The Tai­lors of Tomaszow

  • Review
By – May 22, 2014

Over the years, there have been var­i­ous attempts to depict the scope and dev­as­ta­tion of the Holo­caust. These include the well-known project involv­ing paper clips and, more recent­ly, the pub­li­ca­tion of the book And Every Sin­gle One Was Some­one, in which the word Jew” is repeat­ed six mil­lion times.

The Tai­lors of Tomas­zow, to my mind, suc­ceeds much more effec­tive­ly in describ­ing the inde­scrib­ably. In this book, Rena Mar­gulies Cher­noff, one of the youngest sur­vivors of Auschwitz, and her son, Allan Cher­noff, a vet­er­an news reporter, vir­tu­al­ly recre­ate the van­ished Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Tomas­zow, Poland. Rely­ing on inter­views with sur­vivors, per­son­al mem­o­ries, and well-doc­u­ment­ed sources that include Nazi records at the Auschwitz-Birke­nau Library, the authors paint a detailed por­trait of the lives of the Jews of Tomas­zow before, dur­ing, and after the Holocaust.

Many of the Jews of Tomas­zow were tai­lors, an often life-sav­ing skill for those who were employed by the Nazis to cre­ate every­thing from men’s suits to uni­forms. In one fas­ci­nat­ing exam­ple, Rena Cher­nof­f’s uncle Jozef, who was interned in a sub­camp of Mau­thausen, dis­cov­ered that a suit that had been sewn for the com­man­dant did not fit cor­rect­ly. Jozef ordered to fix it and was told that if he tried and was unsuc­cess­ful, he would be killed. He was star­ing at the com­man­dant dur­ing roll call in an effort to fig­ure out his mea­sure­ments when he noticed that he him­self was a sim­i­lar build. By sim­ply try­ing on the suit, he was able to fix it so that it fit cor­rect­ly. This led to oth­er tai­lor­ing jobs, where­upon Jozef insist­ed that he need­ed to work with some of his towns­peo­ple. In this way, he was also able to help some of his fel­low Tomas­zow tailors.

The enor­mi­ty of the Holo­caust is indeed hard to com­pre­hend, and projects that attempt to depict it cer­tain­ly have their place. The emo­tion­al pow­er of this book, how­ev­er, comes from the indi­vid­ual Jews who are brought to life in these pages. They were not just Jews”; they were Jews like Rena Cher­nof­f’s father, who went to extra­or­di­nary lengths to help oth­ers regard­less of the dan­ger involved. They were not just part of six mil­lion; they were mem­bers of close-knit fam­i­lies, torn apart from one anoth­er by the Nazis and their eager col­lab­o­ra­tors. By nam­ing and describ­ing the pre­cious souls who were lost, the authors do a mas­ter­ful job of con­vey­ing not just the scope of the Holo­caust, but also what the loss­es meant to the Jew­ish peo­ple on a per­son­al lev­el. Appen­dices, bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, maps, notes, paragraphs.

Relate con­tent:

Shi­ra R. Lon­don is the librar­i­an at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Com­mu­ni­ty High School in Bal­ti­more, MD. She holds an M.L.S. from Colum­bia University.

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