Stitching History From the Holocaust

January 7 - March 16, 2019
Reception, Friday January 11, 6-8 p.m.

Presented by the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center

Hedy Strnad, a dressmaker in Prague in the 1930s, was not able to escape Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. However, some of her fashion designs did. Eight of her sketches, along with the garments they inspired, are the focus of “Stitching History From the Holocaust,” an original exhibition created by and on loan from Jewish Museum Milwaukee that will be shown at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts in early spring 2019.

stitching historyIn March 1939, Hedy’s husband, Paul, wrote to his cousin in Milwaukee asking for help in acquiring visas for himself and his wife to emigrate to the United States. He included eight samples of Hedy’s dress designs to make the case that she would be employable in the American apparel industry. Despite attempts to emigrate to the U.S. to be united with family, the Strnad family were unable to escape from Nazi power and perished during the Holocaust.

For decades, the letters and Hedy’s sketches were stored away in a box in the cousin’s attic where they were discovered in 1997. They were donated to Jewish Museum Milwaukee, which teamed with the costume shop at Milwaukee Repertory Theater to turn the sketches into garments. “Stitching History from the Holocaust” is a detailed personal and historical exhibit built around the Strnads’ story, their life in Prague in the 1930s, and Hedy’s garments, which will be displayed on mannequins.

The Birmingham Holocaust Education Center is partnering with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Alabama, AEIVA, UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center, Birmingham Jewish Foundation, and Red Mountain Theatre Company to present programming, including gallery talks, a fashion show of Hedy’s designs and a play, in conjunction with the exhibit. Docent-led tours will be available.

Additional scheduled programming for the exhibition includes:

  • Tuesday, Jan. 22, 6 p.m., Gallery talk at AEIVA:
    Kristen Miller Zohn, executive director of the Costume Society of America, will give a talk titled: "European Jewish Fashions in the 30s and 40s: How the Jewish Fashion Industry Was Extinguished by the Nazis and Struggled to Return to Prominence After the War.”
  • Tuesday, Feb. 5, noon, Gallery talk at AEIVA:
    Jonathan Wiesen, Ph.D., new chair of the UAB College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of History, will speak on the Holocaust in Czechoslovakia at AEIVA.
  • Sunday, Feb. 17, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
    Red Mountain Theatre Company will present two performances of “A Stitch in Time,” a one-act play by Susan Westfall based on Hedy’s story, at UAB’s Alys Stephens Center.
  • Tuesday, March 5, 6 p.m., Gallery talk at AEIVA:
    Janek Wasserman, Ph.D., history professor at the University of Alabama, will give a talk titled: “Immigration Then and Now.”