Monday, July 25, 2011

The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival by Sara Tuvel Bernstein 1997

"A striking Holocaust memoir, posthumously published, by a Romanian Jew with an unusual story to tell." from Kirkus Reviews August, 15, 1997

Introductory chapters in this memoir about Seren (Sara) Tuvel’s early years set the scene for what is to come. Seren was the seventh of her father’s eleven children. Her mother, who was the widower Abraham Tuvel’s second wife, raised his six children and the two of them had five more. Their home was a gathering place for all of the children and grandchildren.

Seren was a good student who won a scholarship to continue on at the gymnasium in Bucharest but her father, a traditional observant Jew, said no. She defied him and moved to Bucharest but she was not happy in school and quit, apprenticing herself to a dressmaker where she learned how to sew intricate high-end fashion bought by the nobility. This skill, as well as her intelligence, foresight and resourcefulness, served her well as she fought to stay alive both in the years before and during World War II. 

With the steady march of Hitler into neighboring countries, the bucolic setting of Valea Uzului in Romania, the site of her father’s job managing a mill, soon became a memory. Jews living near the border were accused of spying and while Seren was home she and her father were arrested and jailed in Bucharest. When she was eventually freed, she made her way to Budapest, Hungary where she and other relatives thought they’d be safer. However in March of 1944 she and her sister were captured and forced to join a labor detail. The author eventually ended up in Ravensbruck, amongst the first group of Jewish women in this camp that the Nazis had set aside for common criminals, gypsies, Communists, and others who they saw as political agitators. She was 26 years old.

Four months later she and the small group of women who still survived the punishing conditions of Ravensbruck were moved to Turkheim, a division of Dachau, then to Bergau where they were eventually rescued by the Red Cross. She describes the terrible conditions she worked under when she was a member of a forced labor detail. The conditions got only worse as she was transported from camp to camp. She was sent to recuperate at St Ottelein Convent which had been turned into a post-war hospital and then volunteered to teach sewing to displaced women at an ORT school in the next town. There she met her future husband who was teaching tailoring.

She concludes with their unsuccessful search for surviving family members, but then describes a joyous reunion with relatives who were living in Israel after she had assumed they had all been killed. By this time she and her husband were living in Montreal. A final chapter by her daughter, Marlene Bernstein Samuels, provides information about the later years of her mother’s life including the writing of her memoir.

To read an article about Romania and the Holocaust, click here.

Abraham Tuvel
    Herman Tuvel – son of Abraham and first wife; married to Tamara
        Miksha Tuvel – son of Herman and Tamara
            Herman Tuvel – son of Miksha
        Ernie Tuvel – son of Herman and Tamara
        Joseph Tuvel – son of Herman and Tamara
    Meyer Tuvel – son of Abraham and first wife; married to Lottie
    Mendel Tuvel – son of Abraham and first wife
    Berta Tuvel – daughter of Abraham and first wife; married Morris
        Yosef – son of Berta
    Louise Tuvel – daughter of Abraham and first wife; married Bela
    Rose Tuvel – daughter of Abraham and first wife, married Eugene
        Emma, Alfred (Yakov), Magda, Elena, Estelle – children of Rose and Eugene
    Shlomo Tuvel – son of Abraham and Miriam; second wife Zella
    Eliezer Tuvel – son of Abraham and Miriam; married to Sylvia
        Judith and Rivkah Tuvel – daughters of Eliezer and Sylvia
    Seren (Sara) Tuvel – daughter of Abraham and Miriam; married Meyer Bernstein; author
        Jacob Bernstein – son of Seren (Sara) and Meyer; married Linda
            Rebecca Bernstein
        Marlene Bernstein Samuels – daughter of Seren (Sara) and Meyer
    Zipporah Tuvel - daughter of Abraham and Miriam
    Esther Tuvel – daughter of Abraham and Miriam; married Sidney (Sigmund)

Ira Bergman
    Ruth Bergman
Reuben Handler
    Leah Handler – daughter of Reuben
Samuel Stein
Joshua Stein – Samuel’s brother
Ellen (Helen) Weise
Lily Cohen
Zora Cohen – Lily’s sister

Lunca de Mijloc, Romania
Bucharest, Romania
Valea Uzului, Romania
Reghinal-Sasesc, Romania
Brasov, Romania
Miercurea-Cuic, Romania
Satu-Mare, Romania
Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, Germany
Turkheim, Dachau, Germany
Bergau, Austria
St. Ottelein Abbey, Emming, Germany
Feldafing, Germany
Schwabhausen, Germany

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