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The Seamstress

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"From its opening pages, in which she recounts her own premature birth, triggered by terrifying rumors of an incipient pogrom, Bernstein's tale is clearly not a typical memoir of the Holocaust. She was born into a large family in rural Romania and grew up feisty and willing to fight back physically against anti-Semitism from other schoolchildren. She defied her father's orders to turn down a scholarship that took her to Bucharest, and got herself expelled from that school when she responded to a priest/teacher's vicious diatribe against the Jews by hurling a bottle of ink at him. After a series of incidents that ranged from dramatic escapes to a year in a forced labor detachment, Sara ended up in Ravensbruck, a women's concentration camp, and managed to survive. She tells this story with style and power." --Kirkus Reviews

384 pages, Paperback

First published October 13, 1997

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About the author

Sara Tuvel Bernstein

1 book27 followers
This well-told memoir by the late Bernstein deserves a prominent place in the archive of Holocaust survival stories. Born into a large Jewish Romanian family, Bernstein (1918-83), known then as Seren, left her mountain village at the age of 13 to attend gymnasium in Bucharest. Her independent spirit drove her to leave the anti-Semitic school and become an apprentice to a dressmaker rather than return home

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5 stars
3,238 (45%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 582 reviews
May 6, 2015
This book is frustrating me and making me angry. I want to throw it at the ghostwriter for elevating herself to co-author and giving her opinion and thoughts constantly. You aren't interesting, your thoughts aren't relevant. I wanted to read the biography of Sara Bernstein who survived, one of very few, the women's concentration camp in Ravensbruk.

The constant reminders from a woman who should have taken a back seat as the ghostwriter that her input is Important, and that she needs to tell us about it can be illustrated by just one sentence"

Sara wants a particular title to the book, but the ghostwriter doesn't like it as the next sentence is, "Hmmm, I answered, stalling for time. Do you think that perhaps it sounds too much like the soap opera, 'All my Children'..." Eventually she gets Sara to compromise on the title.

That is pretty much constant, that and telling us how strong, wonderful and amazing Sara was. I think that was for the reader to judge, not the ghostwriter to tell us.

So I gave it up. I remain interested in Sara Bernstein - not only were there very few survivors of Ravensbruk, but also there are very few accounts of Romanian Jews during the Holocaust and even fewer of 13 year old girls who are bullied out of school by teachers because they are Jewish and decide to make their own way in the world. All of it interesting. Just the wrong writer.

I seem to be in an absolute minority here. Almost everyone loves the book. So it's a case o celebrating diversity in taste that encourages writing a lot of different books in different styles.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,738 reviews1,468 followers
April 5, 2013
Finished. A very good holocaust book, different from others maybe because you follow the main character from her youth. You follow Seren through many years. She is feisty! It is also very interesting to know that Sara did not tell the author everything. The missing bits are revealing. The reader knows of them because Seren's daughter has added more information and interesting comments about what it is like to be the daughter of two parents who have survived the holocaust.

Through page 273 - these pages have been almost impossible to read. Horrific.

Now I am on page 190. There is so much to think about. For example, what leads to survival? Mental health. Strength of your mind leads to physical strength. It is amazing what the human being is capable of surmounting. Whiners really should remember this. Art and beauty - seeing a beautiful landscape, hearing a song, and the art of laughter. Note, it is not the big pieces of art in museums, or an opera in a music hall that are required to uplift us from misery. Actually it is the ability to keep one's eyes open to everything around us and to appreciate the small stuff. Philosophical jabber, I know, but important to remember! Seren is strong and always has been strong, stubborn one might even say. We know who she is because we know of the years before the worst times. Even as a child she was a fighter, even a troublemaker. She was born that way. Her next younger sister, Zipporah, was also a troublemaker, but in a completely different way. Their mother understands the importance of accepting her children and others for what they are, with all their faults. She doesn't show anger toward Zipporah. "That IS Zipporah!". An acceptance of the reality that people are just born different. Sure, we can try to change, but one can only go so far to change how we are born. Seren wanted this book to be published because people continue to deny that the holocaust ever happened. In Sweden right now the papers are filled with people's anger that a man high up in the church says that the Jews are just exaggerating what happened, to make us feel sorry for them! Seren died before her book was published, and that is sad. Even as a child she wanted to "be somebody". Well, I think she WAS somebody. She helped others, friends and family. Without her strength they would have gone under. Many went under anyway, but she shared small experiences and laughter with them. That is not to be forgotten.

