“We shake hands. At that moment history becomes real life, not just the archives, book stacks, fashion drawings, and fluid fabrics that are my usual historical sources for writing and presenting. I am meeting a woman who has survived a time and place now synonymous with horror.”Lucy Adlington
Thank you Lucy Adlington and Harper Perennial for the opportunity to read this book. It hits shelves on September 14th!
The Dressmakers of Auschwitz by Lucy Adlington is an account of the true story of the women who sewed to survive. Author Lucy Adlington met with Bracha Kohut, one of the 25 women who sewed clothes for top SS wives, including Hedwig Hoss, who was the wife of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoss. Auschwitz was transformed from an army barracks to a prisoner-of-war camp in September 1939. It wasn’t long before it became a death camp. 1.3 million people entered Auschwitz and 1.1 million were killed. At the height of the Nazi Occupation, SS wives were supposed to be “ideal ladies.” They needed to be supporters of their husbands but clothing was also a symbol of their status. While Auschwitz was a death camp, but the Nazis used those imprisoned there for labor. Hedwig Hoss started a fashion workshop which was called the Upper Tailoring Studio. The women forced to work in this workshop sewed to stay alive, but also used their positions to help and save as many as they possibly could.
“…the Auschwitz dressmaking salon became a refuge, saving seamstresses, and non-sewers alike. Marta’s wider involvement in resistance runs like silvery threads through the murky weave of Auschwitz life.”The Dressmakers of Auschwitz
Trigger Warnings: torture, abuse, The Holocaust, trauma, antisemitism
Lucy Adlington is a costume historian and her research led her to this remarkable group of women. I wrote a lot of papers in college regarding Nazi Germany, mainly the Jewish Resistance Forest camps, so I was intrigued to learn about a part of history that I was not aware of previously. Fashion and clothing were exclusively used to show who belonged where. Once in the camps, their baggage was taken from them but told that it would be protected. They were then stripped and thoroughly investigated and then given rags to wear. This dehumanized them immediately. Their baggage was actually handled with strict authority as the Third Reich plundered all the belongings. When Hedwig Hoss wanted her fashions, the salon started. These women took care of each other. They knew they were given an opportunity and they did what they needed to do to survive but also help those around them.
The book does start out slow, but then I could not put it down. I had tears rolling down my cheeks as I read about the liberation and their adjustment to freedom. This place was hell. The people in charge were evil, but so were the people, specifically the wives, who tolerated it. There aren’t words to describe the despicable actions of Hedwig Hoss. She wanted to maintain a certain lifestyle and used those imprisoned to work so she could maintain that lifestyle. While working in the salon saved their lives, Hoss knew what was happening in Auschwitz. In fact, the gas chambers and crematoriums were not far from her home. But here is the thing, Hedwig’s salon didn’t save their lives. She didn’t care about whether they lived or died. The women who worked in the salon saved their own lives. There are portions of this book that will make you sick to your stomach. We have all learned about the Holocaust, but it is always horrifying, no matter how many times you read about it. But these women are inspiring to face such atrocity and torture with so much courage. It was an honor to read about them. I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.