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Colorful plaid handkerchief found by a German Jewish teenage inmate at Birkenau

Object | Accession Number: 1988.99.3

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    Colorful plaid handkerchief found by a German Jewish teenage inmate at Birkenau

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Orange, pink, yellow, and green plaid handkerchief found by 14 year old Ruth Krautwirth in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where she was held from April 1943 to November 1944. Ruth worked in the Kanada unit, sorting the inmates discarded belongings. It is likely that she found the kerchief there. She kept the handkerchief as a reminder "that once there was a world without gassings, without filthy latrines and flea infested straw cots, without electrically charged wire fences." Ruth, her parents Hanna and Isak, and brother Zev were deported from Frankfurt, Germany, to Birkenau in April 1943. Ruth and Hanna, separated from Isak and Zev, were together through Birkenau, Ravensbrück, and Malchow, and were liberated on a death march by US troops in May 1945. Zev survived Birkenau, Sachsenhausen, Gunskirchen, and Mauthausen, and then went to Palestine. Several of Ruth’s relatives were killed in the Holocaust. Her father Isak, 46, was killed in Auschwitz on November 19, 1943. Her maternal grandfather and cousins also were killed. Ruth and Hannah left for America in 1947.
    Date
    use:  1943 April-1945 May
    Geography
    found: Birkenau (Concentration camp); Birkenau (Germany)
    use: Ravensbrück (Concentration camp); Ravensbrück (Germany)
    use: Malchow (Concentration camp); Malchow (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Ruth Meyerowitz
    Contributor
    Subject: Ruth K. Meyerowitz
    Biography
    Ruth Krautwirth was born on June 23, 1929, in Frankfurt, Germany, to Yitzhak (Isak) and Hanna Bina Grossman Krautwirth. She had one brother, Wolfgang (Zev), born on May 16, 1933. Her father Isak was born May 27, 1897, in Bardejov, Austro-Hungary (now Slovakia), to Yaakov and Rose Wertheim Krautwirth. The family immigrated to Germany in 1899. Isak had two brothers, Julius and Aba, and an older sister. Isak served in the Austrian Army in World War I (1914-1918). Ruth’s mother Hanna was born April 7, 1900, in Kamienna, Russia (Skarzysko-Kamienna, Poland), to Joseph and Gitel Grossman. Hanna had two sisters, Cyma and Bella. Isak and Hanna married in 1927. They owned a leather goods manufacturing business. The family kept kosher and observed Shabbat.
    In January 1933, Hitler came to power and, by summer, Germany was ruled by a Nazi dictatorship that actively persecuted Jews. Ruth’s maternal grandmother Gitel died later that year. Ruth attended the Philanthropin school, a progressive, private Jewish school. She noticed gradually increasing instances of anti-semitism. She often walked in the gutters because Jews had to make way for Germans walking on the sidewalks. Ruth’s parents told her she was no longer allowed to play with non-Jewish children. In 1936, Ruth’s paternal uncle Aba went to Palestine. Isak’s business was taken away and given to a non-Jewish dentist. The dentist did not know anything about the business so Isak continued to work there. When the dentist questioned Isak about the business, he kept a gun on his desk for intimidation. Following the Kristallnacht pogrom on November 9 and 10, 1938, Ruth’s teachers tried to act like everything was normal, but the number of students and teachers fluctuated as Jews disappeared or moved into Frankfurt from smaller towns. In 1939, the family learned that Ruth’s paternal uncle Julius had been killed. A journalist, he had fled to Czechoslovakia after the Nazis came to power. He was caught and executed after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Ruth and her family attempted to flee to France, but the borders were closed. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II. In 1941 and 1942, thousands of Jews were deported from Frankfurt, including Ruth’s best friend, Irma Stern. They were told that they were being resettled in the east. Ruth’s father Isak was a Czech citizen an for a while, this protected the family from deportation. In 1942, Ruth’s school was closed. Her family was forced to leave their home and move into an old orphanage. They lived in one room and only Isak was permitted to leave to go to work.
