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Skirt made by a German Jewish woman to demonstrate her sewing capabilities

Object | Accession Number: 2017.298.2

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    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Maroon wool sampler skirt made by Elfriede Hillelsohn in Hamburg, Germany, to prove her sewing skills prior to her work in a Nazi uniform factory. Elfriede trained as a seamstress in Weener, Germany, before moving to Hamburg in 1936. While in Hamburg, Elfriede belonged to a German-Jewish youth movement where she met and soon became engaged to Kurt Hillelsohn. After Kristallnacht in November 1938, Kurt immigrated to the United States and Elfriede and her mother moved in with his family. During this time, Elfriede worked as a forced laborer in a German uniform factory. With financial support from Kurt, Elfriede and her mother were finally able to escape Germany in 1941, and arrived in New York City on June 13. Elfriede and Kurt married that September. Kurt was later drafted by the U.S. Army and stationed stateside. He served as part of the “Ritchie Boys,” a group that included many German-Jewish refugees who were recruited for their knowledge of the German language and culture, and received special training at the Military Intelligence Training Center at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. Kurt’s mother and brother, who Elfriede lived with before her emigration, remained in Hamburg until they were deported to the Minsk ghetto, where they perished.
    Date
    creation:  after 1936-before 1941
    Geography
    creation: Germany
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Michael Hillelsohn
    Contributor
    Subject: Elfriede Gerson
    Biography
    Elfriede Gerson (later Hillelsohn, 1917-2014) was born in Osnabrück, Germany to Emanuel (1881-1926) and Rosa (nee Schulenklopper, 1889-1971) Gerson. She had two siblings, Margot (later Hirsh, 1914-2005) and Albert (1921-2013). The family lived in Weener, a town near the northern coast of Germany with a small Jewish population. Emanuel worked as a cattle dealer, but died from an infection when Elfriede was still a young girl.

    On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. The German authorities passed anti-Jewish decrees that restricted every aspect of Jewish life. In February 1935, Albert was sent to the United States, where he lived with a foster family, who offered to care for a German-Jewish child. The following September, the Nazis announced the Nuremberg Laws, which excluded Jews from citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having relations with non-Jewish persons. In 1936, Elfriede completed vocational school in Weener, and moved to Hamburg with her sister, Margot. Their mother, Rosa, moved to Hamburg the following year. In February 1938, Albert’s foster family brought Margot to the United States, so she could help care for her brother. While in Hamburg, Elfriede belonged to a German-Jewish youth movement, and met Kurt Hillelsohn (1914-1979) at the city’s main synagogue. The couple fell in love and became engaged.

    On November 9 and 10, 1938, German officials instigated pogroms of violence and destruction against Jews and their property, known as Kristallnacht. On the night of November 9, most of Hamburg’s synagogues were looted and vandalized and prayer books and Torah scrolls were torn and burned. 30,000 Jewish men, including 910 from Hamburg, were also incarcerated in German concentration camps and held unless they promised to leave Germany. These events spurred many Jews to emigrate from Germany. Kurt had papers to immigrate to the United States, and sailed from Hamburg on November 16. In New York City, Kurt found lodging and work as porter with the Hebrew Orphan Asylum.

    After Kurt emigrated, Elfriede and her mother moved in with Kurt’s mother, Rosa Hillelsohn, and youngest brother in the Altona district of Hamburg. Elfriede worked as a forced labor seamstress in a German uniform factory. In 1941, with assistance from Kurt, who had been sending them money from the U.S., they were finally able to escape Germany. They traveled through Spain, sailed from Lisbon, Portugal, and arrived in New York on June 13, 1941. Kurt’s mother and brother, Rosa and Wolfgang, remained in Hamburg until they were deported to the Minsk ghetto on November 18, 1941. They both perished in the ghetto.

    After arriving in New York, Elfriede and Kurt married on September 14, 1941. While Britain and France had declared war on Germany in September 1939, the United States remained neutral until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Germany then declared war on the United States on December 11. Kurt was drafted by the U.S. Army and first served as a mess sergeant, and later was sent to cryptology school to work as a translator. He served as part of the “Ritchie Boys,” a group that included many German-Jewish refugees who were recruited for their knowledge of the German language and culture, and received special training at the Military Intelligence Training Center at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. He was stationed in the United States, and Elfriede joined him at his post, where they later began their own family.

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Clothing and Dress
    Category
    Women's clothing
    Object Type
    Skirts (lcsh)
    Genre/Form
    Sewing.
    Physical Description
    Maroon wool skirt demonstrating a variety of fasteners, buttonholes, pockets, stitches, and sewing techniques. The skirt buttons up the front at the center and the right and left panels are laid out in a similar manner. When opened flat, from the left, is a placket with five black plastic buttons and a metal snap followed by two vertical pleats that open approximately two-thirds of the way down. Beside the pleats, below the waistband, are two short, vertical lines of gold embroidered stitching - a feather stitch and a continuous cross stitch. To the right of the stitching are four sewing samples that run the length of the skirt and include: three bound buttonholes that incrementally increase in size and are within a stitched rectangle; a slash welt pocket; a piped patch pocket with a v-shaped flap, round edges, and a black button; and at the bottom, three narrow rounded cut outs in the hem that are joined with black thread using an insertion bar stitch. At the back center waistband is a short opening with five round fabric covered buttons and corresponding corded button loops. On either side of the buttons is a decorative chevron stitch that culminates into a pleat. To the right are four sewing samples that run the length of the skirt and include: a piped and stitched rectangular section containing a gold embroidered numeral ten; a slanted, double welt slash pocket; a double welt slash pocket with arrowhead shaped brown thread ends; and at the bottom is a cut out panel with three horizontal inset flaps of fabric trimmed with orange ric rac. To the right of the samples, below the waistband, are two short, vertical lines of gold embroidered stitching – a chain stitch and a herringbone stitch. Next, are two vertical full-length pleats and five keyhole buttonholes that correspond to the front placket of buttons.The interior waistband is a black grosgrain ribbon cut in three sections and joined with six metal hook and eye closures. Pockets are lined with orange fabric and reinforced with small, oval shaped tan fabric patches that are hand stitched at the corners. The front pleat is partially piped with orange fabric.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 23.875 inches (60.643 cm) | Width: 32.250 inches (81.915 cm)
    Materials
    overall : wool, thread, plastic, metal

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The skirt was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2017 by Michael Hillelsohn, son of Kurt and Elfriede Gerson Hillelsohn.
    Record last modified:
    2022-11-03 13:19:11
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn563773

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