Historical fiction about the high-fashion tailoring studio where Nazis enslaved prisoners on the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Ella is a yellow star–wearing prisoner at the camp she calls Birchwood, where she’s managed to get a labor assignment in the tailoring studio. Though the “prominent” (a fellow prisoner empowered to boss around other inmates) can be cruel, it’s a safer task than many of the jobs available at the death camp. Ella’s lied about her age to get the position, but she hasn’t had to lie about her talent; she is genuinely a smashing seamstress. Ella’s sometimes-unbelievable naiveté about the camp (she asks when she can write to her grandmother at home) enables her to willfully ignore how much her dressmaking enthusiasm smacks of collaboration. Not so her friend Rose, a political prisoner and fellow dressmaker. Unlike Ella, Rose understands that their supplies are stolen from the Nazi’s victims. Though Ella’s eyes eventually open to horror, especially as Rose’s health falters and Birchwood descends into chaos in the waning days of the war, her unreliability as a narrator makes the camps appear less horrific than the reality. The avoidance of specific references to Jews or Germany in a story about atrocities that targeted very specific groups of people strips this Holocaust narrative of both believability and historical accuracy.
Pass on this one. (afterword) (Historical fiction. 12-14)