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Embroidered, pink dress once worn by Lela Altarac, who was killed in a bombing raid

Object | Accession Number: 2002.438.8

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    Embroidered, pink dress once worn by Lela Altarac, who was killed in a bombing raid

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Pink dress with embroidery worn by four-year-old Lela Altarac, who was killed on April 14, 1941, in a German bombing raid on Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (later Bosnia and Hercegovina.) In September 1941, seven-year-old Jas̆a and his parents, Mayer and Mimi, fled Belgrade, Yugoslavia (later Serbia), for Skopje, Macedonia, following the German invasion in April. Yugoslavia had been dismembered by the Axis Alliance, and Skopje was now controlled by Bulgaria. A month later, Mayer encountered a man from Kosovo who recognized him as Jewish and the Altarac family fled that night to Pristina, which was under Italian control. There as a large Jewish refugee population there, as the Italians did not regularly deport Jews to the German-run concentration camps. In December 1941, the Jewish refugees in Pristina were ordered to move into a transit camp at the main prison. In March 1942, German authorities demanded the deportation of fifty-one Jews to German territory. This group included Jas̆a 's maternal aunt Frida Barta, her husband, and daughter. The Italians complied and they were all murdered. In September 1943, the Italian military commander informed the Jewish families that Italy had surrendered to the Allies and their troops were withdrawing from Pristina. Assuming the Germans would soon occupy the region, Jas̆a 's family took a taxi to Tirana, Albania. His mother sold hand knit sweaters, and one of her customers, Ganimet Toptani, learning that she was Jewish, offered to help them. Her husband, Atif Toptani, took the family to an estate outside of town. In August 1944, a German unit came to search the estate for weapons, as someone had shot at the soldiers. Atif showed them they had no weapons. They were not arrested, but they were ordered to move back to Tirana. That September, Tirana was liberated by the partisans. The family returned to Belgrade. In December 1948, the family immigrated to Israel.
    Date
    use:  before 1941 April 14
    Geography
    use: Belgrade (Serbia)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Jas̆a Altarac
    Contributor
    Subject: Jas̆a Altarac
    Previous owner: Jas̆a Altarac
    Biography
    Jaša Altarac was born on January 1, 1934 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (Serbia), to Mayer (Meir) and Mimi (Miriam) Finci Altarac. Mimi was born in 1910 in Brcko (now in Bosnia and Hercegovina). Her father was an accountant and she had two brothers, David and Shalom, and a sister, Frida. Shalom immigrated to Palestine before the war. Mayer was born in 1901 in Sarajevo (later in Bosnia and Hercegovina) and had a successful business as a marble craftsman and home contractor. Jaša’s younger sister, Lea Lela, was born in 1937. The family was well off, assimilated, and spoke Serbian. Mayer also supported his mother and other family members in Sarajevo. They traveled by car every year to celebrate Passover with Jaša’s grandmother in Sarajevo.

    Yugoslavia was held together by a totalitarian monarchy backed by the military. On April 6, 1941, continuing the policy of eastward expansion, Germany and Italy invaded Yugoslavia supported by Hungary and Bulgaria. Jaša and his family were in Sarajevo for Passover on April 14 and there was an aerial attack. The family rushed to the basement, and the house was directly hit by a bomb. Jaša was thrown through the air. His sister, Lela, was found in the arms of her grandmother, both dead. A few days later, German troops occupied Sarajevo. The family left the city ten days after the funeral for Sabac, a village in central Serbia. They stayed with Miloje Markovic, the foreman of Mayer’s business. On July 18, the family returned to Belgrade. Yugoslavia had been dismembered by the Axis Alliance and Serbia, where Belgrade located, was under German military government. Anti-Jewish policies were immediately implemented. Jews had to register with the police. Jewish men, including Mayer, were taken for forced labor. The Germans took hostages to prevent any resistance, and Jewish hostages were killed for any pretext. Mayer asked a former business partner, and Italian named Erminio Dorio, to help them obtain travel documents for the Italian occupation territory. This area was preferred because Italian authorities generally refused to deport Jews to German-run concentration camps. The permits were not ready as quickly as needed, but Dorio provided a letter on the stationary of the Bulgarian Embassy in Belgrade stating that a travel visa for Skopje was waiting for them in Tirana, Albania.

