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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?
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.
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
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 melamed, 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
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 Toraharrived 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
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 Lily'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.
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.
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.