Holocaust narratives are a chorus of lost voices. This holds true for Some Girls, Some Hats, and Hitler, but this author’s distinctive voice has faded in a unique way. Trudi Kanter originally published this memoir of her life in pre-war Vienna, her family’s long flight from persecution, and her passionate relationship with her husband Walter in 1984, but the book fell into obscurity. Now, reprinted years after her death, hopefully it will draw much-deserved attention and let the author’s bright, clear voice be heard again.
Some Girls, Some Hats, and Hitler takes an unusual road for Holocaust memoirs – this is not Elie Wiesel, or Anne Frank, or Gerda Klein – in Vienna, Kanter is a fashion designer by trade, a woman of means, with the connections, pluck, and resources to flee Austria shortly after the Anschluss. Hers is a story not of cattle cars but second-class coaches, a journey through British customs instead of Theresienstadt, but the fear, loss, grief, courage, and love that surround and drive her shine through as brightly as in any better-known memoir. Speaking of fashion, Kanter’s story is colored heavily by her professional eye – even as a refugee, she carefully notes the style trends in Prague, Paris, and London, and readers will learn a great deal about the millinery trade. Warm and familiar, her memories are sensuous, with nostalgia for the fine food and wine of her youth in Vienna, the humble décor of her first London flat, and vivid descriptions of the friends and paramours that complicate her marriage.
The subtitle to this edition is “a true love story rediscovered”, and fittingly so. The author’s love affair with her husband Walter is the beating heart of the memoir, and in its honesty and intensity it feels both exceptionally genuine and exceptionally modern. The author knows that she is stronger than her husband, and must be the driving force to protect her family, and yet their mutual love always pushes through fear and chaos to the possibility of a brighter future.
Some Girls, Some Hats, and Hitler deserves a place in any reader’s nonfiction diet, but it should have particular interest for readers of other Holocaust memoirs, especially the classics linked above. A late chapter describing a London air raid is a perfect complement to the writing of W.G. Sebald. Last but not least, this work has great crossover potential for readers of fashion-focused fiction like Adriana Trigiani’s Brava, Valentine thanks to the author’s style-savvy, confident presence.