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Yellow, rectangular patch on cloth backing worn by a German Jewish woman in a concentration camp

Object | Accession Number: 2016.496.2

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    Yellow, rectangular patch on cloth backing worn by a German Jewish woman in a concentration camp

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    Brief Narrative
    Rectangular, yellow patch worn by Irene Silberstein while imprisoned at the forced labor camp Merzdorf from December 1944 to May 1945. Irene had to sew it to her outerwear, cutting out the brown tweed from behind. This served as a deterrent for escaping; if she tried to remove it from her clothes, the cut out would be visible and she would be easily recognizable. In the fall of 1942, Irene, her father, and her grandmother were deported from Berlin to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. On September 28, 1944, Irene’s father was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Irene was deported there the following week, but her father had already been killed in the gas chambers. In early December, she was forced on a transport to Merzdorf in Poland. She worked in a linen mill, processing, spinning, and weaving flax. Irene was able to wrap some of the flax around her legs for extra warmth and eat some of the seeds when no one was looking. At night, they had to unload coal from trains, resulting in 16-hour workdays. Merzdorf was liberated by the Soviet army on May 8, 1945 and Irene made her way back to Berlin. After learning her grandmother had survived, Irene traveled to Deggendorf displaced persons (DP) camp, arriving in March 1946, the day after her grandmother left for Sweden. After a week in Deggendorf, she registered for passage to America, and arrived in New York on May 24, 1946.
    use:  1944 December 10-1945 May 08
    use: Maerzdorf (Concentration camp); Marciszow (Poland)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Irene Frank
    Subject: Irene S. Frank
    Irene Frank (nee Silberstein, b. 1927) was born in Berlin, Germany to Dr. Friedrich (Fritz) Silberstein (1890-1944) and Lotte Frank Silberstein (1903-1941). Friedrich fought for Germany in World War I, and received the Iron Cross first class for his service. Later, he inherited his father’s successful moving company. The family lived in an affluent neighborhood, and had many Gentile friends. They were not religious, and did not observe holidays or the Sabbath. Irene was an only child, and had a sheltered and pampered childhood.

    On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. That same year, Irene began attending public school where she first experienced antisemitism. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were passed. The laws defined a person as Jewish if they had three or four Jewish grandparents, regardless of their religious practices, and mandated the total separation of Jews and non-Jews. No longer able to attend public school, Irene’s parents enrolled her in a private Jewish school. In the wake of the violent, antisemitic, pogroms known as Kristallnacht, Irene’s school closed, and her parents enrolled her in an American school for diplomats’ children. On September 3, 1939, France and England declared war on Germany, leading the school to close after Irene’s first year.

    The increasing restrictions, antisemitism, and violence led many people to leave Germany. Irene’s family was allowed to immigrate to the United States, but Friedrich’s reluctance to leave his mother alone in Germany caused him to delay their departure. Instead of escaping with his family, Friedrich’s moving company helped many others to move out of the country. Eventually, German authorities prohibited further emigration, forcing the family to remain in Berlin. In 1941, Friedrich’s moving business underwent Aryanization and was forcibly transferred to a non-Jew. Afterwards, he was forced into compulsory labor in a Bakelite factory. Irene’s mother, Lotte, was also forced into labor at a Siemens electronics factory. Never having worked outside of the home, this was very difficult for her. After Lotte's first day of work, she came home, overdosed on pills, and died in the hospital the following day.

    Following Lotte’s death, Irene’s grandmother Belsora (Bella) Silberstein (1868-?) moved in with Irene and her father. In September 1942, Bella was deported to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. Friedrich and Irene were also deported there on October 4. They were placed in separate housing, and Irene soon came down with scarlet fever. After a quarantine period, she was relocated to a youth home inside the camp and assigned to work in the agriculture fields outside the ghetto. Due to poor health conditions, Irene developed frostbite and contracted hepatitis for several months. The ghetto had a hospital and included some medical care, but disease, malnutrition, and illness were rampant in Theresienstadt.