    On September 9, 1941, the family fled to Skopje, Macedonia (now North Macedonia), a former province of Yugoslavia, now occupied by Bulgaria. They rented a room with a Jewish family named Amarillo. On October 10, Mayer met an Albanian man from Kosovo, who recognized Mayer as Jewish. The family left Skopje that night for territory under Italian jurisdiction, and settled in Pristina in Kosovo. Pristina had a large, Jewish refugee population. In December 1941, the Italians ordered the Jewish refugees to move into the main prison. Families remained together, they were allowed to use the prison courtyard, and many of the Italian guards were friendly. Moshe Mandil, a professional photographer from Novi Sad, secured permission for a group of inmates to go to the local market to sell the bread they received from the prison authorities for vegetables and other food. Jewish residents of Pristina also helped the prisoners by providing kosher meals.

    On March 17, 1942, German authorities demanded the transfer of the Jews into their custody. The Italians turned over fifty-one individuals. Jaša’s maternal aunt, Frida Barta, her husband, and daughter, Dita, were among them. His mother, Mimi, wanted to join her sister, but an Italian guard convinced her not to go. All fifty-one people were murdered by the Germans. On July 8, the Italian command decided to transfer the Jewish prisoners to Albania. They were divided into groups and each group had to find trucks to take them to different destinations in Albania. Jaša, then eight, and his family went to Kavaje, with four other families: Azriel, Borger, Ruchwarger, and Mandil. There were three other children in the group: Marki Azriel, 14, Gavra Mandil, six, and his sister Beba, five. In Kavaje, the head of each family had to register with the Italian commander daily, but otherwise there were few restrictions. They rented apartments in the same building which they called the Red House. Moshe Mandil opened a photography studio. The children attended a school, with an Italian soldier as their teacher.

    In September 1943, the Italian military commander assembled the heads of the Jewish families and announced that Italy had surrendered to the Allies on September 8. The Italian garrison would be leaving town, but they had destroyed the records on the families. The mayor of Kavaje provided documents identifying them citizens and Muslims. It was felt that German forces would soon occupy the town. The Altarac family decided they would be safer in a city and went by taxi with Jasa’s cousin, Sida Levi, and her ten-year-old son, Mikica, to Tirana, the capital. They rented an apartment and Sida and Jaša’s mothers earned money by knitting sweaters. A customer, Ganimet Toptani, who spoke German because her father had been the ambassador to Austria, knew that the family was Jewish and often gave Mimi food for the children. In February 1944, Ganimet asked Mimi to come see her. She told Mimi that the Germans were planning deportation round-ups and that the Jews needed to leave Tirana. Her husband, Atif, moved the Altarac and Levi families to an estate in Kamza, outside Tirana. He later moved Sida and her son to different hiding places. They celebrated Passover with the Mandil family who were being protected by the Veselis family and the Gershons, who were aided by the Frasheris family. In August 1944, the estate was searched by a German unit of Bosnian Muslims, the Hadj Amin El Husseini division (Handjar), after shots were fired at them. They interrogated Mayer, who spoke German, and explained that he was a relative. There were German books, including Nazi propaganda, in the villa, so they believed him and left. Atif moved them to another location in Tirana. In September 1944, Tirana was liberated by partisans.

    The Altarac family returned to Belgrade. They later learned that Mimi’s brother David and his family had survived. Shalom had served in the British Army, parachuting behind enemy lines and working with the Yugoslav partisans. In December 1948, the family immigrated to Israel. In 1960, Jaša married Enica Frances, from Skopje, who had survived with her parents, brother, and grandmother in Albania. The couple had two daughters. In 1992, Atif and Ganimet Toptani were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Clothing and Dress
    Object Type
    Child's dress (lcsh)
    Genre/Form
    Dresses
    Physical Description
    Young child’s, short sleeve dress made from light pink fabric with a white, scalloped, Peter Pan collar. Alternating pink and blue thread knots are sewn into each scallop. The short, puff sleeves are sewn to the bodice and gathered at the cuffs and shoulders. A colorful, embroidered design depicting a child at play is satin-stitched on the lower left side of the dress. The flared skirt is smocked below the bodice on the front and back, creating loose pleats beneath. The back of the bodice has three silver-colored metal snaps going down to the mid-back. The collar is fastened with two snaps, one of which is part of the back closure. There is light green-brown staining throughout, particularly on the right side.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 16.500 inches (41.91 cm) | Width: 9.000 inches (22.86 cm)
    Materials
    overall : cloth, thread, metal

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The dress was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2002 by Jas̆a Altarac, the brother of Lela Altarac.
    Record last modified:
    2024-01-05 14:50:52
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn520810

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