I have been fascinated by the holocaust from about the age of eight years old. I went to a predominantly Jewish school and on holidays such as Rosh Hashanah there would only be about seven children in class. I’m not gonna lie, I wanted to get out of school as well, so I sought out to learn more about being a ‘Jew.’
I would read Holocaust fiction and study children’s books on Hanukkah and other holidays. It certainly helped that all my best friends throughout my life were Jewish because I got to experience the Sayders and Shabbats along with them. I would even get Dreidels from our accountant on the first night of Hanukkah (if I was good, of course)!
These experiences with a different religious culture helped foster a broader understanding of people that lived their life a different way than I. Having such strong bonds with these people that I considered no different from myself in any other way yet had gone through such grave devastation and discrimination, allowed me to appreciate good that could come out of a bad situation, whatever the good may be.
Comme des Garçons did a collection a few seasons ago that was critically panned as being insensitive and offensive, due to its resemblance to concentration camp attire. According to the designers, this was not their intention but due to the flack they received, they back-peddled on their “fashion statement” for the sake of appeasing the masses.
This got me thinking, “why does concentration camp garb need to be a bad thing?” (stay with me here!)
I went to the photo archives of The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and as I was going through the photographs I found beauty in catastrophe. Everything was taken away from these people, not a penny to spare on designer goods or high fashion. They didn’t have $1500 to spend on a dress, far from it in fact, buying anything at all would have been the furthest thing from their mind! The victims of the holocaust had a style all their own without even knowing it and me being the way that I am, sought to find the art in the devastation.
I encourage you to do the same. To see beyond circumstance when you look at these photographs. Try to appreciate the beauty in their sense of style through extreme adversity. The photographs make graphic statements, not about the clothes per se, but about the people wearing them. The hope and resilience they evoke should be admired instead of tip toeing around the apparent gravity of the situation. The fact that they could smile while their hands were facing G-d is what makes these style statements an inspiration to me.