    In April 1943, Ruth’s family was told that they were being resettled in the east. Isak was given the option of staying in Frankfurt to continue working at the leather factory, but he chose to go with his family. They agreed that if they were separated, they would meet again in Frankfurt. On April 19, they were taken to the train station, where Ruth, Hanna, and Zev were separated from Isak. They arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau after seven days on a passenger train. Ruth looked for her father on the platform but could not find him. Ruth, Hanna, and Zev were taken into a room, where they stripped and their heads were shaved. Ruth was tattooed with prisoner number 42716, Hanna with 42715, and Zev with 117942. They were given filthy, ill-fitting civilian clothing. The next day, they were assigned to work flattening the road with sand and a large grater. They were later given striped prisoner uniforms and assigned to work in the potato fields. After a few weeks, the guards decided it was not appropriate for Zev to remain in the women’s barrack and he was taken away. They got very little food and nearly everyone had festering sores due to malnutrition and the unsanitary conditions. In summer 1943, Ruth became ill with typhus. There was a selection and Ruth was selected to go to the gas chambers. The prisoner in charge of the barracks intervened and snuck Ruth back into the barracks where she eventually recovered. Ruth became close friends with Nini Benmajor, a singer from Greece. A guard wanted Nini to live with him, but she refused. A few days later, Nini was sent to the gas chambers. In winter 1943, Ruth and Hanna were assigned to work at a weaving factory, braiding strips of cellophane. In fall 1944, they were assigned to work at the Kanada warehouse, where they sorted the belongings confiscated from inmates they assumed had all been murdered. It was a good job, because sometimes they found food. One day, Ruth found a book Nathan the Wise, but was caught reading it by a guard who boxed her ear until she was dizzy. Another day, they found a dead infant in a bundle of clothing. After a couple weeks, Ruth and Hanna were selected to go to Germany as slave laborers. On November 3, they were taken to Ravensbrück concentration camp. Ruth was assigned prisoner number 82349 and Hanna number 82348. They were put in a large tent and given no food or water. In late 1944, Ruth and Hanna were transferred to Malchow labor camp. They worked in a munitions factory, where Ruth made bullets. As the war came to an end, the guards stopped feeding the prisoners. They rioted and stormed the food storage area. In spring 1945, they were sent on a forced march for seven or eight days. In early May, Ruth and Hanna were liberated by American troops near the Elbe River.
    The liberated prisoners were given care packages from the Red Cross. Hanna became ill from eating the food and was hospitalized. Ruth and Hanna stayed in a tent camp run by the British army. In the fall, they returned to Frankfurt to find Isak and Zev. They learned that Zev had survived imprisonment in Birkenau, Sachsenhausen, Gunskirchen, and Mauthausen concentration camps. He went to Palestine with the Palestinian contingent of the British Army. Hanna believed that Isak was killed in Auschwitz, but Ruth could not accept that her father was dead. In late 1946, they received visas to emigrate to the United States. Ruth persuaded Hanna to wait until the last possible ship in the hope that Isak would return. Several of Ruth’s relatives were killed in the Holocaust. Her father Isak, age 46, was killed in Auschwitz on November 19, 1943. Her maternal grandfather and cousins were killed. Ruth’s aunt Cyma emigrated to Montevideo, Uruguay, and her aunt Bella went to Canada. Ruth and Hanna sailed from Bremen on the SS Marine Marlin on February 21, 1947, arriving in New York on March 3. They moved to New Jersey, where Hanna worked at a nursing home and Ruth was a laboratory technician. Hanna changed her name to Hannah. On December 5, 1948, Ruth married Harry Meyerowitz (1921-1986), a soldier from Passaic, New Jersey, who was a liberator of Ohrdruf concentration camp. The couple settled in New Jersey and had three sons. In 1949, they opened a furrier business. Ruth received her BA in history and MA in literature. She was active early on in Holocaust remembrance events, having noticed how survivors were often treated as if their experiences did not matter and that they somehow were still not equal human beings. She lectured often and wrote about Holocaust history, partly as a warning to the world, trying to say: "This is what happened. Beware, don't fall into this sort of inhumanity." Hannah, age 85, died in December 1985, in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Ruth, age 79, passed away on February 3, 2009, in West Orange, New Jersey.

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Dress Accessories
    Category
    Handkerchiefs
    Object Type
    Handkerchiefs (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Square plaid cotton handkerchief with outer pink and inner green, yellow, and offwhite squares overlaid by sets of narrow blue and green intersecting stripes. The edges are machine sewn onto the back with pink thread.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 11.125 inches (28.258 cm) | Width: 10.625 inches (26.988 cm)
    Materials
    overall : cotton, thread

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The handkerchief was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1988 by Ruth Krautwirth Meyerowitz.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 18:21:08
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn815

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