Gertrud Koh was born on June 3, 1901, in Gratz, Germany (Grodzisk Wielkopolski, Poland), to Alex and Dorothea Koh. She had two brothers and a sister. Following the end of World War I, Gertrud’s family moved to Berlin, Germany. As a young woman, she learned to sew and with additional training became a master seamstress. In May 1931, Gertrud married Julius Isaacsohn, a Berlin native. He was born on November 19, 1891, to Herrman Benjamin and Ernestine Kaiser Isaacsohn, and had several brothers. Julius was a garment maker and coat and suit designer who imported fabric. On July 15, 1933, Gertrud and Julius’ daughter, Dorothea (Dorit,) was born. Gertrud ran a dressmaking business in their apartment and employed a non-Jewish woman, Lucie Gardner. They made a good living, lived in a predominantly Jewish area, and attended a large synagogue.
The Nazi regime took power in 1933, and began actively persecuting Jews. Gertrud’s employee Lucie was not allowed to work for a Jewish woman. In 1938, Julius and Gertrud lost their jobs. In early 1939, they attempted to leave Germany, but could not get visas. They sent 6 year old Dorit to Brussels, Belgium, to live with Gertrud’s sister, Anna Kaufman. She, her husband, and stepson had fled to Brussels earlier because Anna’s stepson was gay and was persecuted by the Nazis. Gertrud’s brother Ludwig also lived in Brussels. Dorit had diphtheria when she arrived and was hospitalized, before going to live with her aunt Anna. Gertrud and Julius were forced to house displaced Jewish families in their apartment. The war began when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Shortly after, on May 10, 1940, Germany invaded Belgium. A year later, Gertrud and Julius had Dorit returned to Berlin with the help of a family friend. Gertrud and Julius became forced laborers for the German government: Gertrud at a Kurt Seidel factory sewing leather army goods, and Julius at a lumber yard.
On February 27, 1943, Gertrud heard that there was going to be a large roundup of Jews and the family went into hiding with non-Jewish friends. Gertrud and Julius found an apartment to rent under the false name Schultz, but they had no papers to support that claim. When they arrived, the owner refused to let them stay and they separated. Gertrud sent Dorit to stay with her former employee, Lucie Gardner. Gertrud put an ad in the paper advertising herself as a private, traveling dressmaker who had been bombed out of her apartment and was looking for work in people’s homes. She told people that her husband was in the army and her daughter was with family. Julius went to stay in the basement apartment of a janitor, where he slept in a rocking chair. In April or May, Dorit moved into a crowded apartment with her cousin Rolf Isaacsohn, and his girlfriend, Stella Goldschlag Kubler. In July, Rolf and Dorit learned that Stella had been arrested by the Gestapo. Shortly after, Dorit went to live with Julius in the janitor’s apartment.
In October 1943, Gertrud was living at a farm in Wilkersdorf (Krzesnica, Poland) and asked the farmer to allow Dorit to live there. The farmer agreed if Dorit brought stamps for sugar. Julius purchased the stamps on the black market and Dorit moved to the farm. Gertrud sent Julius a package for his birthday in November, but did not receive a response. When they returned to Berlin for another job, they were told that Julius’ nephew Rolf now worked for the Gestapo and had betrayed Julius, who had been arrested. Gertrud and Dorit traveled around Germany working for different clients, including farmers, a judge, and the head of the Gestapo. In December 1944, they returned to Wilkersdorf to make a wedding dress. In early January 1945, Soviet forces liberated the town. Gertrud was raped by the soldiers. The Soviets demanded that Germans march eastward, so Gertrud and Dorit walked for days, taking food from empty houses. The war ended when Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945.
Gertrud and Dorit were forced to leave, as the area they were staying in was now Poland. While walking back to Berlin, they were unable to bathe and Dorit got lice and was covered in contagious sores. They arrived in July and resumed using the last name Isaacsohn. Gertrud registered with the Jewish community, but found no relatives on the survivors list. Gertrud was placed in a displaced persons camp, and Dorit was put in the Jewish hospital because of the sores. Later, Gertrud learned that on October 29, 1943, Julius had been sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center in German-occupied Poland, on transport 45, and was killed. Gertrud’s brother Ludwig survived several concentration camps, but the rest of their family perished. In late 1945, Dorit was sent to Lüneburg, Germany, because Gertrud was sick. In summer 1946, she returned to Gertrud, who was healthy and had an apartment and a job as a dressmaker. Gertrud learned that during the war, Rolf had tried to turn them over to the Gestapo, but could not find them. He escaped after the war, and left his wife Stella to be captured and tried as a collaborator by the Soviets. On October 25, 1949, Gertrud and Dorit immigrated to the United States on the USAT General Ballou. They settled in Easton, Pennsylvania. Sixteen year old Dorit changed her name to Dorothy, but continued to go by Dorit. Dorit went to hairdressing school and worked as a hairdresser, while Gertrud worked in a clothing factory and did alterations in a men’s clothing store. In 1952, they moved to Philadelphia. Gertrud, 77, died in July 1978, in Philadelphia. Dorit, 75, died on December 5, 2008.