Wedding Gown Made History

Lilly and Ludwig on their wedding day.

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 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.
 
 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.

IN MEMORIAM

Sent in by L Stephens Wales UK

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