Haute Couture fashion is not something you would associate with Auschwitz, yet there were about 23 women who worked as dressmakers, producing dresses and haute couture fashion.
These female prisoners served as the staff of the “Upper Tailoring Studio,” a private dressmaking shop for the wives of SS officers stationed at the facility. They were chosen for their skills, or because they had connections with existing dressmakers.
The names of only a few women are known. One of those women was Alida Vasselin(nee Delasalle-pictured above). she was a French communist, a member of the French resistance and a a corsetière. She was arrested arrested in 1942 for hiding anti-Nazi leaflets in the corsets she sewed.
Another French communist resistance member was Marie-Louise Colombain, who was also set to work as a dress maker.
Both women survived the war. Alida died on April 28, 1986,and Marie died on December 17, 1998.
The Auschwitz commandant’s wife, Hedwig Hoess, had first employed two local Polish seamstresses to sew in her villa overlooking the concentration camp. Hedwig referred to the life in the villa as “paradise”. where she could indulge in luxury items.
These included fabrics and fashions selected from the vast amount of plundered goods which was being in warehouses in the camp,only a short distance from her flower garden. The prisoners carried out the sorting of goods, would often come across belongings of their own murdered relatives. The wives of other SS officers and also some of the female guards grew envious of Hedwig’s wardrobe, Hedwig then decided to open the elite dressmaking workshop – the Upper Tailoring Studio – inside the camp itself.
One of the Auschwitz seamstresses, a Slovakian dressmaker named Lulu Gruenberg, had difficulties controlling her resentment at the indifference and arrogance of the women for whom she was making clothes to survive.
It is said that one time when Hedwig Hoess came for a fitting with one of her young sons and while his mother’s back was turned, Lulu looped a tape measure around the boy’s neck like a noose and whispered, ‘Soon you are going to hang; your father, your mother and all the others’,” according to Lucy Adlington, the fashion historian who uncovered the facts about the ‘Tailoring studio’
The seamstresses were forced to produce two outfits per client a week. They created new designs, and altered high-quality clothes brought into Auschwitz by Jewish deportees. Many SS clients ordered beautiful evening gowns in fashionable styles, to be worn on social occasions like dinner parties, music concerts and cinema visits. None of the women had any issues wearing the gowns of murdered innocent women, or clothes created by enslaved prisoners.
For the 23 seamstresses it was at least a small chance to survive.Although they were not immune to beatings and harsh treatments outside the studio. How many women survived I don’t know.
Hedwig Hoess re-married in Germany and immigrated to the USA, where she died on 15 September 1989 (aged 81)
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