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Rittershausen fur sewing machine brought with an Austrian Jewish refugee

Object | Accession Number: 2006.511.1 a-d

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    Rittershausen fur sewing machine brought with an Austrian Jewish refugee

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    Brief Narrative
    Rittershausen furrier’s sewing machine and table brought with master furrier Isidor Muschel, his wife, Ida, and their daughter, Dorit, when they left Vienna, Austria, for the United States in 1938. This durable sewing machine was designed to join several heavy animal pelts into a garment using thick, treated thread and a heavy duty, horizontal needle. On March 13, 1938, Germany annexed Austria. New legislation was created that quickly restricted Jewish life. Not long after, Isidor was publically humiliated in the street and later, he was arrested and taken to the train station where he escaped before he was deported. Ida’s mother, Rosa Rubel, helped Isidor, Ida, and their newborn daughter, Dorit, find an American to sponsor their immigration by writing to Myro Glass, a young man whom she had helped years before. He lived in Indianapolis, Indiana, and secured sponsorship for the Muschel family from the president of the Indiana Fur Company. Ida, a Romanian citizen, managed to avoid the German emigration quota for foreigners by pretending to be Dorit’s nanny. In October 1938, the family missed their scheduled train to the Netherlands, and later learned that everyone on that train had been shot by Nazis. On October 29, the Muschel family boarded the SS Pennland in Vlissingen, Netherlands. In November, they arrived in New York City, where they boarded a train to Indianapolis. Ida’s mother, Rosa, immigrated to the US, and in 1939 and 1940, Isidor helped his brothers Lazar, Edmund, Wilhelm, and Josef do the same. Isidor’s family settled in Indianapolis.
    manufacture:  1911-1938
    use:  approximately 1924-1996
    manufacture: Berlin (Germany)
    distribution: Vienna (Austria)
    use: Vienna (Austria)
    use: Indianapolis (Ind.)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Doris Muschel Schwartz, in memory of her parents, Isidor and Ida Muschel
    a. top right, label, embossed : PELZ-NÄHMASCHINEN-FABRIK / M. Rittershausen / BERLIN O. MARCUSSTR.5 [Fur Sewing Machine Factory]
    a. top left, label, embossed : Nähmaschinen- Versandhaus / STRAUSS / WIEN. VII Siebensterng.13 [Sewing Machine – Mail-order Company / Strauss / Vienna]
    a. right side, center left, metal ring, engraved : 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
    a. base, back center, black paint : T
    b. underside, wingnuts, engraved : 2 crossed keys / 8
    Subject: Isidor Muschel
    Manufacturer: M. Rittershausen
    Distributor: Louis Strauss
    Isidor Muschel was born on August 26, 1907, in Vienna, Austro-Hungary, to a Jewish couple Ruben and Theresa Guensberger Muschel. Isidor had 4 brothers and one other sibling: Lazar (1905-2001), Edmund (1909 – 1999), Wilhelm (1911 – 2000), and Josef (1913 – 1997). Isidor’s father, Ruben, was a successful businessman. The Muschel family lived comfortably and were very religious. Increasing anti-Semitic sentiment and new restrictions in Austria made it difficult for Jews to further their studies at universities. Isidor had intended to go into business like his father, but knew that wouldn’t happen without more schooling, so he decided to learn a trade. In 1921, 14 year old Isidor became an apprentice in a furrier’s shop and began attending furrier school. He attended school for 3 years, and in July 1924, he earned the title master furrier and a diploma from the Association of Furriers in Vienna. Isidor knew about all types of fur, how to handle them, and the best way to construct clothing from them. These skills combined with his specialized fur sewing machine allowed him to become a successful fur designer. Isidor also joined a Jewish group for young adults and became friends with Ida Rubel. Later, Isidor married Ida, who was born on May 9, 1912, in Bojan, Romania (Boiany, Ukraine), to Avraham and Rosa Lindner Rubel.

