12/14 double edge iron shoemaking tool used by a Polish Jewish refugee conscripted as a shoemaker by the Soviet Army

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

12/14 double edge iron shoemaking tool used by Simon Gelbart, who was conscripted into the Soviet Army from 1943-1945 because of his shoemaking skills. This burnishing tool is heated and heavily pressed along the edge of the shoe sole to strengthen the edge and seal it from water. There are several edge irons of different sizes and forms in his tool kit which Simon, a master shoemaker, kept with him all through the war. After Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Simon kept moving his family, his wife, Sara, and sons David, 9, and Haim, 5, east to escape persecution. Soon after they reached Soviet territory, the family was arrested and sent to Siberian Labor Camp #70, where a daughter was born. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, they were released. Due to a bombing raid on their train, they were detained and that winter, the Soviets sent the family to Krotovka collective farm. Everything had been confiscated for the war effort and the farmers were Jew haters who would not help them. Haim died of starvation, but a devout Christian woman, Pashinka Bravina, took in David. In 1943, Simon was forced to join the Red Army to repair shoes for the soldiers. He was stationed on the front lines and his family followed him until the war ended in May 1945. Simon was released from service in 1946 and the family returned to Lodz. Because of the vicious antisemitism there, Simon paid the underground to take them to west Germany where they were sent to Eschwege displaced persons camp. Denied permission to emigrate to Israel, the family went to the United States in 1951. Simon carried his shoemaking kit with him, but he never made shoes again.

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  • Title: 12/14 double edge iron shoemaking tool used by a Polish Jewish refugee conscripted as a shoemaker by the Soviet Army
  • Provenance: The leather creasing tool was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004 by David Gelbart, the son of Simon Gelbart.
  • Subject Keywords: Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)--Poland--Personal narratives. Jewish refugees--Soviet Union--Biography. Shoemakers--Soviet Union--Biography. Forced labor--Soviet Union--Biography. World War, 1939-1945--Conscript labor--Soviet Union--Biography. World War, 1939-1945--Personal narratives, Jewish.
  • Type: Tools and Equipment
  • Rights: Permanent Collection
  • External Link: See the full record at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • Medium: Brown, turned, wooden handle into which is inserted an edge iron tool with a trapezoidal iron head that slightly widens near the flat top. This head is the widest, .375 inch, of the set. The top edge has 3 projections: the outer edges have thin extensions with inside grooves; in the center of the flat top edge is a raised, trapezoidal wedge flanked by grooves. On one side of the tool face near the top are 2 engraved numbers, 12 and 14 and an illegible circular maker's mark. The round handle tapers, bulges in the center, tapers, then widens at the top where it is capped by a metal band. The flat handle bottom has a pinhole. The iron head is corroded and the handle is worn and stained.


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