THE DRESSMAKERS OF AUSCHWITZ

Daily Express - - INSIDE POLITICS -

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.

To or­der The Red Rib­bon by Lucy Adling­ton (Hot Key Books, £10.99, from Septem­ber 21) with free UK de­liv­ery, call the Ex­press Book­shop with your card de­tails on 01872 562310. Or send a cheque/ PO made payable to The Ex­press Book­shop to: Red Rib­bon Of­fer, PO Box 200, Fal­mouth TR11 4WJ or visit ex­press­book­shop.co.uk

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