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Concentration camp uniform cap worn by a Jewish German man

Object | Accession Number: 1994.115.1

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    Concentration camp uniform cap worn by a Jewish German man

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    Brief Narrative
    Concentration camp uniform cap issued to Werner Sauer while interned in Stutthof concentration camp as a German marine deserter in early 1945. The cap is lined with cloth because German military deserters were treated better than Jewish prisoners. The hats Werner had been issued previously as a Jewish inmate were not lined. Werner saved the cap, and refused to ever have it cleaned, as evidence of his ordeal. On January 27, 1942, Werner and his parents, Leo and Auguste, were deported from Gelsenkirchen, Germany, to Riga, Latvia. Werner, a skilled bricklayer, was eventually transferred to Lenta labor camp. In August 1944, Werner was sent to Stutthof concentration camp and reunited with Leo. In October, Werner and Leo were sent to Burggraben labor camp in Danzig. In early 1945, they were sent on a death march and Werner and Leo were separated. Werner escaped, but was caught the same day. He told the Germans he was a German marine deserter and was sent back to Stutthof as a deserter. He was sent on another death march, but escaped. Werner was liberated while hiding on a farm by Soviet forces in March. Werner’s mother Auguste was killed in Stutthof on December 14, 1944, and Werner’s father Leo died from a beating in Rybno in March 1945.
    use:  1945 January-1945 March
    issue: Stutthof (Concentration camp); Sztutowo (Poland)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Joseph Levy, on behalf of Werner Sauer
    Subject: Werner M. Sauer
    Subject: Joseph A. Levy
    Werner Michaelis Sauer was born on November 2, 1918, in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, to a Jewish couple, Leopold and Auguste Rothschild Sauer. Werner had a sister, Lieselotte, born on February 26, 1913. Leopold, called Leo, was born on April 11, 1883, in Oedt (now Grefrath, Germany). Leo served as an officer in the German Army during World War I (1914-1918). Auguste was born on October 31, 1888, in Kolmar (Chodziez, Poland). Their families had lived in Germany for several generations. Leo owned a meat packing plant with 75 employees. The family was wealthy and popular in the town. Leo funded the local soccer team. Werner attended a Jewish grade school, then public high school. He spoke German and learned Latin, French, and English in school. His family did not speak Yiddish and he knew little Hebrew. Werner had mostly non-Jewish friends.

    In January 1933, Hitler came to power in Germany. Anti-Semitic policies were soon enacted. Werner’s school was renamed the Adolf Hitler Gymnasium and he was expelled because he was Jewish. In 1935, Werner got a driver’s license and became a chauffeur. On June 6, 1935, Lieselotte married Kurt Hochheimer. Jewish businesses were boycotted. Many people initially ignored the boycott, but Leo’s sales steadily declined until the business was destroyed. In 1936, the family was forced to sell their house. In 1938, Lieselotte and Kurt immigrated to Kenya. On November 9, 1938, during Kristallnacht, the town synagogue was burned down. Because of his wealth and influence, Werner’s father had special status and was not arrested. Werner was arrested but remained in Gelsenkirchen. Many Jews were leaving Germany, but Werner’s parents did not want to go. Most of his extended family went to South America. In 1939, Werner had to surrender his driver’s license to the police and could not be a chauffeur. He worked as a bricklayer. After the war began in September 1939, a curfew of 8 PM was imposed on the Jews. In 1940, Jews were not allowed to use the train without a special permit. Werner usually ignored the rules, which were not strictly enforced in his town. In late 1940, a large group of Jews was sent away to be resettled in the east. Werner and his family were not selected. In September 1941, Jews were forced to wear Star of David badges. Werner usually covered his star when he went out.

