The Dress­mak­ers of Auschwitz: The True Sto­ry of the Women Who Sewed to Survive 

Lucy Adling­ton

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By – January 10, 2022

Upon learn­ing that a high-fash­ion salon had oper­at­ed at Auschwitz-Birke­nau, fash­ion his­to­ri­an and nov­el­ist Lucy Adling­ton want­ed to know more.

Adling­ton relied on the path-break­ing research of Dr. Lore Wein­berg Shel­ley, an Auschwitz-Birke­nau sur­vivor and a psy­chol­o­gist, to guide her. Shel­ley had archived the cor­re­spon­dence between twen­ty-five female dress­mak­ers, who had for two years staffed an Auschwitz-Birke­nau Upper Tai­lor­ing Stu­dio.” Fas­ci­nat­ed by this unique con­junc­tion of cou­ture sewing in the midst of indus­tri­al­ized mur­der, Adling­ton labo­ri­ous­ly sought out and inter­viewed the last sur­viv­ing for­mer camp dressmakers.

The Commandant’s indulged wife first had the idea for the salon, and its priv­i­leged clien­tele includ­ed the wives of high-rank­ing SS offi­cers, val­ued camp guards, and even Berlin’s upper-crust elites. There were so many client orders for cus­tom-made, high-style gar­ments that a wait of six-months was stan­dard. Bolts of high-end fab­ric came at no cost from ran­sacked cloth­ing and depart­ment stores in twen­ty-four occu­pied countries.

Strict­ly con­fined to a stark dor­mi­to­ry, the dress­mak­ers sur­vived on only a bit more food than oth­er starv­ing pris­on­ers. They had to work twelve to six­teen hours dai­ly and meet a week­ly quo­ta of two com­plet­ed gar­ments. Fail­ure could mean being sent back to lice-rid­den hor­ren­dous bar­racks, a per­vert­ed new kind of civilization.”

In the evenings, despite ram­pant exhaus­tion and hunger, many of the women hud­dled in secret study groups to study lan­guages togeth­er. They proved their minds could not be con­tained by barbed wire.” Work­shop lead­ers tried end­less­ly to add more seam­stress­es to the ranks so as to save lives.

Adling­ton pro­vides an orig­i­nal detailed study of a lit­tle-known aspect of the Holo­caust. Her art­ful­ly writ­ten book illus­trates how much can and ought to be learned from endurance of crimes against humanity.

Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of Soci­ol­o­gy, Pro­fes­sor Arthur B. Shostak is the author in 2017 of Stealth Altru­ism: For­bid­den Care as Jew­ish Resis­tance in the Holo­caust. Since his 2003 retire­ment from 43 years teach­ing soci­ol­o­gy he has spe­cial­ized in Holo­caust studies.

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