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Brown alligator leather holder used by Kindertransport refugee

Object | Accession Number: 2014.281.13

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    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Brown alligator patterned leather case brought by 10 year old Ellen Ruth Fass from Berlin, Germany, to Edge, England, on a Kindertransport on July 25, 1939. After Hitler assumed power in in 1933, Jews were subject to increasingly punitive restrictions. During Kristallnacht on November 10, 1938, Ellen’s father Georg was arrested and sent to Sachenhausen concentration camp. After his release in December, he and Nanette tried to immigrate to the United States or South America, but could not get visas. They arranged for Ellen and her brother Gerhard, 5, to be sent to England in summer 1939. Ellen lived in Edge with Kate Richmond and Gerhard lived in Derby with Charles and Esther Freeman. Ellen’s parents were deported to Kaunas, Lithuania, on November 17, 1941, and killed at the Ninth Fort on November 25. Ellen’s maternal grandparents, Eduard and Dorothea Simon, were deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp in June 1942, then to Treblinka killing center in September. Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945. In May 1946, Ellen immigrated to the United States.
    Date
    emigration:  1939 July 25
    Geography
    received: Berlin (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Ellen Zilka
    Contributor
    Subject: Ellen R. Zilka
    Biography
    Ellen Ruth Thea Fass was born on October 6, 1928, in Berlin, Germany, to a Jewish couple, Georg Karl and Nanette Simon Fass. Ellen Ruth had a brother, Gerhard Julius, who was born on September 15, 1933. Ellen Ruth’s father Georg was born on April 1, 1891, in Schoenlanke (now Trzcianka, Poland), to Julius and Dina Bernstein Fass. Julius was born on January 6, 1854, and Dina was born on June 30, 1852. Julius owned a matzah factory. Georg had four siblings: Max, Regina, Egon, and Friedrich. Egon immigrated to South America before Ellen Ruth was born. Ellen Ruth’s mother Nanette was born on June 14, 1906, in Osnabrueck, to Eduard and Dorothea Altmann Simon. Eduard was born on January 27, 1873, in Thalfang, to Isac and Nanette Simon. Dorothea was born on August 31, 1877, in Schrimm (Srem, Poland). The couple owned two shoe stores in Cologne. Nanette had two sisters: Rosalie, called Rosie, born June 4, 1907, and Juliana Else, called Elsie, born September 5, 1909. Ellen Ruth’s father Georg was a traveling shoe salesman. The family was observant, regularly attended synagogue, and kept kosher. Ellen Ruth attended public school and Hebrew school. She spoke German and Hebrew and learned English in school. Ellen Ruth was close with her mother’s family. They spent Passover with her maternal grandparents in Cologne. Her maternal aunt Elsie and her husband Fritz Silberschmidt (1908-1991) also lived in Cologne. In the summers, they visited her maternal aunt Rosie, Rosie’s husband Walter Heineman (1902-1986), and their daughter Vera (1931-2001) in Erfurt. Once a year, they visited Georg’s sister Regina in Schoenlanke for Simchat Torah.

    In January 1933, Hitler came to power in Germany. Although anti-Semitic persecution was increasing, Ellen Ruth was shielded from the changes because she was a child. In fall 1938, the family was forced to move from their suburban home in Steglitz into the city. They lived in a crowded apartment with two or three other families, only two blocks away from the Neue Synagogue. Ellen Ruth had to change schools. On the morning of November 10, during Kristallnacht, Ellen Ruth and her family saw the Neue Synagogue burning from their window. Ellen Ruth’s father Georg was arrested and sent to Sachenhausen concentration camp. He was released on December 17. Ellen Ruth’s maternal uncle Walter had also been arrested during Kristallnacht. He was released because they already had their visas to immigrate to the United States. In December, Rosie, Walter, and Vera visited Ellen Ruth’s family in Berlin, then went to the Netherlands. They immigrated to New York in December, arriving in January 1939. Ellen Ruth’s parents tried to get visas to immigrate to the US or South America, but were unsuccessful. Nanette’s cousin Lotte Friedman (1906-2001) lived in London and arranged for Ellen Ruth and Gerhard to be signed up for a Kindertransport, or children’s transport. In preparation for their trip, Nanette bought them new clothes and sewed name tags into their bedding and towels. In June 1939, Gerhard, age five, left for England. He was taken in by a childless Jewish couple, Charles and Esther Freeman, in Derby. The Freemans wrote to Ellen Ruth’s parents to give them updates on Gerhard.

    On July 25, Ellen Ruth, age 10, took a train to the Netherlands, then went to England. She was sent to London, then to Stroud. She was taken to a nearby village, Edge, where she lived with Kate Richmond, a retired nurse who ran a convalescent home in her house. Ten to twelve elderly women lived with them. The home had no plumbing or electricity. She dropped her second name, Ruth, because it sounded too German. She learned English very quickly and attempted to drop her German accent. Ellen attended the local school. Kate arranged for another German Jewish refugee, Maria Wolf, to live with them during the school year so Ellen had a friend. Ellen kept in touch with her parents and grandparents. When war broke out after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Ellen received an ID card as an enemy alien. Ellen had to write to her family via the Red Cross. In March 1940, Ellen’s paternal aunt Regina died of natural causes. In 1940, Ellen stopped receiving letters from her parents. Kate ensured that Ellen was able to observe Judaism. She did not eat bacon or sausage with the rest of the household. In school, she was excused from religious services and class. Kate arranged for Ellen to study Judaism with a synagogue in London via correspondence. There were four or five Jewish refugees in the Stroud area. Services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were arranged for them every year. Ellen visited her brother Gerhard in Derby for Passover. The war ended when Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945.

    Ellen’s parents did not contact her again. She remained in Edge with Kate until she was contacted by her maternal aunt Rosie, who wanted to bring her to the US. Rosie also wanted to bring Gerhard, but his foster parents told her that they had adopted him. He changed his name to Gerald Freeman and remained in England with his adoptive family. On May 3, 1946, Ellen sailed from Liverpool on the SS Drottningholm, arriving in New York on May 13. She lived in Boston with her aunt and uncle, Rosie and Walter, who treated her like a daughter. Ellen graduated from high school, then attended Radcliffe College for three years. She graduated from Simmons College with a library degree. She worked at the Brooklyn Public Library. In 1952, Ellen married Samuel Zilka, who was born on June 6, 1926, in Iraq. The couple settled in New York and had three children. Ellen eventually learned what happened to her parents. On November 17, 1941, Georg and Nanette were deported to Kovno, Lithuania (now Kaunas). On November 25, they were killed at the Ninth Fort in Kovno, which was used as an execution site for Jews. Ellen’s maternal grandparents Eduard and Dorothea were deported to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp in Czechoslovakia on June 15, 1942. On September 19, they were deported to Treblinka killing center in Poland. Ellen’s aunt Rosie, age 73, died on February 6, 1981, in Dade, Florida. Ellen’s aunt Elsie, age 90, died on April 4, 2000, in Orange, Florida. Ellen’s brother Gerald, age 74, died in March 2007.

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Containers
    Category
    Cases
    Physical Description
    Rectangular, nearly flat, brown, alligator patterned leather case sewn together with dark brown plastic lacing at the edges. The front is made from 2 panels laced together in the center. The front has a curved top edge and the back has a straight top edge.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 6.000 inches (15.24 cm) | Width: 4.625 inches (11.748 cm) | Depth: 0.125 inches (0.318 cm)
    Materials
    overall : leather, thread, plastic, dye

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The case was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2014 by Ellen Fass Zilka.
    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 17:55:05
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn90081

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