    In early 1938, Isidor and Ida’s daughter, Dorit (later Doris “Dee” Schwartz,) was born in Vienna. Germany annexed Austria on March 13, in what became known as the "Anschluss." Anti-Jewish policies that stripped Austrian Jews of their rights were quickly enacted. Isidor and Ida decided that they needed to leave the country. One day, Nazis pulled Isidor out into the street, ordered him to sweep the ground, and publically humiliated him. On another occasion, a German officer arrested Isidor and took him to a train station to be deported. The officer left Isidor sitting on a bench there when he went to use the restroom, telling him to wait until he returned. Isidor ignored the command and left. Another day, soldiers invaded the Muschel home and took whatever things they wanted, including a baby grand piano.

    These incidents increased Isidor’s desire to get his family to the United States, but there were many obstacles barring their escape. These included the need for an American to sponsor their immigration and German emigration quotas for foreign born Jews, like his Romanian wife. The first solution came when a postcard from the US fell out of a prayer book that Ida’s widowed mother, Rosa, was reading. The card was from Mr. Myro Glass, a young man whose music school education she had sponsored many years ago. He had moved to the US and was a cantor at a temple in Indianapolis, Indiana. In a letter, Rosa asked Myro to help the Muschel family. He responded and arranged for Mr. Herbert Davidson, the president of the Indiana Fur Company, to sponsor Isidor and his family. Ida didn’t want to go because many of her family members would be left behind. Isidor was also worried about leaving behind his parents and siblings, but insisted that they leave. Sponsorship allowed the family to enter the US, but they needed to find a way to be allowed out of Austria first. The German quota restricting Romanian emigration made it difficult for Ida to leave. She got lucky when a sympathetic officer listed her status as Dorit’s nurse, rather than her mother so she could avoid being identified as Romanian.

    Isidor’s last concern was how to get his family and some possessions out of the country. There were many regulations surrounding what possessions could be removed from German territory, and Isidor had to carefully select what they would take and ensure that he had all of the paperwork required to ship those possessions separately. In mid-September Isidor began working with a shipping and warehousing agency, Dr. Franz Reitter, to complete all necessary paperwork. He signed documents stating that the property he was taking had been used by him in Vienna and that it included no precious metals, means of payment, or merchandise for resale. He also filed a 1 month tax clearance certificate and address verification form with the proper German and American authorities. The shipping company managed the inventoried lists of the Muschel’s possessions, which consisted of a crate for the sewing machine and 2 crates of clothing and household goods, which were listed on 80 separate lines, itemized down to the number of men’s socks and women’s undergarments.

    In mid-October, the Muschel family missed one of several trains they were scheduled to take to the Netherlands to board their ship. They were still able to arrive in time to board, and later learned that everyone on the train they had missed had been shot by Nazis. On October 29, 1938, Isidor, his wife Ida, and their young daughter, Dorit, boarded the SS Pennland in Vlissingen, Netherlands, and sailed to the United States. They landed in New York City, New York, on November 8, and boarded a train to Indianapolis. Their crated possessions were later sent aboard the SS Westernland, arriving on November 22. The crates were held up by customs, which needed a notarized document and a fee to release them. After several months and several letters, the family’s few possessions, including the sewing machine and Shabbat candlesticks, arrived in Indiana on January 16, 1939. Isidor was offered a position with his sponsor’s fur company and also took in piecework, which he worked on in his free time to make extra money. Rosa, Isidor’s mother-in-law, was also able to emigrate and eventually joined Isidor, Ida, and Dorit.

    Isidor helped his brothers immigrate to the US. On May 14, 1939, Edmund and Wilhelm boarded the SS Nieuw Amsterdam in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Both men had been arrested during the Kristallnacht pogrom on November 9 and 10, 1938, and were deported to Dachau concentration camp in German-occupied Poland, where they were issued prisoner numbers 25851 and 25852. They were later released, likely when they promised to emigrate. On May 27, Lazar followed his brothers from Rotterdam aboard the SS Zaandam. On January 21, 1940, Josef boarded the SS Westernland in Antwerp, Belgium. Isidor’s brothers settled in New York City: Lazar as a spring maker in a factory, Edmund as a men’s hat blocker, Wilhelm as a ladies clothing cutter’s assistant, and Josef as a clothing factory handyman. Isidor’s parents, Ruben and Theresa, fifth sibling, and members of his extended family were likely deported to concentration camps and perished in the Holocaust.

