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Henry Dressler papers

Document | Not Digitized | Accession Number: 2013.379.11

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    The Henry Dressler papers consists of biographical material, writings, restitution material, photographs, and correspondence related to the Holocaust experiences of Henry (Heinz) Dressler and his family. Joachim and Martha, along with their children Henry and Susi, survived the war by working in Oskar Schindler’s factory. The collection consists of Henry’s wartime and post-war diary, the family’s work papers for Oskar Schindler, immediate post-war correspondence of Henry and Joachim Dressler to various family members, friends, and associates, and photographs depicting the Dressler family before, during, and after the war. There is a large gap of materials from about 1947 until the 1990s. The collection also includes restitution papers, speeches written by Henry Dressler later in his life to discuss and commemorate his experience with the Holocaust, and clippings Henry kept about Oskar Schindler and the movie Schindler’s List, his own speeches, and the Holocaust in general.

    Biographical material for Martha Dressler include a certificate from Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik attesting that Martha was transported from Płaszów, a DP identification card, a statement of wartime health, a certificate of naturalization, and documents relating to her death. Biographical material relating to Joachim includes a statement of his participation in WWI, a certificate from Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik attesting that he was transported from Płaszów, a DP registration card, a document attesting that he worked at the factory, a letter granting Joachim permission to leave DP camp in Modena, Italian identification papers for his family, a certificate of naturalization, and original and copies of documents relating to his death. Documents relating to Henry includes school records, identification cards, copies of his birth certificate, a statement that Henry was a prisoner in Brünnlitz and worked at Schindler’s factory, a medical certificate, a pass to leave Brünnlitz, and a pass to visit Oberhaid as well as post-war work papers from the Civil Labour Unit and Universal Film. This series also includes family trees and other family research as well as negative of original documents.

    Restitution files includes documents, applications, and correspondence regarding Henry and his wife’s efforts to receive restitution for their wartime suffering, including life insurance for Joachim and Martha Dressler.

    Writings include poems, mainly from Joachim to Henry, and two diaries, one in short-hand, kept by Henry in 1945 as well as a translation. The series also includes advertisements, speeches, notes, thank you letters, and projects relating to Henry’s time speaking to schools and the community about his experiences.

    Clippings include mainly 1990s articles relating to the history, memorialization, education, and research of the Holocaust and Schindler’s List as well as editorial reviews and articles relating to Henry’s speaking engagements and interviews.

    Immediate post-war correspondence is mainly between Henry and others regarding life before immigrating, immigrations, life in the United States, and the whereabouts of other after the war. Later correspondence details the organization of speaking engagements as well as personal correspondence between Henry and Joachim Dressler to various family members, friends, and associates.

    Photographs include three scrapbooks and an album compiled by Henry about his experiences and life after the war which include newspaper clippings, correspondence, photographs, and responses to his speeches. The series also includes pre-war, wartime, and post-war photographs of the Dressler family, including living in Kraków and Martha and Henry Dressler’s wedding.
    inclusive:  1915-2009
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Diane Spiegel Belok and Donna Kantor Krasner
    Collection Creator
    Henry Dressler
    Henry Dressler (born Heniz, 1919-2005) was born on October 22, 1919, in Dresden, Germany, to Joachim (1888-1971) and Martha Miriam (1896-1956) and had one sister, Susi (1914-1954). Joachim served in the Austro-Hungarian Army in World War I. Joachim owned a textile factory that manufactured linen tablecloths, sheets, and other textiles and had five to ten employees. Martha assisted him with the business. The family was moderately observant and Heinz attended Hebrew school.

    In 1933, the Nazi dictatorship assumed power in Germany and enacted a series of anti-Jewish policies. Joachim’s brother, Ferdinand, closed his office in Berlin on April 1, 1933, and left for Palestine. Many Jews were forced to put non-Jews in charge of their businesses or sell them at a loss to Nazi approved buyers, but Joachim’s business was never Aryanized in this way. The family considered leaving Germany, possibly for the US, but the strict quotas made getting visas unlikely. In 1936, Henry was forced to leave school because he was Jewish. He attended a private school run by the Dresden Chamber of Commerce. He participated in some school activities, such as orchestra, but as a Jew, could not go on school outings, or participate in activities, such as sports, that took place in public spaces. He then got an internship with a private, Jewish-owned bank and was promoted, until 1938, when the bank was Aryanized. Henry then got a job with a luxury department store, Hirsch & Co. In October 1938, the family was taken to police headquarters and their passports were invalidated. They were taken to the railway station in open trucks to shame them publicly and deported to Poland along with 1500 other Jews. Because Joachim was not born in Germany and did not have German citizenship, the family was considered stateless.