I'm on page 84 of The Seamstress. Well written. Extremely moving. You are there with Sara(Seren). Somehow this is different from other holocaust books
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews33 followers
December 12, 2019
Wow -- I saw a Goodreads member - a new friend I hope - marked that she had read this book -- She only gave it two stars -- (which is fine) >> she read it!
I didn't even realize anyone knew of this book. (my fun surprise to see others have read it -- I'll have to read those reviews) --

I have a special connection with Sara's son (plus wife & kids) --Great family! Once considered our closest friends -people we spent the most time with....like every week-end!
I've cherish this book -- loved reading about Sara's life --from birth (premature) -to her 'not' typical Holocaust memoir. Amazing person she was!!
And so is her son...(also mentioned in the book)
I cherish the wonderful verbal storytelling from her son-- a great extension and association for me with this book -- (withholding the son's real name as he's an author too- but uses a pen name) --

I read this years ago -- before Goodreads was created -- I still own and treasure it -(won't give my copy away) -
I know this wonderful family - their great unique stories -- (some stories had me laughing & crying at the same time) --
Storytelling is like breathing air for some of those Bernsteins --

Great historical fiction family saga. Sara's daughter, Marleen is sure to be credited -- she helped her mother write this book.

"Few had examined the concept of spiritual survival. People would often ask my mother. 'Well, how did you live for so long when so many people died?'
For the most part, it seems they considered only how her physical being clung to life. Not enough attention had been devoted to considering mental strength and emotional stamina and the role of help and the tramp over such horrific evil".

Special book to me! And....an extraordinary story of Sara's strength - determination - resilience and humanity.
Profile Image for Cathy.
211 reviews12 followers
January 24, 2011
I thought this was a great Holocaust memoir and definitely worth reading. I think it is very important to never forget the Holocaust, though it is hard to "enjoy" these types of book. They are always disturbing, but I think that it is good for us to feel disturbed and remember. The Holocaust should never be swept under the rug because it is too unpleasant to think about. We need to feel uncomfortable about what happened. It was true, it was real, it was unbelievably horrific. Seren was a real survivor and she helped others survive along the way. I can't even imagine what I would have done in her situation, but I admire her greatly. I think this was a great book for adults and teenagers to better understand happened during the Holocaust. I have visited Dakau - a different place, but I will never forget the cold sad feeling I felt there. I've read many Holocaust books - The Hiding Place, Night, The Boy in Striped Pajamas come to mind. Even though each account was very different, I feel like these perspectives on such a terrible event in human history have taught me important lessons that I hope I never forget or don't want to learn.
Profile Image for Claire Grasse.
131 reviews22 followers
May 15, 2009
A Holocaust survivor's story, sometimes graphic, sometimes horrifying, and in a word: depressing. The problem is, the first book I ever read about the Holocaust was Corrie ten Boom's "The Hiding Place," which deals with the horrors of Hitler's regime in the light of God's love. That book, itself, is a masterpiece of grace. This becomes a problem for me because I unconsciously want every book on the subject matter to measure up to that. I realize the Holocaust will never be something that we read about for entertainment, or to feel good. But to view it from any other paradigm than God's is to come away feeling tainted.

I realize not everyone will agree with me, so spiritual considerations aside, the author simply does not make an emotional connection with the reader. None of the characters seemed real to me. None of their experiences drew me in. The author mentions details like the fact that she weighed 44 lbs when rescued by the Allies, or that her best friend died in her arms as though she were discussing a grocery list. It was like listening to someone read a love sonnet in a flat, bored monotone: it just left me cold.

