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Reviewed by Raanan Geberer for Readers' Favorite
The Seven Year Dress by Paulette Mahurin tells of the rise of Nazism in Germany and the concentration camps, as related by aged survivor Paulette Mahurin to a young nursing student who rents a room in her apartment. There have been numerous holocaust memoirs, but most deal with the Jews of Eastern Europe, while this one focuses on Germany itself. Through Helen’s eyes, we see the progression of anti-Semitism throughout the 1930s, from harassment of Jewish businesses to the prohibition against Jews working in certain professions, from racial laws prohibiting marriage or sexual relationships between Jews and non-Jews to the seizure of radios and firearms from Jews. Like many older Jews, Helen’s father takes a “wait-and-see” attitude toward Nazism, but the young Helen almost immediately sees Nazism for what it is. After the violence of Kristallnacht, a non-Jewish friend secretly offers Helen and her brother, Ben, a hiding place in the basement of an old farmhouse, but their troubles have just begun.
Paulette Mahurin’s The Seven Year Dress is well written — as a journalism graduate, I was pleased to see that she uses short paragraphs, a minimum of adjectives and adverbs, and so on. It doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, such as Helen's and Ben’s separate sexual fantasies while they are hiding in the basement. Perhaps more than in most such memoirs, you can vividly feel the tragedy of the holocaust; Helen is the only one of four siblings who survives the war. It’s also inspirational how Helen still clings to humanity, as witnessed when the non-Jewish friend (who joins the SS, but mainly as a “cover”), brings Helen some of her favorite books that he has salvaged from their family home (all of them American novels, by the way). All in all, I heartily recommend The Seven Year Dress. And what of the dress itself? You’ll have to read the book to find out.