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Long underwear worn by a Jewish Polish partisan in the Soviet Army

Object | Accession Number: 2003.193.4

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    Long underwear worn by a Jewish Polish partisan in the Soviet Army


    Brief Narrative
    Long underwear pants worn by Josef Matlowsky (later Joseph Matlow), a Jewish partisan, while fighting in the Soviet Army around Lida, Poland (now Belarus), from 1944 to 1945. The pants, possibly made of fustian, would have been issued as part of a winter uniform. In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and gave the Soviet Union the eastern half, where Josef, his parents, Rubin and Fruma, and his sisters, Edith, Toby and Michla, lived. Following the invasion, his family went to live in Radun, with Josef’s maternal grandparents, Iude and Lachil. In summer 1941, Germany invaded eastern Poland and established a ghetto in Radun. In January 1942, German authorities shot Josef’s sister, Toby. On May 10, the authorities liquidated the Radun ghetto and shot his grandparents. His family hid in the attic and escaped the ghetto that night. His sister, Michla, fled into the woods, and Josef went to the Lida ghetto with his parents, who were later taken away on a transport. In November 1943, Josef escaped and became a partisan fighter. In summer 1944, Josef joined the Soviet Army after being liberated. In May 1945, Germany surrendered. Josef went to Zdzieciol (Dziatlava, Belarus), where he worked for the Soviet police and married Chana Minuskin (later Helen Matlow), a survivor from that town. In January 1948, their daughter, Fruma, was born at Eggenfelden displaced persons camp. In 1949, they immigrated to the United States. Josef’s sister, Edith, and her family were shot in September 1939, and his parents were killed at Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942.
    use:  approximately 1944
    use: Poland
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Helen and Joseph Matlow
    Subject: Joseph Matlow
    Josef Matlowsky (Joseph Matlow) was born on December 8, 1921, in Lida, Poland (Belarus), to a Jewish couple, Rubin and Fruma Slodovnik Matlowsky. Rubin, a tailor and businessman, was born in 1893, in Lida. He had a brother and a sister. Fruma, a housewife, was born in 1895, in Radun, Poland (now Belarus), to Iude and Iachil Slodovnik. Fruma had five brothers and one sister. Rubin’s sister immigrated to the United States. Rubin considered emigration until the beginning of World War I (1914-1918). At the end of World War I (1914-1918), Lida was claimed as part of the new nation state of Poland. Just after the war, Rubin and Fruma married and they had four children, Josef and three daughters: Ida Rachel (Edith, b. 1918), Typki (Toby, b. 1921), and Michla (b. 1922). Josef’s family lived comfortably in an apartment, kept kosher, and was very observant. They were involved in the large Jewish community that made up roughly one third of Lida’s population. Josef and his sisters attended a local Polish school until increased anti-Semitism forced them to transfer to Hebrew day school. They spoke Yiddish at home and practiced Polish with a tutor. After finishing school, Josef became a cabinetmaker. His sister, Edith, married, moved away, and gave birth to a child.

    Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Rubin was drafted to serve in the Polish Army, but returned home once he saw Poland would lose. Lida was heavily bombed during the invasion and the Matlowsky family’s building was among those hit. Rubin’s brother’s family was killed during the bombings. German soldiers were stationed in Lida until September 17, when Germany handed eastern Poland to Soviet forces in compliance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, signed on August 23, 1939. Josef, Rubin, Fruma, Michla, and Toby travelled to Radun by horse wagon in the middle of the night to avoid detection by German authorities. The invasion had not touched the small town, and Josef’s family moved in with his maternal grandparents, Iude and Iachil.

    On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and occupied eastern Poland. In July, a ghetto for Jews was established in Radun. In October, Jews were required to begin wearing a yellow Star of David badge on their clothing. Many of the men, among them Rubin and likely Josef, were taken to do forced labor in the woods nearby. German authorities passed laws requiring all Jews to carry identity papers. The Matlowsky family members had to return to Lida, their hometown, to get the correct papers. Josef’s sister Toby, refused to go, though anyone without papers could be seized and taken away. She spoke German and Russian and believed that she could explain why she had no papers and would be left alone. On January 25, 1942, during a snowstorm, German authorities seized 40 Jews in Radun, including paperless Toby, and shot them as the townspeople, Josef and his family among them, watched. Several, including Toby, survived and were shot in the head. The authorities gave the townspeople 20 minutes to bury the bodies in the frozen ground, or 40 more Jews would be shot.

