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Burlap purse with yarn flowers and monogram carried by a 10 year old Jewish Austrian refugee

Object | Accession Number: 2010.194.2

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    Burlap purse with yarn flowers and monogram carried by a 10 year old Jewish Austrian refugee

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    Brief Narrative
    Handcrafted burlap shoulder bag carried by 10 year old Doriane Kurz when she emigrated from Sweden to the United States in July 1946. Doriane and her family fled Vienna, Austria, in early 1939 after the annexation with Nazi Germany. They went to the Netherlands which was occupied by Germany in May 1940. Her father, Meilach, was deported to Auschwitz in August 1942. Doriane, her mother Klara, and her brother Alfred, age 7, were deported to Bergen Belsen in February 1944. The camp was evacuated in spring 1945 and the prisoners were liberated en route by the Soviet Army. The family returned to Amsterdam where Klara died of complications from typhus in March 1946. The children had a paternal uncle in the United States who also had left Vienna with his family in 1938. He arranged to have Doriane and Alfred sent to Sweden where they could get US visas. They arrived in New York in July 1946 and joined their uncle's family.
    received:  1945 June-1946 June
    emigration:  1946 July
    en route: Gripsholm (Ship); New York (N.Y.)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Diana Kurz
    Subject: Doriane Kurz
    Subject: Diana Kurz
    Doriane Kurz was born on March 22, 1936, in Vienna, Austria. Her father, Meilach (Emil), was born on December 19, 1897, in Tarnow, Poland. His family immigrated to Vienna when he was a child because Austria was much more tolerant toward Jews. He had three brothers, Benjamin, born on January 30, 1902, Karl (Charles), and Michael, and one sister, Lola. Her mother, Klara Bieberstein, was born on March 25, 1908, in Husiatyn, Poland (Ukraine), and she had one brother, Eliot, and one sister, Mary. Doriane had a younger brother, Alfred Josef, born on July 29, 1937, in Vienna. Both of her parents were from Orthodox Jewish families and she was raised in an observant household. Her father’s family owned a multinational optical frames business, and he and his siblings were fluent in several languages and managed branches in Austria (Benjamin and Emil); Italy (Charles); Yugoslavia (Michael), and Egypt (Lola).
    On March 12, 1938, German troops marched into Austria and annexed the country. The Germans quickly introduced anti-Jewish legislation and the civil rights of Jews were dissolved. In 1938, Benjamin and his family left Austria, eventually making their way to the United States. In 1939, Emil decided to move his family to Maastricht, Netherlands, where there was a branch of the family business. Klara’s sister and Emil’s other siblings, except, Michael who lived in Belgrade, left for the United States; Klara’s brother and mother had emigrated earlier to Palestine. In 1940, the business expanded to Amsterdam, and the family moved there. In May, Holland was occupied by Germany and restrictions on the Jewish population were instituted. They had to wear Star of David badges on their clothing, but Doriane was able to continue taking Hebrew lessons with a rabbi and attended the first grade at a Dutch elementary school until August 1941, when Jewish children were barred from school.
    In 1942, the Amsterdam business was confiscated. Emil used some of his remaining assets to purchase a diamond. He initially hid the diamond, but decided to sell it and invest the money. He had the diamond appraised by a Jewish acquaintance in the jewelry business. Jews were not permitted to have jewelry and valuables, and the man turned Emil in to the Germans to keep his family from deportation. Emil and Klara were arrested in the middle of the night. Their apartment and belongings were confiscated, but they were released after Emil agreed to give the diamond to the Germans. In July 1942, the Germans began regular deportations of Jews to extermination camps in occupied Poland. On August 6, 1942, Emil was arrested, and sent to Vught transit camp. In late October, he was sent to Amersfoort concentration camp for special punishment, and then deported to Westerbork transit camp on November 7, 1942. He was able to correspond with his family during this period. Klara contacted officials at the Jewish Committee in Amsterdam to try to keep him from being transported to a death camp. On November 10, 1942, Meilach sent his family a letter during deportation to Auschwitz concentration camp; it was the last letter the family received.
