A powerful chronicle of the women who used their sewing skills to survive the Holocaust, stitching beautiful clothes at an extraordinary fashion workshop created within one of the most notorious WWII death camps.
At the height of the Holocaust twenty-five young inmates of the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp—mainly Jewish women and girls—were selected to design, cut, and sew beautiful fashions for elite Nazi women in a dedicated salon. It was work that they hoped would spare them from the gas chambers.
This fashion workshop—called the Upper Tailoring Studio—was established by Hedwig Höss, the camp commandant’s wife, and patronized by the wives of SS guards and officers. Here, the dressmakers produced high-quality garments for SS social functions in Auschwitz, and for ladies from Nazi Berlin’s upper crust.
Drawing on diverse sources—including interviews with the last surviving seamstress—The Dressmakers of Auschwitz follows the fates of these brave women. Their bonds of family and friendship not only helped them endure persecution, but also to play their part in camp resistance. Weaving the dressmakers’ remarkable experiences within the context of Nazi policies for plunder and exploitation, historian Lucy Adlington exposes the greed, cruelty, and hypocrisy of the Third Reich and offers a fresh look at a little-known chapter of World War II and the Holocaust.
-Excerpt taken from Goodreads.
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(4 / 5) Wow! This one left my head reeling. I’ve read a lot of WW2 novels but this one was just different enough that I learned many new things.
My admiration goes to Adlington for the immense amount of research she did. It was obvious very quickly that it is based mostly on stories from people and families. There are 50 pages at the end dedicated to her sources. It was mind-blowing in a way that made it more respectful.
The writing took a bit to get used to. This is not written in story form, it was written more informatively. Once I got the hang of that, I actually appreciated the different format and relished the details. Because of the informative way it was written, it was more matter-of-fact, and not as emotion tugging. There were still many times I was appalled and horrified by new details or specifics that people had done, but it didn’t solicit my emotions as historical fiction sometimes can.
One aspect I really liked was how the author followed the fashions of the time. There were many pictures throughout the book (How can I get this in every book I read?) and a lot were based on the fashions or the women of the story. I loved that aspect and the uniqueness. I normally wouldn’t have thought about it but seeing how the SS wives were dressing and how important it was how their children were dressed was fascinating. The SS wives were a new aspect that I learned about. I’ve never had a book focus on the families and wives of the Nazi men in charge. Oddly, some women were very naive (or chose to be) and had horrors happening in front of their faces. The Nazi’s expertly manufactured ill feelings towards the Jews and prisoners by separating them out from being “human.” If prisoners didn’t look “fully human” by their definition, then guards (and wives, kids and more) felt superior and it was easier to mistreat them. Dirt, bald heads, fecal matter on clothes and more separated them. They were also called by their prison number, not names. The psychological aspect behind it all is atrocious but skillfully done.
“In the space of a few minutes I had been stripped of every vestige of human dignity and become indistinguishable from everyone around me.” Anita Lasker-Wallfisch
Another aspect I appreciated was the time spent on their lives after the war. While many did not survive the camps, some did. They were left with only the threadbare clothes on their backs. They had to loot houses just to care for themselves. Being able to travel home was difficult but many were able to hitch rides. Their once-hated Auschwitz number tattoo’s were now their life-saving ticket to getting rides and food from those around them. They were immediately expected to start working for a living again. There was no one to care for them.
“…learned very quickly that there were few personal possessions actually essential to life. Beyond that it was friendships and loyalty that counted.”
In contrast, the Nazi families went from riches and luxuries of life to almost nothing. Most of the men were killed or imprisoned for their crimes and wives and children were left to fend for themselves.
I highly recommend this one if you like the facts of history and the little details that most books seem to gloss over!
Content Summary: Obviously I could not list them all! War atrocities such as gas chambers, firing squads, stripping prisoners of all clothes, body cavity searches, menstruation while forced to be naked, lice and bedbugs, mistreatment, looting, children beating prisoners with soap-weighted towels, one man threw live babies into boiling human fat, prisoners were used as “sexual outlets,” killing injections to the heart, typhus, bombs, starvation, rape and so much more.
Thank you to Harper Perennial for the gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.
The book releases September 14, 2021.
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