The Seamstress

By Sara Tuvel Bernstein, Louise Loots Thornton, Marlene bernst Samuels, and Edgar M. Bronfman

Reviewed by Martha Artyomenko

Book Description:

A striking Holocaust memoir, posthumously published, by a Romanian Jew with an unusual story to tell. From its opening pages, in which she recounts her own premature birth, triggered by terrifying rumors of an incipient pogrom, Bernstein’s tale is clearly not a typical memoir of the Holocaust. She was born into a large family in rural Romania between the wars and grew up feisty and willing to fight back physically against anti-Semitism from other schoolchildren. She defied her father’s orders to turn down a scholarship that took her to Bucharest, and got herself expelled from that school when she responded to a priest/teacher’s vicious diatribe against the Jews by hurling a bottle of ink at him. Ashamed to return home after her expulsion, she looked for work in Bucharest and discovered a talent for dressmaking. That talent–and her blond hair, blue eyes, and overall Gentile appearance–allowed her entry into the highest reaches of Romanian society, albeit as a dressmaker. Bernstein recounts the growing shadow of the native fascist movement, the Iron Guard, a rising tide of anti-Semitic laws, and finally, the open persecution of Romania’s Jews. After a series of incidents that ranged from dramatic escapes to a year in a forced labor detachment, Sara ended up in Ravensbrck, a women’s concentration camp deep in Germany. Nineteen out of every twenty women transported there died. The author, her sister Esther, and two other friends banded together and, largely due to Sara’s extraordinary street smarts and intuition, managed to survive. Although Bernstein was not a professional writer, she tells this story with style and power. Her daughter Marlene contributes a moving epilogue to close out Sara’s life. One of the best of the recent wave of Holocaust memoirs. (b&w photos, not seen) — Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

My Review:

In the intro of this book you meet Sara Tuval Bernstein, you fall in love with her character, the small dressmaker, who has spunk and yet has suffered so much.

When I was ready to read her story, you read about this bright young woman who made her way as a excellent seamstress. I laughed when I read how she made a dress for her mother and it was full of mistakes, yet her mother wore it anyhow. She spoke so highly of her parents, loved her family devotedly  even when they were not the easiest to get along with.

As I read with horror all of  her experiences, and then at the end when her daughter said she said how she was afraid for a school performance and thought she would just die. She said her mother was very quiet and said  “It is not as easy to die as you would think.”

It was amazing she survived. When she was taken to a hospital at the end and was weighed. She was only 44 pounds. I did not know you could lose that much weight and still survive. She said when the soldier was carrying her into the hospital after that to her bed, she wondered how it could be raining inside and then realized that the soldier was crying that was carrying her.

This memoir of the holocaust is different than many I have read, it is matter of fact and talks about things that I have wondered about, but not in a way where you are horrified at the graphicness of it.

If you have ever wondered how a young Jewish girl could survive marching, starvation and go on with life later, read this story of Sara Bernstein.

The only thing I found sad  that was different than many of the memoirs and recounting of this time, was that she did not have a relationship with God and seemed to have some bitterness against Him. She did not understand how other survivors could thank Him for allowing them to survive, she did not thank Him for it. But then it sounded like maybe at the end of her life, it may have changed.

This book would be a good discussion for your family, with older readers.

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  1. Carrie

    This book sounds very interesting – loved the official review and then your review of it. It looks like one I’ll have to add to my list. Happy Reading!

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