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Hand sewn navy blue skirt with a pleated front made by a German Jewish woman

Object | Accession Number: 2002.223.1

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    Hand sewn navy blue skirt with a pleated front made by a German Jewish woman

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Handmade skirt designed and created by Gertrud Koh Isaacsohn, a Jewish dressmaker in prewar Berlin, Germany. This skirt appears to be part of a suit that pairs with a belted jacket (2002.474.2 a&b) created by Gertrud. In 1938, Gertrud and her husband Julius, a coat and suit designer with his own garment making business, had lost their livelihood because of the anti-Semitic policies of the Nazi regime. They sent their daughter Dorit, age 6, to Brussels, Belgium, in early 1939, to stay with Gertrud’s sister Anna Kaufman. Germany invaded Belgium in May 1940, and Gertrud and Julius had Dorit returned to them in 1941. Gertrud and Julius became forced laborers for the German government, working in a leather factory and lumber yard respectively. On February 27, 1943, the family had to separate in order to go into hiding. Gertrud began working as a traveling seamstress and Julius and Dorit stayed with family friends and Julius’ nephew, Rolf Isaacsohn, in Berlin. In October 1943, Gertrud brought Dorit to live with her on a farm in Wilkersdorf. Shortly after, Julius, who was hiding with friends, was betrayed to the authorities by Rolf. On October 29, Julius was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center in German-occupied Poland, where he was killed. Gertrud and Dorit traveled around eastern Germany making dresses for private clients until January 1945, when they were liberated by Soviet forces in Wilkersdorf. Gertrud and Dorit immigrated to the United States in November 1949.
    Date
    creation:  1936-1937
    Geography
    creation: Berlin (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Dorit Isaacsohn
    Markings
    exterior, left side seam, zipper pull, engraved : CONMAR
    interior, left side seam, zipper head, engraved : MADE IN / USA /C
    Contributor
    Subject: Gertrud Isaacsohn
    Designer: Gertrud Isaacsohn
    Manufacturer: Conmar
    Biography
    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.

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Clothing and Dress
    Category
    Women's clothing
    Object Type
    Skirts (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Knee-length, lightweight, textured navy blue cloth women’s A-line skirt with a hidden side closure, a bronze colored metal zipper, and 2 black painted metal snaps sewn into the left seam at the waist. The 1 inch attached waistband and 3 inch bottom hem were added by hand with a running stitch and the seams are machine finished with navy thread. The front center section is defined by 7 vertical seams that extend from the waistband and expand into a pleated lower half, with 2 central box pleats flanked by 2 knife pleats per side. On the back, there are 2 small darts at the waist where the skirt was taken in. On the interior waistband, there is a narrow, black twill cloth hanging loop on the left and cloth remnants from a missing loop on the right. The unlined skirt is neatly tailored and there are some raw edged seams inside. There are small snags and holes in the material from use, and a repaired hole on the upper back left.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 25.375 inches (64.453 cm) | Width: 15.750 inches (40.005 cm)
    Materials
    overall : cloth, thread, metal, paint

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The skirt was donated the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2002 by Dorit Isaacsohn, the daughter of Julius and Gertrud Isaacsohn.
    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:
    2022-09-12 11:59:49
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn511206

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