Pin Made at Labor Camp Testifies to a Love That Didn’t Survive the Holocaust

The heart-shaped pin, crafted by Ilona in a labor camp in the Sudetenland, tells the love story between her and her beloved Kurt, who was later murdered by the Germans

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
The heart-shaped pin, made by Ilona Barber.
The heart-shaped pin, made by Ilona Barber.Credit: Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

A small, heart-shaped pin in the Holocaust archive at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum at Kibbutz Lohamei Hageta’ot in the north is the final evidence of a great love story cut short by the Holocaust. The pin was handmade of stitched and dyed cut cloth. In its center, there is a photo of the engaged couple, Ilona Barber and Kurt Badrian.

Ilona prepared the pin in a labor camp in the Sudetenland, to which she was expelled in the Holocaust. Ilona survived the war and started a new family. Her beloved Kurt was murdered by the Germans.

Ilona Barber (left).Credit: Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum

Ilona’s granddaughter Yasmin recently donated the pin to the archive, which now makes it possible to tell its story. It’s a love story between Ilona, who was born in 1919 and grew up in the Polish city of Katowice, and Kurt, also born there and six years her senior. In the late 1930s they got engaged but World War II cut short their plans to marry and start a family.

Ilona studied sewing at a trade school and worked as a seamstress until about a month after the war broke out. After Germany conquered Poland, the Jews of Katowice were transferred to the Chrzanow ghetto in southern Poland. Then in January 1942, Ilona was sent to a work camp in Horni Stare Mesto in the Czech Republic where she was put to work at a sewing workshop. It was there that she made the pin.

In 1940, Kurt was sent to a labor camp in Mielec, Poland. He was put to work as, among other jobs, a work supervisor and overseer for highway paving. In his photo, which survived the war, he is dressed in a suit and light-colored hat and is standing next to a truck in the company of other friends. “Souvenir of my work on the highway,” he wrote in a message to Ilona on the back of the picture, which he sent her in 1940. On the back of another photo from 1942, he wrote: “A souvenir to Ilona my beloved, Your Kurt.”

Kurt Badrian (right), alongside other laborers during the war.Credit: Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum

He provided additional detail in another letter. “Dear Ilonka,” he wrote in one of the letters that survived.

Kurt Badrian.Credit: Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum

“Just now, I received your postcard and I am rushing to reply to you,” he wrote in German. “I was very happy over your dear postcard, and it pains me that I am not receiving any more mail from you and that I have to make do with little. I need to write to you more,” he added. “I know well what being in a strange place without anybody dear near you means, and when you receive mail from someone so dear.”

In another letter, he wrote: “You, my dear, don’t need to worry because that’s how it is for everyone. Therefore, my little one, I would like to give you a small piece of advice. Don’t worry. Be brave and persevere because the day will come and we will again have to be together and our love will again be strong, because we are facing up to the tests.”

A letter Kurt sent Ilona, in 1942.Credit: Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum

Another letter, which Ilona received from members of her family in May 1942, included the following line: “Don’t worry, Ilonka. God will also help in the future.” But reality wasn’t as heartwarming and optimistic. In the second half of 1942, Kurt was murdered. Ilona survived and returned to Katowice following her liberation, with her mother, Helena, and her brother, Shalom, who also survived.

There she learned that her father, Avraham, and her brother Ernest had also been killed. Ilona continued to work as a seamstress after the war.

Kurt Badrian (center), during the war.Credit: Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum

The heart pin that she had made for herself and for her murdered fiancé was kept all the years, even after she met a new romantic partner.

He was Natan Weiner, a native of Sosnowice, whom she met in Katowice and who had served in the Red Army.

They got married in 1946 and their two children, Yitzhak and Natali, were born in Poland. In 1957, when the Communist authorities permitted it, the family immigrated to Israel.

In addition to the pin, photos and letters that Ilona’s family provided to the Holocaust archive at Lohamei Hageta’ot, they gave the museum two identification disks with Ilona’s prisoner number and that of her mother.

They had been hung around their necks at their forced labor camps. It was at her labor camp that Ilona made the heart pin.

Now they are all in safe keeping in the archive’s display department.

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