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Exhibit tells the story of a Holocaust survivor’s resilience and creativity

Published on January 04, 2023

Exhibit tells the story of a Holocaust survivor’s resilience and creativity

exhibit postcardThe story of one woman’s journey from Holocaust concentration camps to life in western New England as a clothing designer is being told through 35 of her creations displayed in an exhibit that was developed and designed by students and staff at Eastern Connecticut State University. “Sidonia’s Thread – Crafting a Life from Holocaust to High Fashion” is being exhibited at the Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford from Jan. 2-Feb. 10, 2023.

Anya Sokolovskaya, associate professor of theater and costume design at Eastern and curator of the exhibit, said the 35 garments will project Sidonia Perlstein’s life story from a small village in Hungary to two concentrations camps, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen; a displaced persons camp; and an eventual career as a sought-after dressmaker and designer based in Springfield, MA.

dresses from the exhibit
Dresses featured in the exhibit are Sidonia's designs from the 1970s to the 1990s.

“I use the garments to talk about her life,” she said. Context presented in historical posters and videos will lead viewers to see parallels between Sidonia’s life and those of other immigrants and Jewish survivors of persecution, she said.

The posters for the exhibit and the logo were created by students and graduates of Eastern. They also photographed the garments and designed the exhibit catalog, and a student helped Sokolovskaya create the exhibit space at the Mandel Center. A video and 12 vignettes used in the exhibit were created by Eastern students and Travis Houldcroft, lecturer in the theatre program. Hope-Marie Cook, librarian for education and head of curriculum at the Eastern library, contributed to an educator’s guide.

Sidonia grew up sewing for her family, and she used her skills to support herself and her two-year-old daughter when she arrived in the U.S. in 1949. Her dressmaking business, Sidonia’s Dressmaking and Alterations, drew customers from northern Connecticut and Springfield, MA, where she lived. She died in 2006 at the age of 93 but was still sewing late in her life.

“Sewing defined her life,” Sokolovskaya said.

Sidonia headshot
Sidonia Perlstein in her 80s

Sidonia was one of many survivors who worked in the garment or fashion industries after World War II, and the exhibit describes the connection between the textile and garment industries and Holocaust survivors.

Sidonia’s daughter, Hanna Perlstein Marcus, wrote a book about her mother’s life, “Sidonia’s Thread: The Secrets of a Mother and Daughter Sewing a New Life in America.” A book talk she gave to the Hebron Library inspired Sokolovskaya to design the exhibit of garments from Sidonia’s collection.

“My dream is that museums will showcase it,” said Sokolovskaya. The exhibit, which also has plans to show this summer in Vernon, has an educator’s guide available free to high school and college educators with background and narratives about the Holocaust and the lives of immigrants in the last half of the 20th century.

Written by by Lucinda Weiss