Review: Lucy Adlington – The Dressmakers of Auschwitz

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

“At the height of the Holocaust twenty-five young inmates of the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp – mainly Jewish women and girls – were selected to design, cut, and sew beautiful fashions for elite Nazi women in a dedicated salon. It was work that they hoped would spare them from the gas chambers… Weaving the dressmakers’ remarkable experiences within the context of Nazi policies for plunder and exploitation, historian Lucy Adlington exposes the greed, cruelty, and hypocrisy of the Third Reich and offers a fresh look at a little-known chapter of World War II and the Holocaust.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel approach to World War II history in a way that made it approachable and interesting to me. For anyone who has an interest in fashion this book is going to be a great read. The author clearly had favourites! The key two women presented in a favourable light were Hanyu, who she presents as fearless and spunky, and Marta, who is compassionate for her team.

I have to complain a little that I found the multiple narrative perspectives difficult to follow. I would have much preferred that each chapter approached what a single woman faced at a time, particularly near the end. I couldn’t work out who died, or who lost their entire family – but perhaps this was deliberate to highlight the sheer number of murders in this book.

There is a lot of background information before we get to the part where the women make dresses! Since I was expecting it to focus on the fashions and specific circumstances of the dressmakers, I spent the first half of the book waiting for ‘action’. This was shallow of me, as I did learn a lot of facts about the Holocaust from a woman’s perspective, which I think has been unstudied/undiscussed in this area of work.

The old adage is that truth is stranger to fiction – in this case non-fiction is horrific enough that it’s not necessary to read a fictional horror novel! I find myself still better fascinated with true history such as this book and the upcoming Always Remember Your Name, or The Keeper of Miracles, rather than fictional novels set in the time of World War II. That being said, I did read The Kitchen Front recently which of course had a rather simplistic happy ending.

Hachette | 31 August 2021 | AU$34.99 | paperback

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