In the winter of 1939, Paul Strnad wrote his cousin Alvin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Desperate to obtain an affidavit to escape the onslaught of Nazi Germany, Paul sent Alvin sketches of his wife Hedwig’s designs. Paul and Hedy hoped that these examples of her work would provide evidence of their financial independence. Despite Alvin’s best efforts, both Hedwig and her husband Paul were murdered in the Holocaust. All that remains of their story are this letter and Hedwig’s sketches.
In 1997, the Strnad family in Milwaukee discovered this letter and drawings in their mother’s basement. They donated them to the Milwaukee Jewish Historical Society, which became the Jewish Museum Milwaukee. Once the Museum opened, these pieces became central to the permanent exhibition. A visitor commented that JMM should create these dresses and this is the origin of “Stitching History from the Holocaust.”
JMM worked with the Costume Shop of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater to create the dresses while the Museum researched the Strnad family. Six humanities scholars explained the primary resources from the diverse perspectives including fashion history, immigration history, and Holocaust history. These are published in our catalog, which can be purchased here.
Jewish Museum Milwaukee’s exhibit Stitching History from the Holocaust explores the life and work of Hedy Strnad before her murder. The main feature of this exhibit is the recreation of Hedy’s dresses from her sketches. It serves as an example of what happens when human suffering is ignored and is a testament to the incalculable loss of the Holocaust.
For more information about this exhibit, watch our opening lecture with scholar, Michael Berenbaum:
This exhibit would not have been possible without the generous support the following.
(List still in formation)
Funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
This project is funded in part through a grant from the City of Milwaukee Arts Board and the Wisconsin Arts Board.