My maternal aunt, Frida worked as a seamstress in the Famous Bridal Gowns salon on Manhattan Avenue in Williamsburg Brooklyn. I remember watching the brides proudly stand on circular platforms as women hovered around them, adjusting this, adjusting that. They looked like goddesses. Their headdresses, embroidered with hundreds of hand-sewn pearls and rhinestones sparked under the overhead lights.
Later, I would learn that just a few years earlier, Frida had been an inmate of Auschwitz working in the “Canada” section where she sorted the possessions of the incoming deportees, the vast majority of whom went straight to the gas chambers. But there, in Williamsburg, she was the creator of dreams.
She and her siblings were born in Ruscova, Romania, a small rural town nestled against the Ukrainian border.
In April 1944, Frida and her sister, Dvora traveled to Bucharest to sell pottery manufactured by their father’s factory. They were arrested and sent to Auschwitz. They were soon joined by their younger sisters transported from the Viseul de Sus ghetto. Their parents were killed upon arrival.
A few months later, they were sent to work in camps manufacturing munitions. The Soviets liberated them on May 8, 1945.
At age 88, my mother fractured her elbow and underwent surgery,
“Dvora! Dvora!” she cried upon regaining consciousness. “Host brodt?”
I didn’t understand what she meant at first and then I realized that she thought she was still in the concentration camp and was asking her sister if she had any bread.
Sixty-eight years after the war, after living in the freedom and security of America, marrying and raising a family, she was back in smoke-filled Auschwitz.
Good dreams, I learned that day, for Holocaust survivors, were but a respite from the horror and sorrow they witnessed and experienced.