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Marlene Samuels

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The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival
by Marlene Samuels  Marlene Bernstein Samuels 

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Publisher:  Penguin Group (USA Type: 


Copyright:  May 1999 ISBN-13:  9780425166307

Barnes &

Seren Tuvel Bernstein (1918-1983), a brave and spirited Holocaust survivor, recounts the story of her prewar life, the Holocaust years, and her efforts to reconnect with lost relatives and create a better existence for herself and her family after the war. Includes some b&w photographs. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.

Kirkus Reviews
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 Ravensbrück, 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.

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Reader Reviews for "The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival"

Reviewed by R. Brown 4/23/2010
Seren's memories, as published by her daughter in THE SEAMSTRESS, are totally engrossing because of her indomitable voice & the scope of her journey from peaceful childhood between the wars in Transylvania Romania to '50s America, with a detour in between called the Second World War & Hitler's Jewish Solution that killed 19 out of 20 women & almost demolished this fierce & feisty voyager.

Born to a Jewish lumber mill manager & his second wife, Seren had a set of older half-brothers & sisters & then her own siblings from her mother. Because of her father's work, they lived in rural valleys where each spring, village louts would go on a rampage: rioting called pogroms because they specifically destroyed Jewish life & property & occurred, for generations all over Europe, due to the Easter time instigation of Christian priests & pastors.

As Seren studied at school she dreamed of going on to college in far away Bucharest. Defying her father she did just that except her path veered off into a sewing school where she enjoyed a giddy coming of age among fellow workers & students, making friends & deciding never to marry... until in her mid-20s, the fuse of Germany's anger & greed erupted into her homeland with the ominous intention of eradicating anyone deemed tainted.

Along with ten thousand other women from her region, Seren was marked for Hitler's Jewish Solution & the bulk of her memories deals with how & where she was herded, what happened to her family & friends, what she learnt to survive & how she did it.

Suspend all your judgments & expectations otherwise you'll miss the many lessons THE SEAMSTRESS has to teach. Be not faint of heart, for if Seren made it without falling to pieces, then the least you, dear reader, can do is remember as you read the millions of grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters & daughters who didn't have a Seren to hold your hand, look out for you & keep you going until it was over & you could collapse, with the help of those wonderfully healthy Americans, then follow them home & make a new, a good life for you & yours.

More about females surviving male wars: THOSE WHO SAVE US: A novel by Jenna Blum; MY ENEMY'S CRADLE: A novel by Sara Young; LAUGHTER WASN'T RATIONED: A Personal Journey Through Germany's World Wars and Post War Years by Dorothea von Schwanenflugel Lawson.

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