    In 1943, the arrests escalated again. Klara and the children were often in hiding, assisted by non-Jewish neighbors who were active in the Dutch underground.Through the underground, Doriane and Alfred were placed with a non-Jewish Dutch woman in Amsterdam in September 1943, and then for several weeks with two farmers in the countryside. On October 19, 1943, Klara was deported to Westerbork. Around this time, Klara’s brother, Eliot, arranged for certificates to Palestine. With assistance from the Jewish Committee, Doriane and Alfred joined Klara in Westerbork in December 1943 in preparation to go to Palestine. On February 15, 1944, because of the certificates, they were sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany and not to Auschwitz. Klara worked in the infirmary. Doriane and her brother began their days watching inmates gather the bodies of the many inmates who had died overnight. They tossed them in high stacks into open wooden wagons that they dragged around the camp. The siblings often spent their time talking about food, slicing their tiny bread rations to last longer, and picking lice out of each other’s hair. Rations consisted of the bread and some watery soup and they were weakened by malnutrition and disease. Alfred suffered a kidney infection, and in March 1944, Doriane contracted typhus. Bombardments by British forces began, and in April 1945, the family and 2500 other Bergen-Belsen prisoners were forced onto a train. They were on the train for over two weeks with no food and water. They were liberated by Soviet forces near Troebitz, Germany. By the time of their liberation, Klara was extremely ill with spot typhus and. Doriane had to carry her from the train to an aid center.
    The family recuperated for seven weeks in the care of the International Red Cross. In June 1945, they were transferred to Leipzig and then to a displaced persons camp in Maastricht, The Netherlands. Klara notified their family in the United States and Palestine of their survival. They began sending aid packages and sent the affidavits of support needed for US visas. Klara sought news of Emil but it was presumed that he had been killed at Auschwitz; it was later learned that he had been killed on November 13, 1942, the day after his arrival. They learned that Emil’s brother, Michael, his wife, Dorrit, and their daughter, Zora, had been deported from Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and killed. Klara and the children returned to Amsterdam and their old apartment. However, Klara frequently was hospitalized and the children often stayed with the Roos’s, family friends outside Amsterdam. Doriane’s paternal uncle, Charles, came over from the United States to help make arrangements for Klara’s care and to get them passports and visas. Klara died in March 1946, due to complications from typhus. They were not able to get US visas to emigrate directly from the Netherlands, and Charles and Abraham Roos took the siblings to Stockholm, Sweden. They were placed in a boarding school and received private English lessons. Soon after President Truman ordered that preference be given to orphans in US immigration quotas, the children sailed in July 1946 from Goteborg, Sweden, to New York aboard the SS Gripsholm. They were adopted by their paternal uncle Benjamin and his wife Lillian, who had left Vienna with their daughter in 1938. Benjamin died of a heart attack at age 56, in 1957. Doriane attended Barnard College and became an elementary school teacher and a small business owner. Freddy attended Columbia University and became an engineer. He married and has three children. Doriane passed away, age 69, on October 29, 2005.
    Diana Kurz was born on July 4, 1936, in Vienna, Austria. Her father, Benjamin, was born on January 30, 1902, in Poland and came to Vienna as a child. He had three brothers, Meilach (Emil), Karl (Charles), and Michael. Lillian was born on April 12, 1912, in Zlotniki, Poland, to Moses and Jutte Hellreich. She had two brothers, Emanuel and Herman, and two sisters, Augusta and Stephanie. The family immigrated to Vienna in 1924. Both Benjamin and Lillian were from religiously observant families and through the services of a marriage broker, Lillian and Benjamin married in 1935. Benjamin spoke six languages and traveled frequently with his family’s multinational optical frames business. His siblings managed branches in Austria, Italy, Serbia, and Egypt.