I gave it an extra star for the historical account, but I'm not really recommending it to anyone. Stick with Corrie ten Boom, or even Anne Frank.
Profile Image for Karen.
118 reviews3 followers
January 18, 2011
One of the best holocaust memoirs I have read, a story of true triumph! When Sara was finally rescued in the closing days of WWII, she weighed forty-four pounds, "I felt myself being lifted up in two arms. I opened my eyes. One of the American soldiers was carrying me. I closed my eyes again. Drops of water began splashing on my cheeks and running down my neck...I realized that the soldier carrying me was crying, his tears falling on my face." She, and two of her companions, survived in camps where 99 out of 100 women died, through sheer will, "mental strength, emotional stamina," an incredible sense of humor and great hope. She survived "with her spirit intact."
Profile Image for April.
2,101 reviews950 followers
July 3, 2009
The Holocaust is one of the darkest moments of human history, if not the darkest moment. The Seamstress by Sarah Tuvel Bernstein is poignant coming-of-age memoir showcasing the indomitable human spirit. Sarah Tuvel Bernstein, herein referred to as Seren Tuvel, was a Romanian Jew. Much of Seren’s story is shaped around her large family; she was one of nine. Her father was a lumber mill manager and was what we could consider lower middle class today. Her formal education ended at elementary school, yet she continued to learn as she became an apprenticed seamstress. Tuvel’s memoir opens with the story of her birth and closes with an epilogue by her daughter, Marlene Bernstein about Tuvel’s life in America and her subsequent death.
As with many Holocaust survivors, Seren Tuvel did not emerge from the Holocaust without emotional scars to bear. As Romania is an Eastern European country, and Seren’s family is Jewish, the Tuvel family has had to endure a long history of persecution, from pogroms to accusations of being “Christ-killers.” Seren, with blonde hair and blue eyes is able to achieve much success through her sewing because many perceived her to be Gentile. Without her Gentile features, she would have been barred entry from the homes of those who were among the upper echelon of society.
In 1941 Seren and her father, Abram Tuvel were arrested by the Hungarian Government for being spies, their only true crime was being Jewish and living very near the Romanian-Hungarian border. In the early World War II years, the Romanian-Hungarian border was elastic, which presented a problem for the Tuvels. Seren was eventually released; her father never procured freedom and was ruthlessly shot for losing his mind during an air raid. Upon return, Seren and her remaining family are forced into ghettos. Seren sneaks out and continues to sew for Gentile households. She is then conscripted into a women’s labor army with friends and family. The army brings Seren to a labor camp Ravensbruick. In Ravensbruick, Seren, her best friends and niece survive by sheer cunning. When liberation forces come too close to Ravensbruick, Seren and her group are brought to Auschwitz. Eventually they were liberated from Auschwitz, Seren stayed in a hospital for a few months because of her poor health. She went to a refugee center, taught a sewing class, and met her husband.
The Seamstress, gracefully showcases Seren Tuvel’s wide spectrum of emotions within its pages. Empathy for Tuvel naturally occurs while reading her story. Perhaps most surprising of all of Seren’s emotions was her bitterness towards the Polish-Jews within Auschwitz. She describes them as a ruthless, motley group with compassion only for their own. I had a hard time understanding why Seren felt such disdain for the Polish-Jews because with all the persecution and hate she suffered, why continue the cycle of hate. Perhaps the most recurrent emotion throughout The Seamstress was optimism. By retaining hope through the horrors heaped upon her, Seren emerged from the Holocaust physically and mentally intact. Many were not as lucky as Seren, as evidenced by the grief she describes from losing a vast amount of loved ones.
By learning about the Holocaust one may feel pity for the victims, but perhaps not empathy. “A single death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic .” Reading a Holocaust memoir puts a human face on the catastrophe, allowing for someone with no personal connection to the event to feel compassion for those who survived as well as those who did not. As someone who has never experienced anything even close to what Seren endured, it is hard for me to understand the Holocaust. Through Tuvel’s words I learned of the plight of the Romanian Jew before and even directly after the Holocaust.
My eyes were opened to the existence of camps beyond Auschwitz, Bergen-Belson, and Chelmno, and that each of these camps destroyed the lives of millions real people with real lives and real families. It was and still is hard to comprehend the amount of destruction Hitler and the Nazis wrought upon the Jews and the other “undesirables”. Even more shocking to me was how the Jews were treated directly afterwards. I had always believed that following the Holocaust, the Germans treated the Jews with kindness because they felt guilty about what had happened, such was not the case. Tuvel writes about post-war Germans feeling that because the Fuhrer was so adamant in destroying the European Jewry, there must have been some sort of logical reasoning behind it. However, it seems that so many years of ingrained antisemitism, it was probably a hard thing for the Europeans to let go of.
Seren wrote this memoir as a testament to the existence of her family as well as to tell her story in its entirety. The Seamstress is intended for young adults. There are graphic descriptions of the violence inflicted upon the Jews, including one section where Tuvel describes observing prominent Jewish men hung on meat hooks. Sexual violence is alluded to as well. The book is not suitable for a younger reader. The Seamstress isn’t Pulitzer Prize quality, but it is not a book to be easily dismissed. This is an eloquently written memoir, a fluid read. The grace, dignity, and perseverance shown by Seren Tuvel during the Holocaust moved me. The Seamstress is perhaps best suited for a rainy or snowy day free of distraction where one may be transported to Seren Tuvel’s world.
Profile Image for George Lichman.
117 reviews2 followers
June 14, 2013
The Seamstress is the memoir of author Seren (Sara) Tuvel Bernstein, a Romanian Jew who came of age during the rise of the Third Reich, was expelled from Romania, arrested and beaten by Hungarian Guard, forced into a temporary labor camp where her sister was shot and killed before her eyes, and eventually ended up on a concentration camp before escaping/liberated by American forces while being transported, likely for execution.
What was somewhat unique about The Seamstress is that the book was about Ms. Bernstein's entire life, not just her experience with the Holocaust. To me, it made her experiences much more personal, because they were happening to a person a felt I knew. She talked of her premature birth, childhood, family, schooling, and how she learned her trade. Knowing that make Ms. Bernstein much more real.
My only complaint about the book was that although Ms. Bernstein was very descriptive about the atrocities of others during her experience, she seemed to minimize her own ordeal. Don't get me wrong: she starved, was abused, she was nearly killed and witnessed awful things. But in the forward her daughter-in-law, who helped write the book, spoke of her being beaten so badly her leg was broken and there were other permanent deformities, but none of that appeared in the book. I don't think it is out of character for survivors of that time to minimize their experience, and perhaps that's what happened here.
The Seamstress is a well told story of a woman who lived, and survived, as a Jew in Eastern Europe during the build-up and Second World War. It and similar memoirs should be required reading for young people around the world.
Profile Image for Sharon.
573 reviews18 followers
March 4, 2013
An extraordinary, unsentimental story by an extraordinary woman. This is powerful truth, akin to horror at some points and heartwarming at others, with a strong female hero. Seren is a hero by any account. She's a tough woman who shouldn't have survived but did using intelligence and determination.

