein stayed to care for Jerzy’s handicapped younger brother; her maternal grandfather, Abraham, and uncle, Leon, also stayed.
    Nadzieja had a concealed clothes brush, which Jerzy had hollowed out to hide some family jewels. At one point, while she was using the brush en route, it broke, and they spilled out but were salvaged after Jerzy left the train in Krakow station to rent a hotel room where he was able to repair the brush and return to the train before it left the station.

    In Trieste, through the good offices of Fano, a philanthropic Jewish banker from Milan, they obtained transit visas for travel through Yugoslavia and Greece, as well as entry visas into Turkey in June 1940. In Istanbul, Jerzy obtained a job teaching calculus and physics in English at an American school, Robert College, his first encounter with Americans. An official of the Polish Consulate attested that they were “good Polish Catholics” for their applications for Brazilian visas, but then Jerzy, Nadzieja, Joanna, and Elizawieta Palcew obtained visas for America, valid for three months. Zachar and his family, without US visas, decided to immigrate to Palestine. The Kleins and Elizawieta Palcew traveled by train to Baghdad and then to Basra, Iraq, where they boarded a British ship, HMS Varella in December 1940. The ship stopped in Karachi and continued to Bombay (Mumbai), India, where they disembarked. Although Jerzy was offered a job, he was determined to reach the United States. In January 13, 1941, they boarded the USS President Harrison, an American cruise ship, thus legally reaching American soil before the visas expired. They arrived in New York on February 17, 1941, and settled there.

    Jerzy’s parents died in Treblinka in 1942. All Jerzy’s family in Poland also perished, including 37 first cousins. Nadzieja’s eldest brother, Leon, died of disease in the Warsaw Ghetto in August 1940, and her father died there of starvation on January 20, 1942. Her brother Zachar and family survived in Palestine.
    Upon acquiring United States citizenship in 1946, the family changed their surname from Klein to Kent and Americanized their first names as Nadine, George, and Joan. Joan became a biomedical researcher and teacher, obtaining a PhD in 1963, married, and had two children and three grandchildren. George became the first Jewish engineer at Western Electric (Bell System), where he designed a submarine sonar detection system that aided the war effort and worked in early development of mobile phones; he also taught electrical engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. Elizawieta Palcew died at age 92 in April 1959. Nadine worked in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and died on November 25, 1967, age 64 years. George died, age 80 years, in September 1981, while hiking in the Tyrol.

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Clothing and Dress
    Object Type
    Child's dress (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Peach silk child’s sleeveless dress with a collar, a smocked empire waist, and lace armholes. The collar has 2 rows of fagoting and there are embroidered bouquets of flowers on the left chest and right side of the skirt. It has a back opening with 2 plastic white buttons.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 15.500 inches (39.37 cm) | Width: 18.750 inches (47.625 cm)
    Materials
    overall : silk, lace, thread, plastic

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The child's dress was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2009 by Joan Kent Finkelstein, the daughter of George and Nadine Kent.
    Record last modified:
    2023-03-02 14:17:46
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn41424

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