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Square, brown burlap covered trunk used postwar by a young German Jewish refugee

Object | Accession Number: 2003.242.3

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    Square, brown burlap covered trunk used postwar by a young German Jewish refugee


    Brief Narrative
    Brown cloth covered trunk used by 16 year old Dorit Isaacsohn and her mother Gertrud during their November 1949 emigration from Berlin, Germany, to the United States. By the late 1930’s, Dorit’s parents had lost their livelihood because of the anti-Semitic policies of the Nazi regime. Dorit, age 6, was sent to Brussels on a Kindertransport in 1939. Germany invaded Belgium in May 1940 and Dorit was returned to her parents in Berlin in 1941. On February 27, 1943, Dorit and her family had to separate to go into hiding. Dorit stayed with a family friend, a cousin, and her father Julius in Berlin. In fall 1943, Dorit left Berlin to live with her mother at a farm in Wilkersdorf. Shortly after, her father was betrayed by his nephew Rolf and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on October 23, where he was killed. Dorit and her mother traveled around eastern Germany until January 1945, when they were liberated by Soviet forces in Wilkersdorf.
    emigration:  1949 November
    received: Berlin (Germany)
    manufacture: Leipzig (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Dorit Isaacsohn
    front, engraved on hasp : 63 / 64
    front, stamped twice on lock plate : S (inside horseshoe)
    interior, lid, on green leather label, gold paint : Patent Rohr - Flachs Platten - Koffer / Moritz Mädler / Leipzig [Ingenious Tubing - Flat Plates - Suitcase / Moritz Mädler / Leipzig]
    Subject: Dorit Isaacsohn
    Manufacturer: Moritz Mädler
    Dorothea (Dorit) Isaacsohn (later Dorothy Isaacsohn, 1933-2008) was born in Berlin, Germany, to Julius and Gertrud Koh Isaacsohn. Julius (1891-1943) was born in Berlin to Herrman Benjamin and Ernestine Kaiser Isaacsohn. Julius was a garment maker and coat and suit designer who imported his own fabrics. Gertrud (1901-1978) was born in Gratz, Germany (Grodzisk Wielkopolski, Poland), to Alex and Dorothea Koh. In May 1931, Julius and Gertrud married. Gertrud had 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 had taken power shortly before Dorit’s birth and actively began persecuting Jews. Gertrud’s employee Lucie was no longer allowed to work for a Jewish woman. In 1938, Julius and Gertrud lost their jobs. In early 1939, Dorit’s parents attempted to leave Germany, but could not get visas and permits. They sent 6 year old Dorit to Brussels, Belgium, to live with Dorit’s maternal aunt, Anna Kaufman, and her husband and stepson. Dorit’s maternal uncle Ludwig also lived in Brussels. Dorit had diphtheria when she arrived and was hospitalized, before going to live with her aunt Anna. The war began when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Shortly after, on May 10, 1940, Germany invaded Belgium. Three German soldiers came to the apartment of Dorit’s aunt and took both of her uncles away. In 1941, Dorit returned to Berlin with the help of her parents and a family friend. In Berlin, Julius and Gertrud were forced to share their apartment with displaced Jewish families. Her parents were forced to work for the German government: Gertrud at a factory sewing leather army goods, and Julius at a lumber yard.

    Gertrud heard there was going to be a large roundup of Jews so on February 27, 1943, Dorit and her parents went into hiding with non-Jewish friends. Gertrud and Julius found an apartment to rent under the false name Schultz, but they had no false papers to support that claim. When they arrived, the owner refused to let them stay and the family separated. Dorit stayed with Lucie Gardner, Gertrud’s former employee, who told neighbors that Dorit was her niece. In April or May, Dorit moved into a crowded apartment with her cousin Rolf Isaacsohn, his girlfriend, Stella Goldschlag Kubler, and seven others. One summer day, Rolf and Dorit were told that Stella had been arrested by the Gestapo. Shortly after, Dorit went to live with her father Julius in the home of an apartment building janitor.