Although Seren's young life involved the Holocaust, the book is about her family and her own wisdom and grit in every situation. It's part of Seren's journey to a life she must have cherished every day. Although she surely had post traumatic stress disorder, she was a loving and loved person who gave her best to her family and friends. Out the other side of trauma, Seren made choices. Perhaps there are lessons here for all of us.

The Seamstress is a compelling story with some photos scattered throughout. The story should lift any reader above their own trials. It's also a history lesson with some details I'd never read before. Here Seren recounts her early life with family, how insidiously changes happened, how much people didn't know or understand, and events that happened to her and some of her family and friends.

Highly recommend.
47 reviews2 followers
August 13, 2010
Since beginning this book I have pondered much on the wickedness of mankind. There is so much hatred. I have never experienced pure hatred due to who I am, based on religion, color, creed, whatever. I am thankful to have been raised by parents who taught me to love all, to follow the example of my Saviour, and to strive to be like Him--perfectly loving in all things. Although I am far from His perfection, I am thankful that love, not hate, is natural for me.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is an incredibly inspiring story. It has taught me to love more fully and more fully appreciate all the many blessings I have.
My heart breaks for those who suffer due to the hatred of others. I find peace knowing God, in His infinite wisdom, will judge all. Those who cause others to suffer will ultimately receive their reward.
Profile Image for Lora.
280 reviews
January 3, 2012
I couldn't put it down. One of those intensely riveting personal accounts that is both heart-rending and inspiring, powerful and vivid. It can be hard at times, but the way she relates her story and her personal experiences without pity, selfishness, hardness, or despair is amazing in itself. A testament to the human will to live through suffering. After I read a story such as this, I feel like I have learned life-lessons and I am a better person for it. Helps me to remember all the little things that are blessings in this life that I should be thankful for everyday, clean water, a comfortable place to sleep, overabundance of good food, just a warm and clean place for my children to live and most importantly that we as a family live together in peace without threat to our lives.
Profile Image for Rachel Sharp.
319 reviews50 followers
April 14, 2018
Bernstein does an immaculate job in describing her pain and suffering as she slowly watched her family and loved ones around her disappear into that is the Holocaust. Acting as her companions' "rock", and sometimes acting as her own, she is that extra lifeline they needed to survive. 5 solid stars.
Profile Image for April.
523 reviews3 followers
May 3, 2011
Another holocaust memoir, but this one takes place in Romania and Hungary. Seren Tuvel entered a force labor camp in the middle of 1944 and was then sent to Ravensbruck, a camp for women only. Ravensbruck was one of the worst camps during WWII. Seren was sent there to die, but survived. Even though she was sent there towards the end of the war, when the war was over, she weighed only 44 pounds. I enjoyed this memoir because it took place in Romania, and not Germany. Not knowing much about Romania and Hungary's situation during the war, this book was informative on how the war touched and ruined Jewish people's lives in an area that was thought to be safe.
Profile Image for Betty.
16 reviews10 followers
June 27, 2014
I have greatly enjoyed reading this suspenceful, first person autobiography, of Sara Bernstein's life! Her story is incredible! I don't know why it has not been made into a movie! I was hooked before the first chapter was over! I highly recommend it to any history lover, such as myself! :)
Profile Image for Linda Lou McCall.
58 reviews5 followers
April 3, 2014
Narrated by Wanda McCaddon (Audible.com)

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

Not as a true story. This story is too contrived. Overall it's a good emotionally charged read. I just don't believe it as an actual account. I can't find anything about Sara Tuvel Bernstein except as it refers to this book.

What could the authors have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Just call it what it is - FICTION! I don't doubt that Ms. Bernstein suffered some oppression at the hands of the Nazi's. I just don't believe that she was the only survivor among millions to have the kind of resolve - and luck - that she claims in this book.

What does Wanda McCaddon bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Wanda McCaddon is masterful as always. Her narration brings layers into the story not otherwise experienced in print. Artists like her can make a book.

Was The Seamstress worth the listening time?

Only if you think of it as either fiction or a historical account in which the author has taken considerable literary license. The story IS moving and inspiring - it's just not believable.

Any additional comments?

I've read all of the reviews here on Goodreads, Audible, Amazon.com. Only one other reviewer feels like I do. I know I'm going to take a lot of flack for this, but I wish someone had given me a less emotional review of this book. I'm black and I'm used to Jewish friends claiming to "understand the pain of slavery". Well, no! "Your blues ain't like my blues"! But I always read books about Holocaust survivors out of respect for THEIR plight. However, there was something just not right about this account. Sara seemed to always have the answer or solution to some really horrific situations while her reaction to the deaths of her family members, one by one, was like "Ho hum!" I just didn't believe that one person in millions had the survivor instincts that this writer claimed to possess. It's easy to say you've done this and that when there's no one to refute your assertions.