    In January 1942, Werner and his parents received notice that they were being resettled to Riga, Latvia. On January 27, the family was deported. They traveled on an unheated passenger train for six days and were given no food or water. They ate the food in their luggage, and for water, ate snow from outside. They lived in the Riga ghetto in a building with other Jews from Gelsenkirchen. Two other families shared their apartment. There was an appel, or roll call, every week. People were taken out of the ghetto to work. Werner worked at the Riga harbor. They received little food in the ghetto. Werner smuggled items out of the ghetto and bartered them for food when he was at work. Eventually, an SS Officer, Fritz Scherwitz, asked for a bricklayer and Werner was selected. Werner was marched daily from the ghetto to an apartment building in Washington Platz for work. He worked in a group of skilled artisans, including watchmakers, shoemakers, furriers, and other construction workers. In July or August 1943, the workers were moved to a new factory building called Lenta. The prisoners were generally well treated and received more rations. Scherwitz once caught three prisoners bartering for food. He locked them in a bunker and said anyone who helped them would be killed. Werner brought them food anyway. A jeweler named Ritoff made plans to escape and asked if Werner wanted to come with him. Werner refused because Ritoff would not take his parents. In about August 1944, Lenta was evacuated because Soviet troops were approaching. Werner was sent to Danzig, Germany (Gdansk, Poland), then sent to Stutthof concentration camp. He was reunited with his father Leo, but not his mother Auguste, who was in the women’s barrack.

    On October 31, 1944, Auguste’s birthday, Werner and Leo were sent to Burggraben labor camp. They worked for Schichau-Werft AG in the Danzig shipyard and lived in barracks in Burggraben. They marched several miles to the wharf each day. Werner was in poor physical condition and had little food. Werner’s kapo, the Jewish prisoner in charge of the other prisoners, was very cruel and beat a man to death. In early 1945, the prisoners were sent on a death march. Leo was injured from carrying heavy bags of concrete and was moved on a wagon. Werner urged him to get off the wagon so they could stay together, but he refused. The wagon was taken to Rybno, but there was a typhus outbreak so the rest of the prisoners were sent away. Werner and Leo were separated. Werner was sent to Goddentow (Godetowo). He realized he would not see his father again, so he escaped with another inmate, Paul Braunschild. They were caught that night. They had no papers, so they said they were German Marine deserters who had escaped from Stutthof. They were put in jail for two weeks, then taken back to Stutthof and put in Block 1 with the German deserters. One of the kapos said he recognized Werner and that he was a deserter, even though he knew Werner was Jewish. They were well fed from Red Cross care packages, which were intended for the whole camp and never distributed. They were eventually sent on another death march. Werner and Paul escaped and hid in the barn of a German farmer. In March 1945, Werner and Paul were liberated by Soviet forces.

    Werner and Paul were arrested because the Soviets thought they were German spies. They did not believe that they were Jewish because they did not speak Yiddish and looked German. Werner proved that he was Jewish by reciting a Hebrew prayer he had learned for his bar mitzvah. Werner and Paul went to Bydgoszcz, where Werner found a Jewish women he knew from Gelsenkirchen. She advised them to pretend to be Dutch Jews, so Werner received official paperwork that said he was Dutch. Paul left for Germany and Werner looked for his parents. He met a woman who said his mother was alive. However, he met another woman who was in Stutthof with Auguste and said she had died. Auguste was sent to the gas chambers on December 14, 1944. Werner met prisoners who were with his father and learned that in March 1945, Leo had tried to escape Rybno. He was caught and beaten and died two days later. In about July, Werner returned to Germany. He lived in east Berlin in the French sector. In May 1949, Werner sailed to New York. He was sponsored by his uncle, Otto Sauer, who lived in Cleveland, Ohio. Werner settled in Cleveland. He worked at the Carling Brewing Company, then for Ira E. Baker, a company that installed boilers. In 1951, Werner married Pauline Helen Werkin, called Polly (1924-2003). The couple lived in Richmond Heights. Werner’s sister Lieselotte immigrated to California. Werner, age 70, died on March 27, 1989.
    Josef Andreas Levy was born on May 27, 1921, in Frechen, Germany, to Norbert and Paula Cohen Levy. He had a sister, Auguste Senta Esther, born on August 11, 1927. Norbert was born on March 29, 1886, in Frechen, to Andreas and Susannah Selma Meyer Levy. He had a sister, Jeannette, born on March 3, 1888. Norbert served in the German Army in World War I (1914-1918). Josef’s mother Paula was born on January 19, 1889, in Horrem, to Joseph and Augusta Klein Cohen. Augusta died in 1891. Norbert was a butcher and owned a shop, a family business that had been passed down through several generations. Josef’s paternal grandmother Susannah lived with the family. She died in approximately 1928. Josef’s family was Orthodox. They kept kosher, celebrated the Jewish holidays, and attended the synagogue. Josef attended the local school. He was the only Jewish child in his class and was mocked for being Jewish. He took weekly lessons with a Hebrew teacher. Josef’s sister Auguste went to a Jewish school in Cologne.