    Dorit’s mother Gertrud had left Berlin and worked as a traveling private dressmaker. She told her clients that her home had been bombed and her husband was in the army. 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, so Julius purchased the stamps on the black market. In October 1943, Dorit went to Wilkersdorf. When they returned to Berlin for another job, they were told that Dorit’s cousin Rolf had begun working for the Gestapo and had betrayed Julius, who was arrested. Gertrud and Dorit traveled around Germany working for different clients, including the head of the Gestapo. In December 1944, they returned to Wilkersdorf to make a wedding dress for a client. In early January 1945, Soviet forces liberated the town. The Soviets demanded that the Germans march eastward, so Dorit and Gertrud walked for days, taking food from empty houses. The war ended when Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945.

    Dorit, Gertrud, and the other German refugees 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 contracted 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. She asked concentration camp survivors if they knew her father, but no one did. Later, they 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. Dorit’s maternal uncle Ludwig survived several concentration camps, but the rest of their family perished. In late 1945, Gertrud was sick, so Dorit was sent to Lüneburg, Germany, and attended school for the first time. In summer 1946, she returned to Gertrud, who was healthy and had an apartment and a job as a dressmaker. They learned that during the war, Dorit’s cousin 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. She was told she was too old to attend school, so she went to hairdressing school because she had taken an ORT course on cosmetics in Germany. Dorit 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.

    Physical Details

    English German
    Physical Description
    Very well used, squarish, fiberboard trunk with a wooden frame, covered with treated, brown painted burlap with large, painted metal studs around the lid sides. Dark brown leather bumpers are nailed to the front lid edge corners and leather stripping is sewn around the rounded, side edges of the lid and base. Two sets of riveted, wooden ribs with paint remnants and beveled ends extend around the lid and base, with leather brackets nailed at intervals across the ribs. A decorative black line is painted along each side of the ribs. An interior cloth hinge connects the lid and base, and a leather panel covers the exterior back joint, but is separating along the center. On the front is a hasp lock and lock plate, with a brown painted drawbolt to the left and right. The left and right base sides have dark brown leather strap handles inserted under metal brackets with 1 end riveted to the trunk and a metal end stopper on the other; the right handle is detached. The interior is lined with light brown cloth. There is a collapsible divider that extends from the right base side to create a storage compartment. There are 2 cloth belts with buckles on the left side. Cloth covered metal shelf support brackets are in each corner. An orange crisscrossed cloth ribbon is tacked onto the inner lid to form a pocket. Painted on each exterior side is a large red circle surrounded by a green ring. There is a leather store label, an identifying inscription on the lid, several labels, and a hanging tag. Detatched handle: partial, right side, rectangular, dark brown leather handle made from 2 pieces of sewn leather, with jagged ends where it was torn from trunk. (1.000 x 6.375 x .250)
    overall: Height: 16.750 inches (42.545 cm) | Width: 30.000 inches (76.2 cm) | Depth: 18.875 inches (47.943 cm)
    overall : fiberboard, wood, cloth, leather, metal, paper, adhesive, thread, ink, graphite, paint
    top, center, black paint : I / GERTRUD / ISAACSOHN / UN JEW / AP CAMP / StAMFORt / CONN
    left, on paper tag on handle, printed, black ink : Local and / Interline / Form 1 / A.Y.N.K.H. & H.R.H / BOSTON, MASS. / (?) / JUMBO / U.S.A. / W / 600852 / NO. OF TICKETS / NO. PIECES IN LOT
    left, orange paint : JXX
    right, on sticker, black ink : I
    right, on sticker, printed and stamped in black ink and handwritten in pencil : IRO / Emigration From Transit Camp Grohn / BAGGAGE / NO 606 / Isaaksohn / Gertrud / Ship: USAT “Gen(?)al Ballou” / Date of Sailing: (?)tober 26th 1949 / From: Breme(?)ven (Germany) / T(?) / (?)tor Pass. No. 71A / IRO Camp Grohn – Baggage Department

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The trunk was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2003 by Dorit 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:
    2022-07-28 18:10:39
    This page:

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