    Isidor, became known locally as a talented and respected fur mechanic and joined the staff in the fur design and repair salon at the William H. Block Co. Department Store, and later at the F. & R. Lazarus & Co. Department Store. Ida worked in the billing department at the H.P. Wasson Department Store in Indianapolis. Later, she moved to the billing department at the L.S. Ayers Department Store in Glendale. On December 26, 1960, Doris married Sanford Schwartz and the couple had three children. After leaving the department stores, Isidor returned to working for Mr. Davidson part-time. He retired at the age of 88. Isidor, age 90, died on May 22, 1998, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ida, age 92, died on October 7, 2004, in Indianapolis.

    Physical Details

    Tools and Equipment
    Physical Description
    a. Black painted, cast iron, treadle sewing machine with a rectangular body and a U-shaped base bolted to a treadle table (b). In front of the body, supported by several perpendicular rods, is the sewing head: a pivoting, curved rod with a flat, triangular foot suspended above a horizontal needle in a rectangular block. Below the needle, the raised, ridged edges of 2 shallow, horizontal circular dishes, 1 behind the other, almost touch. The back plate is below the needle, which moves forward and backward, guided by a slotted rectangular plate on the front dish, which is mounted at the end of a thick, rounded arm that angles up and out from the right front. Two thick wheels with grooved pulley extensions, one on the left side, one on the right, are connected by a horizontal rod that passes through the machine. On the left, a vertical rectangular guard is anchored to the table in front of a black treadle belt looped over the pulley wheel. On the right, is a flat, brass colored setting ring around the base of a ridged knob and a tapered lever below. Thread guides, a coiled wire and grooved wheel, are fixed to the top, while a spool pin and vertical guide rod with a flat curved top are fixed to a plate mounted behind the machine. Gold painted line borders decorate the machine. Embossed manufacturing plates are nailed on top.

    b. Dark brown wooden treadle powered sewing machine table with black cast iron legs for a fur sewing machine (a). The table has a flat, rectangular top with beveled edges, rounded corners, and 2 treadle belt holes. On the right, nailed to the underside, are 2 full depth L shaped support runners for a drawer (c). The scrollwork legs are bolted to the underside and connected by a metal H cross brace at the center. A large spoked wheel and curved guard are attached to the left side. Attached near the bottom is a treadle pedal shaped like 2 footprints with latticework soles and 5 point stars in the heels. Between the footprints is a narrow rectangular pedal with a thin vertical rod running up through the table. A larger vertical rod connects the treadle to the support for the spoked wheel. Gold painted lines and accents decorate the legs.

    c. Rectangular, dark brown wooden drawer with a domed, gold colored metal handle nailed to the front and an unfinished interior. A full depth rectangular groove with a rounded front end and open back is cut into the top of each side. They slide over support runners on a fur sewing machine table (b). The handle is loose and discolored.
    a: Height: 10.250 inches (26.035 cm) | Width: 11.000 inches (27.94 cm) | Depth: 10.750 inches (27.305 cm)
    b: Height: 26.750 inches (67.945 cm) | Width: 35.750 inches (90.805 cm) | Depth: 19.875 inches (50.483 cm)
    c: Height: 3.250 inches (8.255 cm) | Width: 4.625 inches (11.747 cm) | Depth: 13.125 inches (33.338 cm)
    a : iron, metal, paint, rubber
    b : wood, iron, metal, paint, stain
    c : wood, metal, stain

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Geographic Name
    Vienna (Austria)
    Personal Name
    Muschel, Isidor.

    Administrative Notes

    The sewing machine and table were donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2006 by Doris Muschel Schwartz, the daughter of Isidor Muschel.
    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 18:29:07
    This page:

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