    In January 1933, Hitler came to power in Germany. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were passed, which restricted Jewish rights. The family’s non-Jewish housekeeper was no longer allowed to work for them. Jewish stores were boycotted. The innkeeper across the street reported anyone who went into the butcher shop. By 1936 and 1937, Norbert had lost most of his customers. Josef was a delivery boy for a shoe factory in Cologne. Josef’s maternal grandfather Joseph and his unmarried brother and sister, Johanna and Max, moved in with them. Norbert and Paula tried to get visas to immigrate to the United States, but were unsuccessful. They were issued ID cards stamped with the letter J for Jew. On November 10, 1938, during Kristallnacht, Nazis broke into Josef’s house and destroyed their belongings. Josef was arrested and forced to clean up the debris. After a few days in prison, he was sent to Dachau concentration camp. Josef was assigned a prisoner number, 28407. His head was shaved and he was issued a striped uniform. The SS often beat the prisoners. When two prisoners escaped, the entire camp stood outside for 24 hours, not moving while being beaten with whips. Josef received very little food, but his parents sent him money so he could buy extra. Josef needed proof that he was going to leave Germany in order to be released, so his parents signed him up for a Kindertransport to England. In late January or early February 1939, Josef was released from Dachau and returned to Frechen. His mother forbid him to go on the Kindertransport. The authorities had taken away his family’s assets and business. Josef’s grandfather Joseph died and his great-uncle Max committed suicide. Later that year, Josef and Norbert were forced to labor on the Autobahn. After the war began in September, a curfew was imposed. In 1940, Josef’s family was forced to move to Cologne. They lived in a Jewish building and shared their apartment with other families. The city was bombed by the British and Josef and his family hid in the air raid shelter nightly. In September 1941, they were forced to wear Star of David badges.

    In December 1941, the family was notified that they were being resettled in Riga, Latvia. On December 7, they were deported on a passenger train. When they arrived, the guards shouted at them to get off the train and began whipping people. Norbert was whipped in the face. They were taken into the ghetto. There was still food on the table in their apartment. They were later told by Latvian Jews that the authorities had murdered thousands of Latvian Jews days before their arrival. After three days, Josef was selected to go to Salaspils labor camp. The barracks were unfinished and Josef and the other men had to construct them. The guards were brutal and hanged and shot people for no reason. There was little food. Josef worked at a saw mill, then as a roofer on the barracks. He once buried people at a mass grave. In about August 1942, Josef was sent back to Riga and reunited with his family. The Judenrat, Jewish council, assigned Jews to labor details. Josef worked for the German Red Cross, loading and unloading trucks with supplies for the front. Josef once stole a can of condensed milk and was afraid he would be killed, but the Jewish leader of his commando talked the guard out of reporting him. Josef was eventually reassigned to the Ordnungsdienst, the Jewish police, for the Latvian ghetto. The original Latvian Ordnungsdienst were executed. Josef worked 24 hour shifts, patrolling the ghetto and checking passes at the entrance between the German and Latvian ghettos. After a short time, Josef was sent to Jungfernhof labor camp. It was an agricultural center and provided food for all the SS in the Baltic States. The inmates had little food, but Josef stole potatoes or vegetables from the fields. In November 1943, Josef received a letter from his father. It said that on November 2, Josef’s mother Paula and paternal aunt Jeanette were taken out of the ghetto when Norbert and Auguste were at work. They did not return and were presumably killed. Josef and the other inmates heard rumors that the Riga ghetto was going to be closed.

