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The Wedding Gown That Made History

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lilly Friedman doesn't remember the last name of the woman who designed and sewed the wedding gown she wore when she walked down the aisle over 60 years ago. But the grandmother of seven does recall that when she first told her fiance Ludwig that she had always dreamed of being married in a white gown he realized he had his work cut out for him. For the tall, lanky 21-year-old who had survived hunger, disease and torture this was a different kind of challenge. How was he ever going to find such a dress in the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Person's camp where they felt grateful for the clothes on their backs?
Fate would intervene in the guise of a former German pilot who walked into the food distribution center where Ludwig worked, eager to make a trade for his worthless parachute. In exchange for two pounds of coffee beans and a couple of packs of cigarettes Lilly would have her wedding gown.

For two weeks Miriam the seamstress worked under the curious eyes of her fellow DPs, carefully fashioning the six parachute panels into a simple, long sleeved gown with a rolled collar and a fitted waist that tied in the back with a bow. When the dress was completed she sewed the leftover material into a matching shirt for the groom. A white wedding gown may have seemed like a frivolous request in the surreal environment of the camps, but for Lilly the dress symbolized the innocent, normal life she and her family had once led before the world descended into madness.

Lilly and her siblings were raised in a Torah observant home in the small town of Zarica, Czechoslovakia, where her father was a teacher, respected and well liked by the young yeshiva students he taught in nearby Irsheva. He and his two sons were marked for extermination immediately upon arriving at Auschwitz. For Lilly and her sisters it was only their first stop on their long journey of persecution, which included Plashof, Neustadt, Gross Rosen and finally Bergen-Belsen.

Lilly Friedman and her parachute dress on display in the Bergen- Belsen Museum

Four hundred people marched 15 miles in the snow to the town of Celle on January 27, 1946, to attend Lilly and Ludwig's wedding. The town synagogue, damaged and desecrated, had been lovingly renovated by the DPs with the meager materials available to them. When Sefer Torah arrived from England they converted an old kitchen cabinet into a makeshift Aron Kodesh.
"My sisters and I lost everything - our parents, our two brothers, our homes. The most important thing was to build a new home." Six months later, Lilly's sister Ilona wore the dress when she married Max Traeger. After that came Cousin Rosie. How many brides wore Lilly's dress? "I stopped counting after 17." With the camps experiencing the highest marriage rate in the world, Lilly's gown was in great demand.

In 1948 when President Harry Truman finally permitted the 100,000 Jews who had been languishing in DP camps since the end of the war to emigrate, the gown accompanied Lilly across the ocean to America . Unable to part with her dress, it lay at the bottom of her bedroom closet for the next 50 years, "not even good enough for a garage sale. I was happy when it found such a good home."

Home was the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. When Lilly's niece, a volunteer, told museum officials about her aunt's dress, they immediately recognized its historical significance and displayed the gown in a specially designed showcase, guaranteed to preserve it for 500 years.

But Lilly Friedman's dress had one more journey to make. Bergen- Belsen, the museum, opened its doors on October 28, 2007. The German government invited Lilly and her sisters to be their guests for the grand opening. They initially declined, but finally traveled to Hanover the following year with their children, their grandchildren and extended families to view the extraordinary exhibit created for the wedding dress made from a parachute. Lilly's family, who were all familiar with the stories about the wedding in Celle , were eager to visit the synagogue. They found the building had been completely renovated and modernized. But when they pulled aside the handsome curtain they were astounded to find that the Aron Kodesh, made from a kitchen cabinet, had remained untouched as a testament to the profound faith of the survivors. As Lilly stood on the bimah once again she beckoned to her granddaughter, Jackie, to stand beside her where she was once a kallah. "It was an emotional trip. We cried a lot."

Two weeks later, the woman who had once stood trembling before the selective eyes of the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele returned home and witnessed the marriage of her granddaughter.

The three Lax sisters - Lilly, Ilona and Eva, who together survived Auschwitz, a forced labor camp, a death march and Bergen-Belsen - have remained close and today live within walking distance of each other in Brooklyn. As mere teenagers, they managed to outwit and outlive a monstrous killing machine, then went on to marry, have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and were ultimately honored by the country that had earmarked them for extinction.

As young brides, they had stood underneath the chuppah and recited the blessings that their ancestors had been saying for thousands of years. In doing so, they chose to honor the legacy of those who had perished by choosing life.


It is now more than 60 years after the Second World War in Europe ended. This post is in memory of the six million Jews, 20 million Russians, 10 million Christians and 1,900 Catholic priests who were murdered, massacred, raped, burned, starved and humiliated with the German and Russian peoples looking the other way. Now, more than ever, with Iraq, Iran, and others claiming the Holocaust to be 'a myth,' it's imperative to make sure the world never forgets, because there are others who would like to do it again.

Member Comments About This Blog Post:
TEXASFILLY 9/24/2011 11:32AM

    We shall never forget. Thank you for sharing this story of the incredible human spirit and how it can endure and overcome. *hugs* BB~

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MISSLISA1973 9/23/2011 8:32PM

    Fabulous blog. Thank you for sharing.

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AMLEHNKURT 9/23/2011 8:24AM

    Thank you for such an inspiring and interesting piece of history to share with everyone. We should all thank God for all that we do have, because we haven't faced anything as life changing as those people have.

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KICKINGIT@56 9/21/2011 3:30PM

    Every time I hear a story like this which highlights the nobility and dignity of the human spirit in the face of unconscionable cruelty and pure evil, I feel ashamed for how often I whine and complain about silly trivial things.

We are so blessed to be living in this country and in this time in history.

Thanks for the reminder.


