Right. Just clothes. Except, not one of the people I’ve heard mock fashion was naked at the time. They all got dressed in the morning, picking clothes that said, Hey, I’m a successful banker. Or, I’m a busy mother. Or, I’m a tired teacher . . . a decorated soldier . . . a pompous judge . . . a cheeky barmaid . . . a lorry driver, a nurse . . . You could go on for ever. Clothes show who you are, or who you want to be.
So people might say, Why do you take clothes so seriously, when there are more important things to worry about, like the War?
Oh, I was worried about the War all right. The War got in the way of everything. Out in the real world, outside of here, I’d wasted hours queuing at shops with empty shelves. More hours hiding in the cellar when bombers flew over. I’d put up with endless news updates, and Grandad plotting battle lines on a map pinned to the kitchen wall. I’d known War would come – it was all people talked about for months. We learned about War in history lessons at school. War was something that happened to other people a long way away.
Then it came to my country. My town.
It was War that brought me to Birchwood – known, in a harsher language, as Auschwitz-Birkenau. The place where everyone arrives, and nobody leaves.
Here people find out that clothes aren’t so trivial after all. Not when you haven’t got any. The first thing They did when we arrived was make us strip. Minutes off the train and we were sorted into male and female. They shoved us into a room and told us to undress. Right there. With everyone watching. Not even underwear allowed.
Our clothes were folded into piles. Without them we weren’t bankers, teachers, nurses, barmaids or lorry drivers any more. We were scared and humiliated.
I’d stared at my pile of folded clothes. I memorised the soft wool of my jumper. It was my favourite green jumper embroidered with cherries, a birthday present from Grandma. I memorised the neat folds of my trousers and my socks, rolled into a pair. My bra too – my first-ever bra! – that I’d hidden from view along with my knickers.
Next They took our hair. All our hair. Shaved it off with blunt razors. Gave us limp triangles of cloth as headscarves. Made us pick out shoes from a pile about as high as house. I’d found a pair. Rose obviously hadn’t been so lucky, with her one silk shoe and her one leather brogue.
They said we’d get our clothes back after a shower. They lied. We got sack dresses with stripes. As Stripeys we ran around like herds of panicked zebras. We weren’t people any more, we were numbers. They could do what they liked to us.
So don’t tell me clothes don’t matter.
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