THE DRESSMAKERS OF AUSCHWITZ
day Hedwig arrived saying, ‘I don’t know what happened to the boy. Today he didn’t want to come with me for anything’.”
Sometimes when the Germans were especially pleased with the clothing that week, the inmates would be rewarded with an additional piece of bread. Other privileges included being allowed to wash or access to a clean bed.
Clients of the studio included Frau Fischer, wife of a high-ranking Nazi doctor who decided which Jewish prisoners would live or die on their arrival at Auschwitz.
“One SS guard was so enthralled by the fashions the prisoners were producing that she announced: ‘When the war is over, I am going to open a large dressmaking studio with you in Berlin. I never knew that Jewesses could work, let alone so beautifully’,” says Adlington.
“I was struck by this dissonance between the beautiful world of fashion and indulgence when outside you are stripping people naked of both their clothes and their humanity and gassing them.”
Despite her proximity to human DISCONNECT: Hard at work in the tailoring studio; Rudolf Hoess with wife Hedwig and family, inset above; the dressmakers select materials, right depravity, Frau Hoess was happy to make use of free prisoner labour, as well as to plunder the belongings of exterminated prisoners, enabling her to fill her wardrobes with the finest leather shoes, silk lingerie and jewellery. Far from suffering a guilty conscience she is said to have luxuriated in her ability to enjoy the spoils of genocide.
“At one official function, swathed in stolen furs and sparkling with diamonds, she freely admitted that she ‘shopped’ at the warehouses in Auschwitz,” says Adlington.
However, mounting resentment among other officers’ wives jealous of her wardrobe led to the expansion of her operation from two young women employed as personal tailors at her villa to a tailoring studio situated near the barracks where many SS female guards lived, in a bid to allow them to take advantage of the inmates’ talents.
“Hedwig Hoess’s home-sewing enterprise evolved into the creation of a dressmaking workshop inside the concentration camp itself, staffed by prisoners who literally had to sew to save their lives,” explains Adlington. Drawn together by adversity and depravity, the seamstresses of the studio became a closely knit family. But tragically, many of the 23 did not survive the disintegration of Hitler’s empire.
Sadly Lulu and two other dressmakers were shot attempting to escape from the horrific “death march” evacuation of Auschwitz prisoners in January 1945, just days before Russian troops discovered the camp.
ADaily Express Saturday September 16 2017 DLINGTON says: “When they learned they were going to be evacuated they had planned an escape while still in camp. With access to civilian clothes through the sewing studio, they had intended to pass themselves off as Polish civilians on the trains. But a Polish woman warned them not to get aboard.
“Marta Fuchs decided to follow her advice but tragically the girls on the train were shot when it was discovered that they did not have
A new book tells the harrowing story of the Jewish seamstresses who were forced to make haute couture gowns for their depraved female captors
the right papers.” Fuchs was lucky enough to be hidden by local peasant women. In return, she made them dresses. Meanwhile two others, Marilou Colombain and Alida Vasselin, were evacuated to Ravensbrück concentration camp before being liberated.
“They celebrated their eventual return to Paris by sleeping in real beds with clean white sheets,” says Adlington. “Marilou spent the rest of her life fighting against racism while the surviving seamstresses scattered around the world.”
Vasselin later wrote about her time in the studio, mentioning nothing of the fashions that had so seduced her clients. Instead, she was haunted by memories of her friends who had not survived. “My heart cannot forgive,” she said. “We cannot forget our comrades who died.”
As for Frau Hoess, she fled in style with four freight cars full of plundered goods but soon came up against the realities of the post-war world. She was later found living in poverty after her husband was hanged for his genocidal crimes.
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