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Numbered prisoner patch worn by a female Hungarian Jewish slave laborer

Object | Accession Number: 2017.645.2

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    Numbered prisoner patch worn by a female Hungarian Jewish slave laborer

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Prisoner patch marked "20409" issued to and worn by Ilona Kellner (later Elena Kalina) while a registered prisoner in Hessisch Lichtenau forced labor camp in Germany, from September 19, 1944 to April 25, 1945. During the 1930s, Ilona worked as a kindergarten teacher in Rožňava, and lived in Pelsöc, in what was Czechoslovakia until 1938, when it became part of Hungary (now Plešivec, Slovakia.) Her parents, Karoly and Jolan, and younger sister, Vera, also lived there. In 1938, Hungary’s fascist regime adopted anti-Semitic measures based upon the Nuremberg racial laws in Germany. In November 1940, Hungary joined the Axis Alliance. In March 1944, Germany invaded Hungary and began deporting all Hungarian Jews to concentration camps. On May 8, 1944, the authorities forced Ilona, Vera, and their parents, Karoly and Jolan, from their home and moved them into a ghetto that had been set aside in another area of the town. In mid-June, the family, was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp in German occupied Poland. Their parents were taken to the gas chambers in the camp’s killing center, Birkenau, and killed upon arrival. By August 2, Ilona and Vera had been deported to Hessisch Lichtenau, a sub-camp of Buchenwald concentration camp as part of a transport of 1,000 Hungarian women brought to Germany to fill a labor shortage. On September 19, Ilona and Vera were officially registered at the camp, and issued prisoner patches. The women worked in an explosive munitions factory run by Fabrik Hessisch Lichtenau GmbH. In late March 1945, the camp was evacuated and the women were taken to Leipzig by train. From there, they were sent on a forced march to Wurzen, where they were liberated by US forces on April 25.
    Date
    use:  1944 September 19-1945 April 25
    issue:  1944 September 19
    Geography
    issue: Hessisch Lichtenau (Concentration camp); Hessisch Lichtenau (Germany)
    use: Hessisch Lichtenau (Concentration camp); Hessisch Lichtenau (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Eva Moreimi, in loving memory of her parents: Ilona Kellner Kalinova and Ernest Kaufmann Kalina
    Markings
    front, center, stenciled, black paint : 20409
    Contributor
    Subject: Ilona Kellner
    Biography
    Ilona Kellner (later Elena Kalina, 1912-2011, some records list her year of birth as 1916) was born in Pelsöc, Austria-Hungary (now Plešivec, Slovakia) to Karoly (1887–1944) and Jolan Freimann (1890-1944) Kellner. Ilona had one younger sister, Vera (1927 -2017, some records list her year of birth as 1922). Karoly was a merchant. Ilona was unmarried and worked as a kindergarten teacher in Rožňava. Following World War I, Pelsöc had become part of Czechoslovakia, and became a part of Hungary in approximately 1938. During the 1930s, Hungary was an ally of Nazi Germany, and in 1938, Hungary’s fascist regime adopted anti-Semitic measures based on the German Nuremberg racial laws. In November 1940, Hungary joined the Axis Alliance, and participated in Operation Barbarossa, the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union.

    After the German retreat from Stalingrad in February 1943, Hungary sought a separate peace with the Allies. In March 1944, Germany invaded Hungary and began deporting all Hungarian Jews to concentration camps. On May 8, 1944, the authorities forced Ilona, Vera, and their parents, Karoly and Jolan, from their home and moved them into a ghetto that had been set aside in another area of the town. In mid-June, the family, was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp in German occupied Poland. Their parents were taken to the gas chambers in the camp’s killing center, Birkenau, and killed upon arrival. By August 2, Ilona and Vera had been deported to Hessisch Lichtenau, a sub-camp of Buchenwald concentration camp as part of a transport of 1,000 Hungarian women brought to Germany to fill a labor shortage. On September 19, Ilona and Vera were officially registered at the camp, and were assigned prisoner numbers: Ilona was assigned 20409, and Vera 20407. All of the women in this transport were assigned numbers, by last name, between 20,001 and 21,003.

    The camp provided labor for an explosive munitions factory run by Fabrik Hessisch Lichtenau GmbH zur Verwertung chemischer Erzeugnisse. The laborers lived in barracks on the edge of the local town, and marched under SS supervision, an hour and a half each way to the factory, which was deep in the woods and well camouflaged with plants, shrubs and trees planted around it and on the roof. At the factory, the women filled shells, bombs, mines, and cartridges with several different types of explosives in rotating shifts, while also carrying out dangerous and physically demanding tasks. The Jewish prisoners were typically placed in the most dangerous positions in the filling station and press building where they came into contact with poisonous acids and chemicals. They breathed in toxic vapors that turned some of the women’s skin yellow or were splashed and burned by corrosive chemicals, suffering permanent damage. Any prisoner not fit for work was quickly returned to Auschwitz. Ilona worked as a translator and messenger in the camp and when not doing those jobs, she cleaned up the factory. Her jobs gave her access to many areas and she was able to take blank forms from waste baskets in the camp to use as writing paper. The forms included munitions delivery and fulfillment receipts for ordnance, access passes, discharge bills, and shift inventories among other things. Ilona used the backs of the forms to record recipes dictated by her fellow female prisoners.

    In late March 1945, as the United States army advanced on the region, the camp was evacuated. The women were taken to Leipzig by train, a five day trip. After a week there, the women were forced on a death march for two weeks, eventually arriving in Wurzen. On April 25, the survivors of the march, including Ilona and Vera, were liberated by US soldiers. On September 25, 1947, Ilona married Ernest Kalina (previously Kaufmann, 1909-2007), a Czechoslovak survivor of several forced labor camps during the war. His first wife, Irenka, their young daughter, Marika, his parents, Jenö and Etel, and several other relatives were killed at Auschwitz in 1944, and he lost a brother, Dönci, who was killed while serving as a forced laborer in the Hungarian army. Dönci had no food or proper clothing and often had to pick up unexploded mines and carry out other dangerous tasks. Ilona and Ernest had one daughter. In 1971, they immigrated to the United States and settled outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Identifying Artifacts
    Category
    Badges
    Genre/Form
    Badges.
    Physical Description
    Rectangular, tan cloth patch with prisoner number 20409 stenciled on the front in black paint. The narrow, unfinished edges are folded over and tacked to the back with tan thread. The lower edge is wider than the rest, and has a narrow, folded piece of tan paper with a black ink border line tucked into it. The paint has bled through the cloth and is visible on the back. The patch is heavily soiled from use and there are loose threads at the top right corner and the paint is abraded on the central numbers.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 3.750 inches (9.525 cm) | Width: 1.500 inches (3.81 cm)
    Materials
    overall : cloth, ink, paint, thread, paper

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The prisoner patch was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2017 by Eva Moreimi, the daughter of Ilona (Elena) Kellner Kalinova.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 21:51:01
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn594872

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