The Dressmaker’s Daughter: A True Story of the Holocuast
A memoir by Edith “Ditta” Lowy
“One dark morning at 4 a.m. armed guards stormed into our cold, wooden barrack, pointed their rifles at us, and yelled, ‘You and you! Out!’… Two days later we arrived at another concentration camp: Stutthof. Soon after our arrival, guards pushed me and my mother onto a truck with four other women and told us we were being sent to work on a farm. The truck arrived at the farm—and my mother’s skill as a dressmaker saved our lives.…”
The Nazis have ordered Ditta and her mother to work as slave laborers. Can they find a way to survive together?
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"Vitally important, very well-told.
This is a very easy story for a child to relate to. It details the pre-teen and teenage years of a girl caught up in the Europe of World War II and the Holocaust. It is not graphic, but conveys effectively what a young person feels when their life is not in their own control. It shows the importance of family, teamwork, resilience and hope. Ditta shows that despite all odds, she can survive the worst and build a new full life. An uplifting read."
Denson’s First Visit to Dachau
Denson drove to JAG rear headquarters in Munich—known affectionately as “Lucky Rear”—where the Dachau trials were being prepared. He arrived at the Munich inn that would be his new home, unpacked quickly, and set out in his jeep for Dachau. Munich had been heavily bombed in the final weeks of war, and roads were strewn with rubble from toppled buildings. He drove out of the ruined city and into fields and hills in the bloom of summer. Six miles west he crossed a stone bridge, traversed a long road flanked by poplars and a row of look-alike houses, and drove through the gates of the camp.
The bodies were gone, but everything else was as it had been at liberation. The crematorium chimney rose from its brick foundations near the Schiesstand, or execution wall. The ground beneath the wall was still stained rust red, and the smell of blood was still strong. He walked around the periphery of mass graves, beneath the limbs of hanging trees, across the roll call yard. A large area inside the camp was enclosed with barbed wire. Inside the holding cage were barracks. German prisoners moved in and out of the buildings. Some of them watched him as he made his way around the camp.
Denson exited the Records Room, lit a Lucky Strike, and wondered what in heaven’s name he had walked into. Years later he confessed to simply not believing what the evidence told him. Lynching and torture had always been exceptions to human behavior, not the rule; and Germany was the home of classical music and philosophy, not the barbarism these reports described. He did not believe because his religious training rejected the notion of absolute evil, yet biblical descriptions of the Apocalypse did not come close to the nightmares of Nazi camps. He did not believe because Harvard Law School had taught him to distrust circumstantial evidence, illogical reports, and anything his innate intelligence found suspicious. Like most Americans, he had read a few articles and knew prisoners had been killed in the camps. But mass murder on this scale was unfathomable. Denson did not believe because believing would mean that the world was not the neat and tidy place he’d always thought it to be. A man is born, be it in Birmingham, Alabama, or Warsaw, Poland. He grows up, studies hard, works sincerely, serves God, leads a good life, and is entitled to expect that such sacrifice and decent behavior will bear fruit. But from these reports, leading a virtuous life had proved useless against Nazi terror. Even worse, virtue proved to be a deficit in the camps. Gestures of kindness were rewarded with floggings and death. Goodness and mercy were luxuries from a privileged world: they had no place in Dachau. When Germany’s first concentration camp opened its gates, a crack had appeared in the structure of things, and now the army was saying he was responsible for sealing the fissure.
He did not believe because believing would mean giving up the provincial, mannerly approach to law that had been his style until now and turning ruthless in pursuit of convictions. Bill Denson had never been a ruthless man.
In the Media
After three years, 15,000 pages of trial transcripts and dozens of interviews with witnesses to events of the period, Joshua M. Greene wrote this riveting account of the Dachau trials—the largest yet least-known series of Nazi trials in history. The story of those three years of proceedings and their chief prosecutor William Denson came to Greene’s attention in 1998, shortly after Mr. Denson’s death on Long Island. In their first meeting, Denson’s widow, Huschi, showed him an astonishing cache of materials in her basement: the results of fifty years of research by her late husband. That extraordinary archive formed the basis of Greene’s current book, which has also be published in a paperback edition by the American Bar Association.
Writing another book on the Holocaust period was the farthest thing from my mind. But when Huschi Denson took me into the basement of her home and switched on the light, it was like discovering Aladdin’s cave. Her late husband had dedicated half a century of effort compiling every document, transcript, photograph and personal letter he could find to bring these trials to the world’s attention. When Huschi asked for my help, it felt like a calling more than just a writing assignment.
Until now, Nuremberg has been the Nazi trial known to most of the world. But the handful of Nazi chieftains convicted at Nuremberg never lifted a gun. The henchmen who conducted the torture, starvation, brutal medical experiments, and mass slaughter were tried at Dachau 65 miles south of Nuremberg. Few people have ever heard of the Dachau trials, yet they were vastly larger in scale and established important precedents in war crimes law, particularly with regard to chain of command: how far down the line can people be held accountable?
For one, the accused on trial at Dachau were monstrously cruel characters. Ilse Koch, the infamous “Bitch of Buchenwald,” had prisoners beaten to death so she could collect their tattooed skin. Dr. Klaus Schilling, who was recipient of two Rockefeller Foundation grants for medical research, murdered hundreds of prisoners in his inhumane search for a cure for malaria. Edwin Katzen-Ellenbogen was an American psychologist who set himself up as a privileged prisoner in Buchenwald and killed other prisoners who refused to pay him ransom. Unbelievable. Even more compelling is Denson himself, a man who risked his life to conduct fair trials, even after the Army told him to stop. That was a dangerous but exemplary commitment to due process.
Front-page relevance. We’re still confronting issues that challenged Bill Denson at Dachau. How are we to prosecute mass atrocities? Who is entitled to due process of law? What rules govern the pursuit of justice? How much or how little can we expect of international war crimes tribunals? Is the United States right or wrong for consistently refusing to become a signatory to the International Criminal Court? There is relevance on a more personal level as well. Bill Denson approached his work as though it were a spiritual mission. Here he was, a country lawyer, a deeply religious man of God, with no clue what he was getting himself into, determined to prove that the law is capable of addressing even unprecedented crimes. Especially today, at a time when integrity in leadership is in short supply, Colonel Denson provides a wonderful role model.
Denson’s counterpart on the Dachau defense team, Douglas Bates, was a man much like Denson: a God-fearing, patriotic son of the South who was appointed to defend the Nazis. When those two giants of law confronted one another during their closing arguments in the first Dachau trial, echoes of Daniel Webster, Abe Lincoln, Winston Churchill rang through my head—each man speaking out passionately from the depth of his conviction about important truths. Scenes like that can’t be invented.