    On May 10, 1942, German authorities liquidated the Radun ghetto. Josef, his parents, sister Michla, an aunt, an uncle, and cousins managed to sneak into an attic hiding space, but Josef’s elderly grandparents, Iude and Iachil, were too slow to hide and were shot as they tried to run. That night, Josef’s family escaped from the ghetto and Rubin told the younger family members to go and hide in the woods. Michla and several others who escaped went into the woods and Josef stayed with his parents, hoping to keep them alive by volunteering to do forced labor. Josef, Fruma, Rubin, an aunt, uncle, and cousins went to the ghetto in Lida, where Rubin tailored clothing for the Germans. Josef’s family received word from Michla telling them to come hide in the woods with the partisans. His aunt, uncle, and cousins escaped and followed her advice. Later in the year, his parents were placed on a transport and taken away. On November 10, 1943, Josef escaped from the ghetto. He became a partisan, fighting in the woods around Lida, with several groups including the Nepobedimy detachment of the Leninskaya brigade and three other detachments where he was a captain. In summer 1944, Soviet forces liberated the region. As a liberated partisan, he joined the Soviet Army and continued fighting German forces in the region around Lida.

    On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered. Josef left the army and started working for the Soviet police in Zdzieciol, Poland (Dziatlava, Belarus). His sister Michla, who had survived by fighting in the woods as a partisan, found him and asked him to go with her to Radun. He wanted to keep making money and told her to go without him. He married Chana Minuskin (1924 – 2017), a survivor from Zdzieciol that had worked as a forced laborer at an aerodrome in Dworzec (Dvarėts (Hrodzenskaia voblasts', Belarus) before escaping and hiding in the Lipichanski forest with her mom and brother. The couple went to Łódź, Poland. In May 1946, Josef and Chana went to Funk-Kaserne, a displaced persons camp in the American controlled zone near Munich, Germany, and in January 1947, they went to Eggenfelden displaced persons camp. On January 22, 1948, Josef and Chana’s daughter, Fruma (Fran), was born in Eggenfelden. On May 29, 1949, Josef, Chana, and Fruma sailed from Bremerhaven, Germany, on the USAT General Holbrook, arriving in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 8. The family boarded a train to Ohio, settled in Cleveland, and changed their names to Joseph, Helen, and Fran Matlow. Joseph’s sister, Michla, married a partisan fighter, Henry Berkowitz, and they immigrated to the United States with their son in August 1949. Michla changed her name to Miriam. In May 1952, Joseph and Helen’s son, Aaron was born. All of Josef’s extended family members perished in the Holocaust. The aunt, uncle, and cousins who hid with Michla eventually left the woods, went to the Grodno (Hrodna) ghetto, and were not heard from again. His sister Edith, her husband, and their newborn baby were shot by German authorities just after the 1939 invasion. His parents, Fruma and Rubin, were transported to Auschwitz concentration camp in German occupied Poland in 1942, and killed. Joseph, 93, died on October 30, 2015, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

    Physical Details

    Clothing and Dress
    Men's clothing
    Object Type
    Long underwear (aat)
    Physical Description
    Off white, textured twill cloth, three quarter length, long underwear pants with a deep, v-shaped fly and short, narrow cloth laces to fasten the v-shaped slits on the inner cuffs and the front and back waistband openings. The narrow, 2 layer waistband widens at the front, where the ends are drawn together and fastened using 2 sets of laces. On the back, the narrow waistband is divided by a v-shaped slit and fastened with 2 laces. Sewn between the bottom of the waistband and the top of the straight, loose-fitting pant legs is an inverted triangular panel of cloth. At the top of the panel are 4 evenly spaced, tucked-in folds where the pants have been taken in. The alterations have drawn the upper side seams onto the back. The hems and seams are machine finished with white thread. There is a black ink stamp on the interior waistband.
    overall: Height: 26.250 inches (66.675 cm) | Width: 15.125 inches (38.418 cm)
    overall : cloth, thread, ink
    interior waistband, front right, stamped, black ink : D412

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The long underwear was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2003 by Helen and Joseph Matlow.
    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:
    2023-08-25 13:13:23
    This page:

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