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AMAS92568 9/20/2011 3:57PM

    Neat story. Thanks

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ALICIA214 9/20/2011 11:53AM


That is a very powerful lovely historical story. Thank you for aharing

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AUNTC321 9/19/2011 7:33PM

    Thanks for sharing.

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ILUVTOTAT 9/18/2011 9:58AM

    Thank you for this fabulous post! I've added this to my "must see" list when I go to DC again someday.

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MOMMA_BEAR_69 9/18/2011 9:12AM

    Wow, Missy!! Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and heartbreaking story with us. In the midst of all the suffering,, God truly blessed Lilly and Ludwig and so many others. God does work is mysterious ways! AWESOME!!!

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    Thank you so much for sharing this story. It is such a beautiful and sad story.

The grandfather of the children I used to babysit was a survivor of Auschwitz. I didn't know that until he died and I read it in his obituary.

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LILLI56 9/18/2011 2:36AM

    What a wonderfully amazing story. My sister and brother-in-law visited one of their adopted girls station in Germany last year. She bought a set of books that told the story of so many in death camps. I didn't enjoy the books, as I cried my way through them, but to have someone in my family placed in those conditions it is heartbreaking. I am so glad that so many in your family were able to visit that horrible place.

When was in college I heard that a lot of the Arab countries didn't believe that it happened, that it was a lie started by the Jewish people. Unless we remember it will happen again. Thank you for sharing you story!


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    Amazing story and so well written. Thank you for sharing. God bless those families for what they endured.
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    Wow my dear, what an amazing way you have of connecting people to one another. You truly are one of the dearest people I have met! Thank you for sharing this and putting it in away that is truly memorable.

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CAPTAINCOOKIE 9/18/2011 12:35AM

    You know I am a history nut and this was a great story.

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CHRYS13 9/17/2011 12:06PM

    What an amazing post. I'm so thankful that you've shared it!

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SUSAN134 9/17/2011 11:57AM

    A powerful, beautiful and amazing story! Missy, thank you so much for sharing this!

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CHLOE453 9/17/2011 6:33AM

    emoticon Thank you so much for sharing!!! ~~Hugs~~

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    What a service you are doing for the Spark Community & the world Missy. This is an EXCELLENT & poignant blog. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Love, Dawn emoticon emoticon

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BOBBIENORTHERN1 9/16/2011 5:52PM

  Missy, crying once again, I am a big cry baby when something so tremendous reaches down deep into my heart.

Only God could make this all possible.

This pretty much goes along with personal blog I wrote for today called 'be prepared'.

We have a tribulation coming up into this world like the world has never seen before and will never see again once it is completed.

This brought up so many memoires of all the stories I have read about the Jewish people and many others suffering at the hands of inhuman monsters simply because they could.

This blog of yours is so powerful and moving and true and real and authentic.

Thank you for the rememberance of truly remarkable people who died and suffered so much

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MI-ELLKAYBEE 9/16/2011 10:41AM

    What a beautiful and amazing story of faith and determination and their lasting results. Thank you for helping us all to remember that what we seek to overcome is not the biggest obstacle that anyone ever faced. emoticon

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TEMPEST272002 9/16/2011 9:13AM

    Beautiful story. Thanks you for reminding us of the greatness of human spirit in the face of extreme adversity. Reminds me of one of my favourite quotes:

In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer. - Albert Careb

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IUHRYTR 9/16/2011 8:53AM

    Always enjoy reading interesting nuggets of history like this story. It is sad that so many people today do not know of these atrocities and so can not imagine the heartbreaking losses. But some of us do remember and admire the hearts and souls of those who struggled through. Let's pray this type of horror ends one day. -- Lou

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ABETTERSOUL 9/16/2011 8:32AM

    Awesome story! Thanks for sharing!

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SLS-NY2IN 9/16/2011 7:22AM

    emoticon for sharing this emoticon piece of history with us. emoticon Sherry

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NEW-CAZ 9/16/2011 3:02AM

    amazing story! emoticon

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ROZEEROZ1 9/16/2011 2:40AM

    Wow - what a story. I like that Lily's dress was successfully and beautifully made from a parachute. this shows that one can be resourceful in difficult times.

Love this.
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DMT1956 9/16/2011 1:54AM

    thank God for that parachute.

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HIKETOHEIGHTS 9/15/2011 10:50PM

    Nice story, thanks.

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TINKERBELL200 9/15/2011 10:22PM

    Missy you never cease to amaze me with what you post! What an awesome testimony of faith! Loved this! Thank you for posting!!!


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KNITTABLES 9/15/2011 10:21PM


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SANDYBRUNO 9/15/2011 10:06PM

    What a wonderful story. I don't understand how people can say there was not a holocaust. I'm glad she and her sisters survived. It is a shame how many didn't make it. I never could understand such hatred.

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THEADMIRAL 9/15/2011 10:01PM

  Thank you for sharing this story!

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PEPPERLEAH 9/15/2011 9:36PM

    Wow, as I read this, I had tears stinging my eyes. What a testament of faith, courage, and determination. Thank you for posting this. I am sure it willo be passed on and on, therefore spreading the story to countless people. We must never forget.


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AGRLNKY 9/15/2011 9:36PM

    Thank you for sharing such a moving story!

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TEDDYBEARGIRL 9/15/2011 9:23PM

    Great story!

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NELLIEC 9/15/2011 8:41PM

    Beautiful story!

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PRAYINGSUZIE 9/15/2011 8:29PM

    Thank you. This was a wonderful blog!


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4MRSDAND123 9/15/2011 7:24PM

    Great blog. Great tribute. We must never, ever forget.

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LUCKEGIRL40 9/15/2011 7:21PM

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

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