    On September 28, 1944, Friedrich was deported on Transport Ek to Auschwitz-Birkenau, in German-occupied Poland and Irene never saw him again. A week later, on October 6, Irene was taken to Auschwitz on Transport Eo. Upon arrival, she survived the selection process, which was overseen by Dr. Josef Mengele. She had her hair forcibly shaved, and received a men’s undershirt for clothing. She was assigned to a barrack with1,500 other people who slept 10 to a bed. They had to stand outside every day for hours at a time.

    In early December, Irene and 100 other women were forced on a transport with a group from the men’s section. After stopping to disembark the men, the women were taken to Merzdorf, a forced labor subcamp of Gross-Rosen. They joined another 300 women processing, spinning, and weaving flax in a linen mill for Kramsta-Methner und Frahne AG. Irene worked on one of the processing machines, and was able to wrap some of the flax around her legs for extra warmth and eat some of the seeds when no one was looking. At night, they had to unload coal from trains, resulting in 16-hour workdays. The women were counted every morning and night, and many of them died from malnourishment.

    On May 2, 1945, Irene was working at the machine when she heard Germany surrendered. The SS soon abandoned the camp, and locked the prisoners in the factory. Merzdorf was liberated by the Soviet army on May 8. Some of the soldiers soon began sexually assaulting some of the prisoners, killing two. Irene and four friends fled to a nearby abandoned farmhouse and hid in the barn for a night. The following morning, they left the camp, walking and hitchhiking until they reached Dresden. From there, Irene got a ride on an Army truck to Berlin and snuck into the city.

    Irene then went to the Jewish hospital, and sought out a distant cousin who worked as an operating nurse. While living in Berlin, she met a friend from Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, who had just come from Deggendorf displaced persons (DP) camp. He informed her that her grandmother had survived and was there. Irene traveled to Munich, with help from the Red Cross, and arrived at Deggendorf in March 1946. The day before Irene arrived, her grandmother was sent to Sweden for medical care. Although she missed her grandmother, Irene met several people she knew from Theresienstadt, and made some new friends, including Heinz Frankenstein (1918-2002). After about a week in Deggendorf, Irene registered for passage to America, paid for by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (the Joint). On May 14, 1946, Irene sailed from Bremen, Germany.

    After arriving in New York City, the Joint housed the refugees in the Hotel Marseilles. Irene soon got a job working for a dressmaker and moved into a furnished room. Since Irene had some English skills, she was able to get a job working in a patent office. Following her recuperation in Sweden, Belsora traveled to New York in July, where she and Irene reunited. Belsora then left New York for Mexico, where her daughter—Irene’s aunt—lived with her family. While living in New York, Irene built a tight-knit social circle with other Holocaust survivors. Among this circle was Heinz Frankenstein. He had changed his name to Henry Frank after arriving in the United States, and worked in the wholesale meat business. Irene and Henry married in April 1948, went on to have two children, and moved to New Jersey. They regularly visited local schools and gave talks about their experiences during the Holocaust.

    Physical Details

    Identifying Artifacts
    Physical Description
    Long, thin, rectangular, dark yellow cloth patch with slightly wavering edges sewn to the center of a rectangular patch of brown wool tweed and an olive green backing cloth beneath. The edges of the yellow patch are neatly hemmed with black thread, the stitches visible on the front as a line border. It is attached to the larger tweed patch with a loose, tan basting stitch around the edges. The thick tweed has cut, frayed edges and is several shades of brown with a few single strands of bright green and bright blue woven in. The lightweight olive cloth beneath is attached with tan thread and the unfinished edges are frayed and unravelling. The edges of the tweed patch and cloth backer are cut unevenly, with bumps and dips where the olive cloth shows beyond the tweed one. On the back center, a long, oval-shaped slit with frayed, unfinished edges and tapered ends is cut through both layers, so the yellow bar is visible. A shiny, silver-colored metal safety pin is attached to the back right end of the yellow patch. The patch is worn and frayed with several loose or missing threads throughout.
    overall: Height: 3.875 inches (9.843 cm) | Width: 7.750 inches (19.685 cm)
    overall : cloth, wool, thread, metal

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The patch was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2016 by Irene Frank.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-24 13:46:50
    This page:

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