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Curtain that was used as a towel found by a Polish Jewish forced laborer

Object | Accession Number: 2018.208.1

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    Brief Narrative
    Curtain found by Paula Dash while she was a forced laborer in the city of Bremen, Germany, from 1944-1945. Paula found the curtain in a basement, hid it in her bosom and used it as a towel in the mornings. Later, while living in Bergen-Belsen displaced person’s camp, she used it as a table cloth. Paula was living in Łódź, Poland, with her family when Germany invaded on September 1, 1939. A week later, German forces occupied the city and quickly established an enclosed Jewish ghetto in the city. Paula, her parents, and three siblings all lived in one small room. Her younger brother Henry, became very sick and in 1942, her father, Aron, died from starvation. Paula was a forced laborer in a sewing factory, working ten to fourteen hour days. In August 1944, Paula, her mother, and two brothers were forced into cattle cars and transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center. Upon arrival they were examined and separated. While waiting to enter the gas chamber, Paula was selected for a forced labor detail in Bremen-Obernheide, a sub camp of the Neuengamme concentration camp in Germany. She spent nine months clearing rubble from Allied bombing. In the spring of 1945, Paula was sent on a death march to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She was liberated there on April 15, 1945, by British forces. While in the camp she contracted typhus, but recovered in a British hospital. She later married another survivor and immigrated to the United States.
    Dash family collection
    found:  1944 August-1945 April
    found: Bremen (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Allison Nazarian
    Subject: Paula Dash
    Paula Dash (b. Paula Garfinkel, 1920-2007) was born in Łódź, Poland, to Aron Itzhak and Chaja Cypra Garfinkel. Paula had three siblings, Leon, Sala (1922-1942), and Henry. Aron was an architect and owned a furniture store. The family lived in a second floor apartment with a corner balcony in the nice part of the city. Paula and her siblings belonged to Gordonia, a Zionist group that believed in humanistic values, Jewish self-labor, and sought to build a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Aron was a Kohen (religious official), and the family was Modern Orthodox, observed Shabbat, and spoke Yiddish at home. Leon and Paula attended gymnasium, and after graduation Leon planned to attend college.

    On September 1, 1939, Paula and her family heard on the radio that Germany had invaded Poland. One week later, the German army occupied Łódź and immediately instigated violence and anti-Semitic policies. Jews were no longer allowed to walk on sidewalks and were often assaulted when they walked in the streets. Groups waited outside of synagogues to beat them as they came out. They were forced to turn in their valuables, and those suspected of not complying were beaten and tortured. Many Jews were taken by the authorities and never returned. Their families were told that they had committed suicide.

    On February 8, 1940, the Łódź ghetto was established in the older, poorer part of the city, and Paula and her family were forcibly relocated inside. They were only allowed to bring a small selection of pots and pans, a few clothes, and a few blankets. Her family of six had to share a small room with no running water or plumbing. In March and April, the Germans encircled the ghetto with a barbed wire and wood fence. Armed guards and dogs were stationed around the perimeter with orders to shoot Jews that approached the fence. The Germans ordered the Jews to exchange their remaining valuables for ghetto currency, and gave them the worst rations from the available food supply. Food scarcity quickly became a problem. Every ten days Paula received an eighth of a loaf of bread, a bit of yellow sugar, two or three potatoes, and a little salt. In time, the potatoes were replaced with potato peels, and later even those ceased.

    In October, the Nazis established workshops where Jews labored 10-14 hours a day in overcrowded and poorly ventilated conditions to pay back their debt for living in the ghetto. Paula worked at a clothing factory on a sewing machine. For lunch, at work, she received soup that was just water with scraps of potato. Many prisoners starved, including Paula’s father, Aron, who died in 1942. Her younger brother Henry was also sick and starving. Early in the morning, several times a week, Paula snuck out to wait in line for vitamins to help him. After the rations ceased in July 1944, Paula snuck out at night with a sack and cleaver to a field she observed from her work station to steal potatoes planted by the head of the Nazi Criminal Police (Kripo). At the risk of death, she filled the sack and ran home where she fed her mother and brother.

