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The Dressmakers of Auschwitz    by Lucy Adlington order for
Dressmakers of Auschwitz
by Lucy Adlington
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2021 (2021)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Lucy Adlington's The Dressmakers of Auschwitz - 'The True Story of the Women Who Sewed to Survive' - is a gripping account. We meet an assortment of women in their homes and businesses across Europe, before horrors overtakes them. We see what they have to do to survive and how they help each other. Finally, we're shown how the survivors live afterwards - and the memories they struggle to live with.

The account starts with introductions to many of the women involved (Slovakian, German, Hungarian, French, Polish). They are mainly Jewish, but also include non-Jewish communists from Occupied France. Though this slow start made me impatient to know what would follow, it also emphasized the normalcy of lives about to be rudely interrupted, when they were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

There, the commandment's wife, Hedwig Höss, set up a 'hideous anomaly', a fashion salon (the Upper Tailoring Studio), where slave labor worked long hours to create beautiful garments for SS wives and Nazi elite in Berlin. Materials stripped from incoming prisoners (most sent to the gas chambers) were used. You have to wonder what those SS wives were thinking and how they could ever have been so oblivious to (or uncaring of) the origins of what they wore!

Though fearing that the 'only way out of this place is through the chimney', these women had each other's backs. Many went even further, using their relatively better situations to help other inmates, to support resistance activities, to document and send out evidence of mass murder, and to plan escape. Some did succeed and quite a few survived. Afterwards, 'family ties and friendships forged in Auschwitz would come to stretch across borders and oceans.'

The Dressmakers of Auschwitz is a compelling read. This tale of companionship and survival against all odds also explores in some detail Nazi exploitation policies and the fashions of the era. To write it, the author interviewed the last surviving seamstress, as well as the children of others. She tells us that 'Their words, their stitches, their stories must not be forgotten.'

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