Rambling ...

I'm an Irish Girl, A Dubliner, with the 'Gift of the Gab' ... I like to talk & to tell you things. In Celtic times news, views and comment were carried from place to place by wandering Seanachaí ~ Storytellers ~ who relied on their host's hospitality and appreciation. I will need that from you too, as I venture to share Politics, Poetry, Laughter, Love, Life & everything in-between ... from Bog to Blog!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Wedding Gown!

The above picture is of Jewish marriage contract (ketubah) of Lilly and Ludwig Friedman, a prayer shawl (tallit) bag; photos of two Jewish brides who later wore Lilly’s dress; wedding portrait of Lilly Lax and Ludwig Friedman; dress and gloves worn by Lilly at her wedding to Ludwig Friedman in January 1946. This Collection is housed at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 

My friend Rebecca Fleischmann initially sent me this story .... then I researched a little.  Toda Rebecca!!  
Lilly Friedman doesn't remember the last name of the woman who designed and sewed the wedding gown she wore when she walked down the aisle over 60 years ago.  But the grandmother of seven does recall that when she first told her fiancé Ludwig that she had always dreamed of being married in a white gown he realized he had his work cut out for him.  For the tall, lanky 21-year-old who had survived hunger, disease and torture this was a different kind of challenge.  How was he ever going to find such a dress in the Bergen Belsen Displaced Person's camp where they felt grateful just for the clothes on their backs?

Fate would intervene in the guise of a former German pilot who walked into the food distribution centre where Ludwig worked, eager to make a trade for his worthless parachute. In exchange for two pounds of coffee beans and a couple of packs of cigarettes Lilly would have her white wedding gown.

For two weeks Miriam the seamstress worked under the curious eyes of her fellow Displaced Persons, carefully fashioning the six parachute panels into a simple, long sleeved gown with a rolled collar and a fitted waist that tied in the back with a bow. When the dress was completed she sewed the leftover material into a matching shirt for the groom.  

A white wedding gown may have seemed like a frivolous request in the surreal environment of the post war camps, but for Lilly the dress symbolized the innocent, normal life she and her family had once led before the world descended into madnes.

Lilly and her siblings were raised in a Torah observant home in the small town of Zarica , Czechoslovakia where her father was a teacher, respected and well liked by the young yeshiva students he taught in nearby Irsheva.  He and his two sons were marked for extermination immediately upon arriving at Auschwitz.   For Lilly and her sisters it was only their first stop on their long journey of persecution, which included Plashof, Neustadt, Gross Rosen and finally Bergen-Belsen.

Lilly Friedman and her parachute dress on display in the Bergen Belsen Museum.

Four hundred people marched 15 miles in the snow to the town of Celle on January 27th, 1946,  to attend Lilly and Ludwig's wedding.  The town Synagogue, damaged and desecrated, had been lovingly renovated by the DPs with the meagre materials available to them in preperation for the nuptials. When Sefer Torah arrived from England they converted an old kitchen cabinet into a makeshift Aron Kodesh.

"My sisters and I lost everything .... our parents, our two brothers, our homes . The most important thing was to build a new home."  declared Lilly.    Six months later, Lilly's sister Ilona wore the dress when she married Max Traeger.   After that came Cousin Rosie.   How many brides wore Lilly's dress?    "I stopped counting after 17. "   With the camps experiencing the highest marriage rate in the world, Lilly's gown was in great demand.  A Gown filled with history!!

In 1948,  when President Harry Truman finally permitted the 100,000 Jews who had been languishing in Displaced Persons camps since the end of the war to emigrate, the gown accompanied Lilly across the ocean to America. Unable to part with her dress,  it lay at the bottom of her bedroom closet for the next 50 years, "not even good enough for a garage sale.  I was happy when it found such a good home. "

Home was the to become the United  States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington , D . C .   When Lily's niece,  a volunteer, told museum officials about her aunt's dress, they immediately recognized its historical significance and displayed the gown in a specially designed showcase,  guaranteed to preserve it for 500 years.  Appropriate .... but Lilly Friedman's dress had one more journey to make.   Like Lilly herself it went to Bergen Belsen,   to the museum there which opened its doors on October 28th, 2007.   The German government invited Lilly and her sisters to be their guests for the grand opening.  They initially declined,  but finally traveled to Hanover the following year with their children, their grandchildren and extended families to view the extraordinary exhibit created for the wedding dress made from a parachute.

Lilly's family at Bergen-Belsen
Lilly's family, who were all familiar with the stories about the wedding in Celle, were eager to visit the synagogue . They found the building had been completely renovated and modernized . But when they pulled aside the handsome curtain they were astounded to find that the Aron Kodesh,  made from a kitchen cabinet, had remained untouched as a testament to the profound faith of the survivors.   As Lilly stood on the bimah once again she beckoned to her granddaughter,  Jackie,  to stand beside her where she was once a kallah . "It was an emotional trip.  We cried a lot. "    I think your readers might too, Lilly!!!

Two weeks later, the woman who had once stood trembling before the selective eyes of the infamous Dr . Josef Mengele returned home and witnessed the marriage of her granddaughter.

The three Lax sisters ~ Lilly, Ilona and Eva,  who together survived Auschwitz,  a forced labor camp,  a death march and Bergen Belsen ~ have remained close and today live within walking distance of each other in Brooklyn, a predominantly Jewish New York City suburb.   As mere teenagers, they managed to outwit and outlive a monstrous killing machine,  then went on to marry,  have children,  grandchildren and great-grandchildren and were ultimately honoured by the country that had earmarked them for extinction.

As young brides, they had stood underneath the Chuppah and recited the blessings that their ancestors had been saying for thousands of years . In doing so, they chose to honour the legacy of those who had perished by choosing life.  And by living it to the fullest possible.  Ha'Shem would have us be happy in Adar.  In fact, as Jews, we are commanded to live happy lives.

Lilly's Historical 'Happy' Gown
Now, more than ever, with Iraq, Iran, and many more, even within 'civilization' itself,  claiming the Holocaust to be 'a myth,' it's imperative to make sure the world never forgets, because there are others who would like to do it again.  They wait in the wings.  To quote British statesman,  Sir Edward Grey,   on the eve of the First World War  as he looked out from the window of the Foreign Office at dusk & observed the lighting of the lamps ~ at the time Gas lamps, which required manual lighting  .... "The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time".    It turned out to be a truism then,  & might well turn out to  become a truism in our own times.

 And, whilst researching this story,  I found another tale, not quite as dramatic, but also involving a "parachute" wedding gown ....  This time the wedding dress was made from a nylon parachute that saved the groom's life during World War II.   Major Claude Hensinger, a B-29 pilot, and his crew, were returning from a bombing raid over Yowata,  Japan, in August 1944 when their engine caught fire.   The crew was forced to bail out.  It was night and Major Hensinger landed on some rocks and suffered some minor injuries.   During the night he used the parachute both as a pillow and a blanket.  In the morning the crew was able to reassemble and were taken in by some friendly Chinese.   He kept the parachute and used it as a way to propose to Ruth in 1947.  He presented it to her and suggested she make a gown out of it for their wedding.  She did.   Here it is  ......

Another 'Parachute' Gown

And, given the 'Romantic' week that is in it .... I think it makes a Wonderful Wednesday story for the month of Adar Aleph!   L'Chaim!!!!!

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