    In December 1941, the Nazis started transporting Jews from the ghetto to killing centers in eastern Poland. In 1942, Paula’s sister, Sala, was taken to Treblinka where she was killed shortly after arrival. To avoid capture, Paula and her brother hid in an attic, behind a trap door with other Jews. Their spot was revealed when a woman on the street was followed, but Paula and her brother were able to escape capture. In August 1944, in response to advancing Soviet forces, the Germans began transporting the remaining Jews out of the ghetto, primarily to Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center. Leon was transported to Auschwitz and then to Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. He was later shot and killed on a death march.

    On August 21, Paula, Chaja, and Henry were taken to a train station and forced into cattle cars. They traveled for a day and a night in cramped conditions with no food or water and arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau during the night. They were removed from the cars, separated by gender, and examined by the camp staff. After examination, Chaja and Paula were forcibly separated and Paula never saw her mother again. Paula remained outside all night and then was taken to the showers with hundreds of other women. They were forced to disrobe in front of the guards, had their heads shaved, were given prisoner dresses, and forced to run barefoot to the barracks. In the barracks the prisoners had to sleep on hard wooden bunk beds, fourteen women to a bunk, without blankets. Shortly after her arrival, Paula and several other women were taken to the front of the ovens, told to disrobe, and were forced to wait outside all night until they could be gassed in the morning.

    Before morning arrived, the camp staff selected Paula along with several other women and loaded them into a cattle car. They were deported to Bremen-Obernheide, a sub camp of the Neuengamme concentration camp in Germany. They were brought to the camp to carry bricks and poles, dig ditches, and clear rubble from Allied bombing. Paula had to wake at four every morning and walk barefoot six miles to work. There, the women were beaten by the guards and several died every day. When they returned to the barracks they received a little soup and a small piece of bread.

    In early spring 1945, the camp was evacuated ahead of approaching British forces. Paula and other prisoners were forced on a two week death march to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. When they arrived, the Jews were forced into barracks and had boiling water poured on them to keep them quiet. Paula witnessed cannibalism, mounds of dead bodies, and mass graves filled with the dead and dying. There was no food and Paula had to drink dirty water off the ground and ate grass to survive. In early April, she contracted typhus from the unsanitary conditions at the camp. On April 14, Paula was rescued from being buried in a mass grave by her friends. The next day, British forces liberated the camp and she was placed in a hospital where she was able to recover.

    Paula remained in Germany, and lived in a townhome built for Nazi soldiers with four other women. There she reunited with her younger brother Henry. In October 1945, Paula married Schlomo Reich (1911-1991, later Sol Dash) a fellow survivor and forced laborer from the Łódź ghetto who was transported to Auschwitz and then to Dachau concentration camp in Germany. The couple lived in the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp where they had a daughter in 1947. Afterward, the family moved to Israel for a year, then returned to Germany. In 1949, her brother Henry immigrated to the United States and settled in Maryland. In 1951, Paula and her family immigrated to Maryland and Americanized their name to Dash.

    Physical Details

    Furnishings and Furniture
    Household linens
    Object Type
    Draperies (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Rectangular, white, thin, cloth curtain with red stripes decorated with square and rectangular shaped elements embroidered horizontally across the fabric. Just below the top edge are three narrow stripes, followed by another group of three narrow stripes in the same pattern. Below that there are alternating rows of three thick and three narrow stripes. At the center is a wide section of plain white cloth followed by the same alternating thick and narrow striped pattern. Just above the bottom edge is a set of narrow stripes, mirroring those along the top edge. The curtain is constructed from six smaller pieces of cloth sewn together along plain seams. The centermost piece is a brighter white than the other pieces. The top left and bottom right corners are patched with white pieces of cloth. The top, bottom, and left edges have approximately 0.375” wide finished hems while the right hem is very narrow. On the back, the lower right corner has two small, square white patches. Along the top edge and in the center, there are long horizontal tears exposing loose hanging embroidery thread.
    overall: Height: 45.500 inches (115.57 cm) | Width: 23.375 inches (59.373 cm)
    overall : cloth, thread

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Personal Name
    Dash, Paula, 1920-2007.

    Administrative Notes

    The curtain was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2018 by Allison Nazarian, the daughter of Lilly Dash and granddaughter of Paula and Sol Dash.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-24 15:12:59
    This page:

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