The story is well-written and well narrated. But when you "pull the seams apart", it just doesn't fit. There's no way to fact-check the claims of the author. Plus, she was only in that concentration camp for a few months right before the war ended. I found her account of her early life and the years leading up to her so-called "arrest" much more interesting. Living like a hunted animal with no country to call "home" had to be awful. It's when she gets to the camp and on the trains that the story falls apart. Who can go WEEKS without water while doing back-breaking work? Or eight days without food or water packed into a boxcar like sardines? One minute everyone is freezing to death inside the boxcar, then in the same week, the train is sweltering from the weather outside. While the first 75% of the book tells an interesting account, the last becomes overly dramatic and predictable. And, again, I found Sara's total apathy towards the death of her family and camp friends bordering on sociopathic. Why? Because nobody died like she claims.

Notice that Sara is the only person who repeatedly manages to "save the day" by stealing, smuggling, or hiding enough food for her companions. Under those severe and harrowing circumstances, I know I wouldn't take up with a bunch of losers who never bring anything to the table to help in the survival of the group. When Sara is given a lice-ridden coat in the camp-wide clothing swap, she somehow gets one full of paper money hidden in the lining! And she just happened to have squirreled away a needle and thread in the tightly secured camp so she can rip up the lining to get the money, then sew it back up expertly. Really? As if all of those SS guards were too stupid to notice that the already thin garment just might be a little heavy or bulky! Then she and her friends used the money for TOILET PAPER for several weeks but, again, no one in the camp, prisoners included, noticed them "Benjamins" in the crapper! You haven't wiped your butt in months and that's all you could think to do with a large amount of money? C'mon!

What I DO believe is that some opportunistic writers saw a KERNEL of a good book after meeting a Holocaust survivor, likely in her dotage. I thought this book would be a first-hand account by an actual survivor who had gone through one horrific act after another during World War II as a Jew in occupied Europe. It turned out to be a compilation of everything that could happen to several people in a "perfect storm" of terror and persecution. Kind of like "Forrest Gump Meets The Fuhrer"! There's something that just didn't pass the "smell test" for me. I almost didn't write a review because I knew others would be upset with my reaction to this book or they would say, being black, I just don't understand the plight of Jewish people. That's absolutely not true. I sympathize and empathize with the hatred endured by Jews THROUGHOUT the history of the world. How could I not when my own ancestors were oppressed, murdered, beaten, lynched, and raped for centuries as recently as the 21st century? Here, I'll just have to take the hit because I'm calling "a spade a spade" - Sara is "shoveling" it a bit deep!
Profile Image for Linda.
354 reviews
September 13, 2014
Excellent recent memoir from a Romanian Holocaust survivor. She was sent to a camp near Berlin that I'd never heard of before; all women prisoners, where one in twenty survived. As with some other survivors, Sara's catalyst to write her story came a few decades later when she heard a professor claim the Jews contrived the hardships in the death camps to arouse sympathy. She had to tell her story.

I like the excerpt one reviewer included; a powerful moment:

When Sara was in her late twenties and was finally rescued in the closing days of WWII, she weighed forty-four pounds, "I felt myself being lifted up in two arms. I opened my eyes. One of the American soldiers was carrying me. I closed my eyes again. Drops of water began splashing on my cheeks and running down my neck...I realized that the soldier carrying me was crying, his tears falling on my face."

Sara's account adds even more depth for the reader as she takes us through her upbringing in Romania before the Nazi's invasion. We learn of her life after her liberation and her immigration to and life in America.

I always learn something new when I read these accounts. And having lived the past three years in Eastern Europe where so many of these atrocities took place, my interest and sympathy is keener.
114 reviews7 followers
April 26, 2014
Not a typical memoir of the Holocaust. Serin is born into a large family in rural Romania and grows up feisty and willing to fight back physically against anti-Semitism from other schoolchildren. She defies her lumber-mill-manager-father' s orders to turn down a scholarship that takes her to Bucharest. She furthers her education until she can stand the priests vicious diatribe against the Jews no longer and hurls a bottle of ink at him. She finds herself in need of an apprenticeship and place to stay and joins a solon as a seamstress where she learns quickly and enjoys making her own money. As the anti-Semitism grows, she returns home, where she is shortly arrested and thus begins a series of oppressions, imprisonments and forced labor detachments until she ends up in Ravensbruck, a women' s concentration camp. She keeps her family and friends together as much as she can, using her intelligence and skills as she can, perseveres and manages to survive. The story, basically an autobiography edited by relatives, is powerful, often overwhelming in realistic description, beautifully written and rich with determination and power.
Profile Image for Misti Woodruff.
362 reviews
February 15, 2017
This book is by far my favorite WW2 book that I have read. I felt that I had become very close to the characters in the book. I grew to love and appreciate the simple things of life. I just don't get how people could treat another human being so inhuman, I just really don't get it. It was all over Europe, like a plague, I don't get how Teenagers and husbands could turn in there mothers in for being Jewish and then call them filthy names.