    On March 13, 1938, Nazi Germany annexed Austria and the next day, German SS officers came to search the Kurz’s home. Once there, the soldiers planned to arrest Benjamin for hindering the non-Jewish maid, Mitzi, from voting in the plebiscite to approve the union with Germany, but Mitzi convinced them that this was not true. The family now regularly encountered antisemitic sentiment; one of Benjamin’s employees began wearing a Nazi swastika pin and their neighbors became hostile. Lillian would not let Diana go outside the house. Benjamin and Lillian decided to leave Vienna and applied for immigration visas at the American consulate. The Germans confiscated materials from Benjamin’s business and he began to send his merchandise to different branches outside of Austria.
    In July 1938, they decided to flee to Trieste, Italy, where Benjamin’s brother, Karl, lived with his family. Benjamin and Lillian traveled on separate trains in order not to look like refugees and to avoid searches as they were carrying jewelry and other valuables. Diana stayed with Lillian. They did not have visas, but the immigration officers were convinced that Lillian and Diana were part of a group of people going to Palestine, and they were able to enter Italy. Benjamin was not permitted to enter, but he had previously acquired a Swiss visa, and went to Switzerland, then London.
    Four months later, in November, the family reunited in London, England. Benjamin had opened a branch of the optical business in London. Diana attended preschool and learned English. In 1939, they moved to Dublin, Ireland, to open a second branch. When war broke out in September 1939, they were classified as enemy aliens. In 1940, they received their US visas. Benjamin was reluctant to leave because of the stores, but Lillian insisted because most of her relatives were already in the US. They arrived in New York on July 8, 1940. Benjamin’s brother, Charles, his sister, Lola, and their families also emigrated to the US. Benjamin established Kurz Optical in New York; there were no longer any branches in Europe. Diana’s sister, Vivian, was born on July 8, 1944.
    The war ended in May 1945 and by June, the family was exchanging letters with Klara, the wife of Benjamin’s brother, Emil. He, Klara, and their children, three year old Doriane and 2 year old Alfred, had left Vienna for the Netherlands in 1939. Emil had been deported to Auschwitz and was presumably killed; they learned later that he had been killed the day after his arrival at the camp, November 13, 1942. Klara and the children had been incarcerated in Bergen Belsen concentration camp and liberated in May 1945. They were repatriated to the Netherlands and once the family in the US heard from Klara, they sent aid packages and began the process of getting visas. Klara died of typhus in March 1946. In July 1946, ten year old Doriane and nine year old Alfred were brought to the US and adopted by Benjamin and Lillian. Benjamin’s brother, Michael, and his family, who had lived in Serbia, had perished.
    Benjamin died of a heart attack, age 57, in 1959. Lillian was active in Hadassah and often spoke about her experiences in order to keep alive the memories of those who perished. Lillian died on May 5, 2009, age 97. Diana received an MFA from Columbia University. Her artwork often presents Holocaust related themes; one series of paintings depicts individuals who lost their lives during the Shoah. For Diana: “Family history and my parents' generosity in raising two of my orphaned cousins, survivors of concentration camps, as their own children instilled in me an awareness of the importance of social justice and caring for others.”

    Physical Details

    Dress Accessories
    Object Type
    Handbags (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Rectangular, flat, light brown burlap purse with a front foldover flap and a narrow green cloth shoulder strap. The sides are attached with green cloth binding that also trims the outside edges and creates the strap. The front flap has 3 flowers embroidered with green, orange, red, and white yarn in the center and 2 letters and 2 accent line designs stitched in yarn at the corners. The interior is lined with green floral tapestry cloth with a row of striped gold and brown rickrack near the opening. There is a thick red thread loop closure on the flap, though there is no longer anything to loop it around on the purse.
    overall: Height: 9.500 inches (24.13 cm) | Width: 12.000 inches (30.48 cm) | Depth: 0.825 inches (2.096 cm)
    overall : burlap, cloth, yarn, thread
    front, upper left corner, embroidered, red, brown, and white yarn : D
    front, upper right corner, embroidered, red, brown, and white yarn : K

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The handbag was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2010 by Diana Kurz, the cousin of Doriane Kurz.
    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:
    2022-07-28 21:51:08
    This page:

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