    Josef was sent back to Riga, which was almost entirely empty. His father and sister were not there. Josef learned they were in Muehlgraben labor camp. Josef was told that he was going to be sent to Kaiserwald concentration camp, but his former Ordnungsdienst supervisor, Rudi Haag, intervened and he was sent to Muehlgraben. In Muehlgraben, Josef was reunited with his father and sister. The inmates worked for the Armeebekleidungsamt, Army Clothing Office, and sorted uniforms under the supervision of the German Army. They were issued striped uniforms. In early 1944, Josef’s father died of illness. There were frequent selections. The inmates stood naked while a doctor decided who should be killed. Eventually, Josef’s sister Auguste was sent to Libau (Liepaja, Latvia). Because of the approach of the Soviets, the camp was evacuated. On September 29, Josef was sent to Libau and reunited with Auguste. They sorted clothes for the Germany Army. They built a bunker because the Soviets were bombing the city. One night, the bunker was hit and 13 inmates were killed. On February 19, 1945, Josef and Auguste were sent to Hamburg, Germany, and held in Fuhlsbuettel prison. They were under the supervision of the SS and their treatment was much worse. Josef did manual labor, clearing debris from bombings and carrying heavy boxes of artillery shells to the railroad stop. The prison was gradually evacuated. On April 11, Josef and Auguste were sent on a two day death march to Kiel. People who fell behind were shot on the side of the road. Josef and Auguste were held in Kiel-Hassee. The barracks were very crowded. The SS treated them badly and beat them often. Josef cleared bombing debris in Kiel. On May 1, Josef and Auguste were liberated by the Swedish Red Cross. They were loaded onto trucks and taken to Denmark, then sent to Malmo, Sweden. Their freedom had been negotiated by the Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte. Germany surrendered on May 7.

    Josef and Auguste recuperated in Malmo, then moved to Goteborg. Josef met Sarah Cukier, who was born on September 1, 1916, in Łódź, Poland, to Chilmair and Regina Braun Cukier. Her brother Nathan was murdered in the beginning of the German occupation. In 1940, Sarah and her parents were put in the Łódź ghetto. In August 1944, they were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, where Chilmair and Regina died. In September, Sarah was sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She was liberated by British forces in April 1945. In 1946, Josef and Sarah married. On January 3, 1947, Josef, Sarah, and Auguste sailed from Goteborg on the SS Gripsholm, arriving in New York on January 14. Josef changed the spelling of his name to Joseph and Sarah changed her name to Sylvia. They settled in Yonkers. Josef was a butcher. Auguste married and changed her last name to Cahn. Auguste, age 55, died on May 5, 1983. Sylvia, age 86, died on February 12, 2003. Joseph, age 81, died on March 8, 2003.

    Physical Details

    Clothing and Dress
    Physical Description
    Coarse, blue and gray striped cotton broken twill brimless cap lined with plain weave gray cotton cloth. An approximately 1.5 inch panel connects the headband to the flat, circular crown to give the cap height and shape. The headband is lined with light brown satin weave rayon with a handstitched tuck in black thread in the back band to make the fit tighter. The number 59 is stamped on the interior crown. The cloth is stained overall, especially around the headband.
    overall: Height: 2.750 inches (6.985 cm) | Width: 8.625 inches (21.908 cm) | Depth: 8.875 inches (22.543 cm)
    overall : wool, cotton, thread
    interior, stamped, black ink : 59

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The cap was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1994 by Joseph Levy, on behalf of Werner Sauer.
    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 18:11:46
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