To Be A Woman

A bra made by Lina in the Stutthof concentration camp: Image copyright Yad Vashem.

Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, held an exhibition several years ago titled Spots of Light: To be a Woman in the Holocaust. It was curated by Yehudit Inbar and exhibited at Yad Vashem. In the introduction to the Spots of Light exhibition, Yad Vashem states:

Women in the Holocaust applied their minds to a place that deprived them of their minds; and brought strength to a place where they were denied their strength. In a place where the very light was wrestled from women and their families, faced their deaths with fortitude and invested every additional moment of life with meaning. It is these women’s voices that we wish to sound and whose stories we wish to tell.”

Spots of Light: To be a Woman in the Holocaust is a fascinating and extremely moving account of the experience of women in the Shoah. The exhibition focuses on the multiple aspects and roles of Jewish women in many countries, not necessarily in concentration camps. The areas of focus are: LOVE, MOTHERHOOD, CARING FOR OTHERS, WOMANHOOD, RESISTANCE AND RESCUE, FRIENDSHIP, FAITH, FOOD, and ART.

I was particularly moved and inspired by the above image and story of the handmade brassiere under the category of womanhood. Yad Vashem states that Lina Beresin, born in Lithuania, was deported to the Stutthof concentration camp where Lina made the bra for herself. Her husband was sent to Dachau and murdered. Lina and her sisters survived. She immigrated to Mexico.

In Lina’s own words:

“They dressed us in prisoners’ outfits. As a professional seamstress, I began to dream about how to make myself a bra and what materials I would use. I removed the lining from the the sleeves [of men’s jackets] and now had some fabric. From my men’s shirt I removed three buttons. A woman who found a needle in her jacket gave it to me in return for a full day’s food ration. I unraveled thread from the ribbon around the blanket. I found a broken window and removed a shard of glass from it. I lay down on the ground with my fabric and the shard of glass and I cut my prized item. Then I sewed it. I wore the bra for seven months until the liberation.”

(Lina Beresin, copyright Yad Vashem.)

A spot of light, indeed.

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