I would recommend this book over and over again to anyone who was interested in reading it.
Profile Image for Martha Newman.
157 reviews
July 6, 2014
This is one of the most moving stories I have ever read. It is the autobiography of a Jewish Romanian girl who survived the Holocaust in Ravensbruck and later, Dachau, with her spirit, if not her body, intact. It is a story that has been told and retold, but the juxtaposition of man's inhumanity to man in the face of an iron will to survive can never be told too many times.
Profile Image for Charlene.
875 reviews505 followers
September 29, 2015
When someone recounts something so horrific, I often find myself wanting to understand what it felt like to be in a situation I could not possibly comprehend. Even tough this was an emotional topic, this book was not about the author's emotion. It was a narrative that focused on the facts. Rather than taking away from the story, it allowed the facts to stand by themselves. IMO, most readers would be hard-pressed to listen to the matter-of-fact experiences and not feel complete shock. The juxtaposition between the lack of the emotion and extreme circumstances was unbelievably powerful. I have read many books and watched so many movies about Holocaust survivors. They have all been shocking. They have all left me with a feeling of confusion and awe at the depth to which some people will go to attain utter control and domination.

This book stood out- mainly for its lack of emotion. Viktor Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning stood out because it was a portrait of remarkable human resilience in the face of circumstances so horrific, those who have not experienced them can barely imagine being able to remain alive, let alone resilient. Frankl showed his reader a curious phenomenon; trauma can compel a person to actually reach beyond what they would have likely achieved in their lifetime otherwise. Instead of breaking, they not only recovered, but thrived.

In a similar way, this narrative stood out. It made me ask the question, "What does it take to survive something like a Holocaust?" This would be a good time to mention that I had a bit of an issue with the forward. Sara's cowriter said something along the lines of, Sara survived because she was stronger than other women who allowed themselves (in some way) to die. I certainly agree that it is one kind of strength to be able to shut off parts of yourself, feel distance, and endure. There is no question Sara was so very strong. But, I don't think it is weak to be aware of how horrific a situation is and die from a combination of torture and despair. I don't think it is weak to maybe have already been starving prior to capture and then die sooner because your body had less nutrition from the start (recall Sara ate very well right before capture because she was working for a woman who fed her workers well). It is not weak to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get shot or hit by a bomb. It is not weak to drink the water and get sick from the water. It's not weak to take the bottom bunk because the top was full and get crushed to death at night. So much of it was luck. So, it seems unfair to characterize any woman or man who died in the camps as weak in some way. That said, it is interesting to try to figure out what factors contribute to extremely resilient individuals.

This book takes the reader from Sara's childhood, in which she begins to understand people's view of Jewish persons, through her capture and time in the camps, and beyond. A must read for anyone interested in the Holocaust.
Profile Image for Cornmaven.
1,615 reviews
July 13, 2014
An interesting addition to the Holocaust survivor memoir canon. Tuvel Bernstein survived, amazingly, the horrors of Ravensbruck, where they pretty much starved the women. She wrote this story a long time before it was published, and eventually it got into the publishing world's hands.

The things I found interesting:
-The different ways people in different camps transformed themselves in order to survive. Tuvel Berstein noted that when she ultimately came into contact with Auschwitz prisoners, she found that they had basically turned mean and vicious as their way of surviving. Ravensbruck's women tended to just keep to themselves or stay in very small groups.
-Tuvel Bernstein's daughter's epilogue noted how she, as the child of two Holocaust survivors had a much different childhood than most kids her age, and that this shaped her outlook.
-Tuvel Bernstein did not survive in the camps because of her sewing skills (which I thought would be the case based on the title). She survived because of her natural temperament toward being independent, practical, pragmatic, and planning ahead.
-The different ways people who were camp prisoners came out of that experience. She notes that many agnostics became very religious; many devout Jews/Catholics/Protestants turned atheist in the aftermath.
-Her pre-camp existence was very independent, and this is where her skills as a dressmaker helped her extend her time outside of the camps. There were still enough wealthy women in Hungary to allow her to make a living for a relatively long period of time, and the time after she was first arrested, she was able to sew shirt after shirt to satisfy those in charge.

While I knew beforehand that LUCK played the most important role in whether you lived or died, it was nice to hear a survivor emphasize that. The capricious nature of the guards, being in the right place at the right time or vice versa, etc., all went into the limit of your life. Tuvel Bernstein then was able to extend her life with her natural temperament toward pragmatism, which allowed her to make getting food the priority of every day.

