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Shaving brush received in a concentration camp

Object | Accession Number: 2005.256.1

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    Shaving brush received in a concentration camp


    Brief Narrative
    Shaving brush given to Elias Cala for safekeeping by a fellow inmate in 1944 at Auschwitz III-Monowitz concentration camp. The other inmate was a barber who gave the brush to Elias when he became ill. He was sent to the infirmary, but never returned. Elias had been deported to Monowitz from the Jewish ghetto in Mlawa, Poland, in November, 1942, with his wife and one-year-old daughter. His wife and daughter were selected for death upon arrival at Auschwitz. Elias was assigned to work as slave labor in the I.G Farben company’s Buna plant associated with the Monowitz camp. In January 1945, Elias and others from Monowitz were taken on a series of transports and death marches. He escaped from a death march in April, 1945, near the town of Arnstorf, Germany. Local residents hid him until the area was liberated by the United States Army on May 1. He lived in the town as a displaced person for four years, before emigrating to the United States in 1949.
    received:  1944
    received: Monowitz (Concentration camp); Monowice (Poland)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Elias Cala
    Subject: Elias Cala
    Elias Cala was born September 19, 1917, to a Jewish family in Dobrzyn nad Wisla. His parents were Joseph (b. 1885) and Miriam (nee Diamont). He was the middle child of five siblings, Rachel (b.1914), Saul (b. 1916), Shlomo (b. 1920), and Victor (b. 1925). His father died of natural causes before World War II. In 1938, Elias entered the Polish army. His older brother, Saul, had been conscripted, but Elias was more physically fit for military service, so he went in his brother’s place. His unit was captured by the invading German army in September 1939. Many of the captured Polish soldiers were soon released, but Jewish soldiers were selected out by the Germans to be kept in prison. Elias’s unit helped him keep his Jewish identity secret and he was released as well. While Elias was in the army, the family had moved to Bydgosczc. The Germans were already occupying the city, prompting Elias’s sister, Rachel, and her husband to leave for Russia. Shlomo disappeared one day, presumably grabbed off the street by the Germans. Elias joined his remaining family in Bydgosczc, but felt that it was not safe for him as a Jew and as a Polish soldier still in uniform. He returned to Dobrzyn to stay with an uncle, who was a tailor and was able to supply Elias with civilian clothes.

    The Jews were expelled from Dobrzyn in November 1939. He, his uncle, and other relatives moved to Drobin, but it was dangerous for Jews there, too. Under the German occupation, Jewish men were being captured for forced labor, or for execution. Elias volunteered for a road construction crew overseen by a German company. By making himself useful to the Germans in this way, he sought protection from these random captures and executions.

    Early in 1940, he met and married Chaya Robak. Shortly after, the Germans deported the Jews of Drobin to the ghetto in Piotrkow Trybunalski. Elias’s uncle was able to work in the ghetto as a tailor, but Elias could not find work. The ghetto had not been sealed yet, so Elias was able to leave with his wife and go back to the road construction crew, though they had to live in the nearby Mlawa ghetto. Their daughter, Miriam, was born there in December, 1941. In November 1942, the family was included in a transport to Auschwitz. When they arrived, Elias was separated from his family. He tried to run after them, explaining to the guards, “I have bread for my wife and my baby.” The guards replied, “They don’t need any bread anymore.”

    Elias was tattooed on his forearm with the number 76249. He was sent to the Auschwitz III concentration camp, also known by the name Monowitz and the nickname Buna, after the I.G. Farben company’s Buna works associated with the camp. Elias was assigned to slave labor, building a plant that would derive gasoline from coal. Through black market activities, he was able to obtain enough food to survive in the camp and to help others survive. The camp authorities sometimes looked the other way when Elias pilfered camp supplies, such as clothing, to trade with outsiders for food. SS overseers also accepted bribes of cigarettes and whiskey, obtained through black market trade.

    In January 1945, Elias and others from the camp were taken west into Germany on a series of trains and death marches that included brief stays at the Oranienburg and Flossenbürg concentration camps, and then the Kaufering concentration camp, where he was put to work building airplanes. As Allied military forces approached, Elias and others were marched out of the camp. He and ten others escaped from the march near the town of Arnstorf, Germany, by hiding among bundles of hay. The local police found them and imprisoned them, but the people of the town released them from jail and hid them. American troops arrived a few days later, on May 1, 1945. Elias became part of a community of Jewish displaced persons in Arnstorf, where he met and married Ethel Lieberman. In March 1949 they emigrated to the United States. They had three children.

    Physical Details

    Physical Description
    Hand-held brush with cream-colored boar bristles and a wood handle covered with plastic. Handle tapers in the middle. Top is flat and cream-colored, with a black line, then a red-brown color marbled to look like wood. At the rim where bristles emerge is a silver-colored metal ring.
    overall: Height: 4.000 inches (10.16 cm) | Width: 1.500 inches (3.81 cm) | Depth: 1.380 inches (3.505 cm)
    overall : wood, metal, bristle, plastic

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The shaving brush was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2005 by Elias Cala.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 18:29:27
    This page:

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