Author Archive

The Thoughtful Dresser

March 11, 2009

The Thoughtful Dresser
With Linda Grant and Catherine Hill. Chair Linda Kelsey

This event took place on 26th February 2009

Posted by Lana Citron

The Thoughtful Dresser

The Thoughtful Dresser

High end fashion and Auschwitz, are not, one would imagine in any way compatible, yet it was there that Linda Grant, on a visit to the camp, noticed in amongst the heaps of shoes, a red stiletto. What woman one wondered would wear her party shoes to a death camp?

I came to this session expecting a frivolous evening of the superficial, female kind. Personally, I have healthy disregard toward the world of fashion especially the way women seem to follow herd-like the whimsies of designers, magazine editors and celebrities. How gullible are we that so much of our self-esteem is bound up in our outward appearance?

Alternatively, perhaps I am missing the point, and having listened to Catherine Hill speak, I realise I am indeed, missing the point.

Catherine Hill was, up until a few years ago, the doyenne of the Canadian fashion world. Considered a fashion diva of Toronto, she introduced the well heeled to avant-garde European designers such as Versace. Fashion for her is about style, individualism, and not jumping on the bandwagon of mediocrity. Linda Grant whose book features Hill was fascinated by her remarkable story, as too were we, the well dressed, JBW audience.

A Hungarian Jew, Hill was deported as a teenager to Auschwitz in1944. She recalled standing in line, letting go of her mother’s hand, to then be tattooed, stripped naked, deloused, head shaved and finally issued with a pair of stripped pyjamas. Alone in a sea of hundreds of other women, she realised that this process had in essence stripped her of her identity and instinctively she bent down, tore a piece of cloth from the hem of the pyjamas and tied it round her head as a ribbon. The guards laughed, and wondered why she had done such a thing to which she replied, ‘to look pretty’. This gesture, she believes marked her out. She was not one of the herd but an individual and directly contributed to her survival, as she was chosen from that group to work in the camp kitchens.

Today Catherine Hill remains a most elegant and eloquent woman, her life remarkable and her testimony inspiring. The evening was far from frivolous and I now imagine that the type of woman who would wear her party shoes to a death camp, as a free spirited rebellious sort with an infinite sense of humour.

Lana Citron

Lana Citron

Posted by Lana Citron, author of five novels; Sucker, Spilt Milk, Transit, The Honey Trap and The Brodsky Touch, Lana Citron has also appeared on TV,  theatre, film and performed as a stand-up comic.

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The Counterfeiter

March 11, 2009

The Counterfeiter
With Adolf Burger, Chair: Joanna Newman

This event took place on 22nd February 2009

Posted by Lana Citron

The Devil's workshop

The Devil's workshop

Firstly, I am struck by his beauty. Adolf Burger looks as if he could be Roman Polanski’s father. He is very beautiful, speaks clearly, passionately, with verve, vigour and at 91 years of age I am in awe, not only of what he has overcome in his life but of how he is.

His story began in Bratislava with the production of blank birth certificates, which he printed at the behest of some communists, as an act of sabotage against the ensuing war. His signature copied hundreds of times on these false certs lead to his subsequent arrest. Indeed, his, is a very distinct signature. The 2nd loop of the B fails to meet its end point and juts back as a line, above which stands his neat ‘A’, (for Adolph) and the tail of his ‘g’ is not curvy but instead forms a sort of triangle.

For those of you who do not know who Adolph Burger is, I would urge you to buy his book, ‘The Devils Workshop’. His story is quite incredible. Born in Slovakia in 1917 and arrested at the age of 25, he survived Auschwitz and was sent to Sachsenhausen where he worked as part of Operation Bernhard, a counterfeiting organisation run by the Nazi’s, aimed at toppling the British and US economies, by flooding both with forged bank notes. It is estimated £132 million pounds, (3 billion in today’s value), worth of English bank notes were produced and remained in circulation until the 1960’s. It is also claimed that £130 million of these notes were used to help establish the state of Israel. Burger’s memoir formed the basis of the film, ‘The Counterfeiter’, awarded best foreign film at the 2008, Oscars.

One can, in the time allotted to each JBW session, learn only so much and with respect to Burger, there is so much to learn. Asked if he was scared or terrified in Auschwitz, Burger replied he was hungry. Hunger was the foremost feeling recalled. Surviving on 300 grams of bread a day, his job at the camp was to empty the suitcases that arrived daily, which he said always contained food. He left Auschwitz weighing a mere 35 kilos.

Determined to survive he successfully devised a way to swap his yellow star for a triangle. A mere swatch of material could and did determine one’s destiny. His own lead him to Sachsenhausen. Today he is one of two remaining from the original counterfeiting team. Asked what he did when he was liberated, his response was that he ran to a house to ask for a camera, then returned to the camp to take pictures, to bear witness to the atrocities perpetrated. In the post war years, it has been precisely this reason that has made sense of his own survival. A couple of weeks after liberation, Burger were put on a bus to Prague where he has remained to this day.

Lana Citron

Lana Citron

Posted by Lana Citron, author of five novels; Sucker, Spilt Milk, Transit, The Honey Trap and The Brodsky Touch, Lana Citron has also appeared on TV,  theatre, film and performed as a stand-up comic.