I did find the extensive pre-camp dialogue to be a little weary, and I felt that the editors should have excised at least half of it. Certainly it would be of some use to her family and descendants, and perhaps scholars, but it dragged the story on, and got a little annoying knowing there was no way anyone would have remembered those conversations in that kind of detail. I much preferred the parts of the story, pre-camp where she just told what was happening instead of using conversation to tell it. That part of the story, however, does give you a good picture of how huge the descent to hell was for Jews in Europe.

I ended this book with great admiration for Sara Tuvel Bernstein. She was both a pragmatist and an optimist, quite a rare combination. Could I have survived her experience? Probably not. So she is definitely the better person.

1,852 reviews
December 12, 2019
A memoir of Sara Tuvel Bernstein and the life of her Romanian family pre and post WWII. Sara was a bright young woman who excelled in school and as a seamstress. The first half of the memoir is about her life as a girl, her family, going to school, how she developed a career as a seamstress, and how political tides began to change around them.
Sara had a strong spirit, determination, optisimism, courage, strength of character and luck helped her survive Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women north of Berlin, where she and many young women from her village were sent by train and forced into labor building trenches along the journey. The Jewish prisoners were treated much worse than other women prisoners. Sara's often quick thinking, risk taking, rules she established as the oldest in the group, and resourcefulness kept her and three other girls who were family and close friends from her village alive.
Sara weighed forty four pounds when she was rescued by American soldiers. After the war and her physical recovery she lived a full life in Canada and the U.S. A fortune read by a gypsy fortune teller when Sara was a young girl came true that she would marry, cross a wide body of water and have two children. She is reunited in Tel Aviv in 1964 with many of her extended family members.
I found the epilogue by her daughter to be insightful. Post the war, Sara no longer practiced Judaism after the war as she felt there was no God who would allow humans to suffer so terribly and commit such atrocities against each other. She would not fast before a religious holiday because she said she had fasted enough in her life for many people. She said if she went to hell what did it matter because it could not be worse than the hell she had lived. I agree with Sara.
Sara gave her children these rules to live by: always be prepared, always plan ahead, anticipate, be ready, don’t depend on anyone but yourself, be inconspicuous, be observant, and always stay alert.

Profile Image for Melanie.
44 reviews11 followers
October 26, 2012
Think of all the problems and stress in our lives. Just when we think that life today is "tough", think again...

The Seamstress is the amazing memoir of Seren (Sara) Tuvel, a holocaust survivor. When originally interviewed for her story, she merely referred to her life spent in the concentration camps as a "waste of time". This just gives you an idea of what a remarkable woman she was, with an incredible strength of character. In all senses, she was a "true" survivor.

Her story begins in Transylvania, where she was born to a very large Jewish family. All through her life and even as a child, Seren always had a strong will, determination and intelligence. She became an accomplished seamstress, who eventually worked for the royal family in her country.

Her life, along with many, many other Jews, was shattered, during World War II. Seren (along with countless others) went through an unimaginable, hell...mind, body and soul. She started off by being sent to jail for no reason and then went from concentration camp to concentration camp (some of the worst-even though they were all bad). Through out this horrible time in her life, Seren endured beatings, lost her family and friends, watched people die, was starved and deprived of food and water, froze every day and night, suffered from illness and was physically and brutally worked almost to the death. Amazingly, she survived. What kept her alive was her will to live. Even though her body was broken, her spirit could not be broken. Seren had hope and amazing strength that is very inspiring, still, today.

So, whenever we think of all the petty troubles or inconveniences in our lives, we need to stop and think about what suffering really is. We need to not take life for granted and appreciate everything we have.
Profile Image for JudiAnne.
414 reviews55 followers
March 7, 2012
Like others, I could not put this book down. Sara's story was captivating. She was incredibly strong in the face of horror. The fact that she was not German and explains what happened to the Jews in Eastern Europe gave me a perspective I have not had. And, like other reviewers, I found her lack of bitterness amazing. This was the first Holocaust book I've read which made me understand that people had no idea what happened to members of their families when they suddenly disappeared. From Sara's perspective, I was able to really feel the grief and horror that came with the German invasion. From the first page of this memoir by Sara Tuval Bernstein it is apparent that she is a natural born writer as she tells the story of her life in Romania before, during and after the occupation of Germany in WWII. What is so remarkable in her story is she faced some of the horrors that other women faced with her eventual imprisonment by the Germans but she was able to remain free for the better part of the time. Even though she was blond and looked like a gentile, it was her courage, intelligence and fortitude that helped her manipulate the system for her to stay under the wire.

I really enjoyed the true story of Sara that she wrote and put away until her daughter found it and had it published fifteen years later. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in this time period of Europe.
Profile Image for Alyssa Allen.
352 reviews1 follower
March 7, 2017
What an absolutely incredible book!

I wasn't sure what to expect. I read the back summary, and it didn't particularly grab my attention, but I got the book as a Christmas present, so I knew I was going to have to read it eventually.