    Joachim recalled that some family members lived in Krakow, Poland and the family was welcomed there by the Wasserberger family. They had a large house and converted the gym into a bedroom. Henry got a job with an import firm handling correspondence. On September 1, 1939, Germany began bombing Krakow and the city fell after 3 days. The Wasserbergers fled east, eventually reaching New York. The house was occupied by the German Army commandant, but Henry and his family were allowed to remain. In May 1940, the Germans began expelling Jews to the countryside. In March 1941, they forced Krakow’s Jews to move into a ghetto where they lived in a set of small rooms. The Germans opened several factories in the ghetto staffed by forced labor. As Henry spoke German, he was able to get a job with the Jewish Council as a typist. Food was scarce. During one of the frequent aktions when Jews were rounded up for deportation, a German officer who knew Henry came over and asked what they were doing there. They then were moved to another spot and sent home. Henry witnessed Germans throwing children out of the windows of an orphanage on the square on one occasion. Henry’s mother worked in a brush factory owned by Joseph Madrich who provided the family with food. His father and sister had office jobs.

    In 1942, Henry was assigned to a labor detail to construct Krakow- Płaszów labor camp. The site included a Jewish cemetery and tombstones were broken to use as paving stones. Workers had to assemble in the square several times a day to be counted. Henry collapsed one day and was taken to hospital. The Krakow ghetto was liquidated on March 13, 1943, and his family was sent to the camp. Henry worked in the camp office and Martha and Susi worked night shifts in clothing factories. Susi also had an office job and Joachim worked outside the camp. Henry saw his father often, but rarely saw his mother and sister.

    In August 1944, the family learned of Oskar Schindler’s list. Schindler was a German businessman who ran an enamelware and an armament factory nearby. He employed about 900 Jewish forced laborers, who he protected from the abuse at Płaszów and from deportation. Heinz knew Izak Stern, who worked for Schindler. The family was able to get added to the list, partly because they spoke German. As the Soviet Army approached in the summer of 1944, the Germans began to plan to dismantle Płaszów. Schindler arranged to move his factory to Brünnlitz in the Moravia region of German occupied Czechoslovakia. On October 15, Joachim and Henry were transported to Schindler’s new factory. Henry was given prisoner number 69046. They were transferred to Brünnlitz, a day’s march from the rail station. They worked in a textile plant that had been converted into an ammunition factory. Martha and Susi were transported from Płaszów on August 21, and arrived in Brünnlitz on November 14. Henry worked in Schindler’s office as a cost accountant. Days began at 6am with roll call, breakfast, and then work. Henry remembered Emilie Schindler helping in the sick bay and trying to get food and medicine. Schindler kept German camp personnel from entering Brünnlitz and did his best to provide food. Henry began to keep a diary in German shorthand on April 22, 1945. Schindler left the camp on May 7, the day Germany surrendered. The camp was liberated by Soviet forces on May 9.

    The Dressler family left for Prague, where Czech people helped them get food and clothing. They spent the next several months traveling to transit camps in Italy and Austria, trying to find a place where they wanted to stay. At the end of September, they went to the home of an Italian solder from Rome whom they had met in June. He was not there, but his wife let the family stay for two months. Henry got a job as an office clerk with the British Army. Henry had corresponded with an American girl in 1937 and 1938 and she helped the family get an affidavit of support for a US visa. They arrived in the US on February 20, 1947.

    Henry got a job in a family business that distributed photographic supplies. In 1957 he met Martha Ohsie in 1957 and soon married. They had no children and lived in Newark, New Jersey. Henry rarely talked of his experiences, but he did testify at a war crimes tribunal in the 1960s. When the book Schindler’s List, by Thomas Keneally was published in 1982, he sent copies to friends with a note explaining that he knew many of the people and places from his own experience and that he and his family had survived due to the kindness of Schindler and others. After he saw the film, Schindler’s List, in 1993, he began to tell his story to school and civic groups. He often took his striped concentration camp uniform to show during the talks.

    Physical Details

    English German
    5 boxes
    1 oversize box
    11 oversize folders
    1 book enclosure
    System of Arrangement
    The collection is arranged in six series:

    Series 1: Biographical material, 1933-1998
    Series 2: Restitution, 1946-2009
    Series 3: Speeches and writing, 1945-2001 and undated
    Series 4: Clippings and articles, 1947-2005
    Series 5: Correspondence, 1945-2006 and undated
    Series 6: Photographs and scrapbooks, 1915-1999

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    There are no known restrictions on access to this material.
    Conditions on Use
    Material(s) in this collection may be protected by copyright and/or related rights. You do not require further permission from the Museum to use this material. The user is solely responsible for making a determination as to if and how the material may be used.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Geographic Name
    Kraków (Poland)

    Administrative Notes

    This collection was donated by Diane Spiegel Belok and Donna Krasner to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2013 and 2018. The donors inherited this collection from their uncle, Henry Dressler, after his death in December of 2005. The accessions previously numbered 2013.379.1 and 2018.645.1 have been incorporated into this collection.
    Primary Number
    Record last modified:
    2023-04-11 09:33:37
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