Boy, was I wrong to even doubt that this could have been good in any way. It's definitely a heartbreaking story, but the way that it's written is so incredibly intriguing, it's hard to put down! I am a typically slow reader, but I finished this book in a little over a week. It usually takes me 2-3 weeks for a 300-pg novel with my work schedule, etc.

It's really good! I am a WWII history buff, but I had never heard of Ravensbruck concentration camp before I read this. I can't believe I've never heard of it! With only 1% (yes, 1%, you read that right) surviving out of the Jewish prisoners... I can understand why hardly anyone has heard about it. Only 100 people left to tell the story.

I smiled while reading, I cried while reading, I seriously pondered and looked inward on myself and my life. It is hard to imagine anyone surviving what they went through, but they did. It is one of the first times I have felt actually honored to have shared in this person's life via book.

I recommend it for anyone who is able to handle reading about difficult experiences and situations. There is a lot of death and sad circumstances in this book. But I am seriously grateful I have been able to read it.
Profile Image for Diana.
128 reviews
October 23, 2013
The audio version of The Seamstress was well-narrated, compelling and captivating, providing an understanding of the impact of Germany's political aggression and conflict with Russia on the innocent Jewish citizens of Romania and Hungary. In December of 1937, when the moderate Liberal Party was defeated, powerful, right-wing conservative groups arose and began marches and attacks on Jewish citizens and Gypsies who became their scapegoats. Sara Tuvel's determination to survive and make sure her sister and friends survive with her was a triumph over the horror of one of the most terrible concentration camps, Ravensbruk. And then after barely surviving, she and what was left of her family had to endure post-war discrimination against Jewish survivors in Germany. Her story is a cautionary tale for our times.

I did not care for the author preface at the beginning wanting to get to the core of the story, but the afterword from her daughter's perspective was very enlightening and an explanation of how Sara survived, particularly when she summarizes her mother's teachings to her children "… always be prepared, always plan ahead, anticipate, be ready, don’t depend on anyone but yourself, be inconspicuous, be observant and always stay alert.”
Profile Image for Marla.
27 reviews
May 26, 2013
This book follows Seren Tuvel throughout her life. This starts when she is a young girl in Transylvania and follows her through labor camps, imprisonment, concentration camps, and the rest of her life.

This book is....wow. I have read many memoirs of WWII. I have been to the Holocaust museum in Detroit, MI to hear a speaker tell her tail. Of course I learned what they taught in history. We all have been taught of the horrid Auschwitz and the crematoriums. After reading this book I now know the suffering of those that were spared the crematoriums.
Sara "Seren" was an inspiring woman. This book contained horrors and situations most of us today would never survive. The inhumanity that was allowed to flourish during this time is simply mind blowing.
I will never read this book again because I will carry her story with me always. Everyone should read this. This book helps to educate so that we can watch the signs of history repeating itself; we can stand up and stop it. Please, read this book and always remember.
Profile Image for Sharon Bohlen.
39 reviews4 followers
July 17, 2013
This was fascinating. It told the story of the Nazi invasion of Romania which I knew very little about - gypsies and such. The horrors were much like western Europe endured, but the cultural background was an interesting historical point.

This amazing Romanian Jew survived, and emigrated after the war. One of her last comments really stayed with me, about how as much as you try not to let the Holocaust define you, its effects are something you live with forever, and people have no idea of the pain you carry. For example, her daughter buys a Volkswagon beetle for her first new car. Her parents are stunned that their kid would buy a GERMAN made car...and a yellow one at that. The daughter never made the connection to the yellow stars her parents were forced to sew on their clothing. Every time I read a Holocaust book, I am stunned anew at the awful things these innocent people endured, and how this could happen again...to one of us. All because people still don't "get it."
Profile Image for Jan.
Author 1 book6 followers
September 29, 2011
I've read a lot of Holocaust books, but this one was definitely worth reading. And frankly, I will continue reading Holocaust books, because this history should never be forgotten.

Sara is Romanian. She tells the story of how life remained pretty normal, until one day she is put into prison and beaten, for no reason. She is released and resumes her life, trying to earn income enough to support her sisters, niece, and her mother who lives in a distant town. She looks Gentile, so she is overlooked in several instances, but finally the entire neighborhood is collected. They walk for days, travel in trains for days, dig ditches for days, finally ending up in Ravensbruck, where the death toll is extraordinarily high.

It amazes me how strong these survivors had to be.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Taylor.
220 reviews1 follower
March 7, 2015
Tremendous account of the horrors of persecution. It is particularly valuable because it covers Sara's life before and after the war and her life starts in eastern Europe and area I know less about than western Europe. I was amazed to learn that some who were forced into labor brigades by the Hungarian army were actually proud to serve, believing that they were doing something for their country. Too horrible, too brutal. We must never forget the level of savagery to which people can descend and how easy it is to convince ourselves that this is the right thing to do or hide under the apathy of denial to distance ourselves form it without actually opposing the evil things that may be taking place in our name.
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