Epstein, Franci Rabinek. “Franci’s War: A Woman’s Story of Survival”, Penguin, 2020.
A Holocaust Memoir
Franci Rabinek Epstein’s memoir is the story of a glamorous young fashion designer who survived World War ll, with an afterword by her daughter, Helen Epstein. Epstein who was 22 in 1942 was named as a Jew by the Nazi racial laws. She was sent to Terezin, a concentration camp and ghetto forty miles north of her home in Prague. This was the beginning of her three-year journey from Terezin to the Czech family camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, to the slave labor camps in Hamburg, and Bergen Belsen. After being liberated by the British in April 1945, she finally returned to Prague.
She was known in her group as the Prague dress designer who lied to Dr. Mengele at an Auschwitz selection by saying she was an electrician, an occupation that both endangered and saved her life. She shares her intense, candid, and sometimes funny account of her years with the women prisoners in her tight-knit circle of friends. This is quite a powerful testimony of a strong woman who was able to endure the horrors of the Holocaust and survived. She lived through separation from her parents, her husband’s arrest, food shortages and disease as well as the deaths of many of her friends.
When she returned to Prague, she rebuilt her dress salon, married, had her first child Helen. When Czechoslovakia was taken over by the Communists in 1948, she, along with her family came to New York where she opened another fashion salon on the Upper west Side.
Epstein writes candidly about being a female during World War II. When she originally submitted her manuscript to publishers in 1975, it was rejected so she gave it to her daughter, Helen where it stayed until one day Helen decided to reread it and noticed the similarities to the political movements between the 30s and the 2010s and decided that this was a story that had to be told. And so here it is, a read that stays with you long after you close the covers.
Franci Rabinek Epstein was born into a privileged family in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1920 and educated at the Ecole Francaise, Lycee de Prague, and the Deutsches Staatsrealgymnasium before dropping out to apprentice in her mother’s haute-couture Salon. At 18, Franci became the owner of the Salon. In 1940 she married Joe Solar. She regarded the Nazi concentration camps as her university. After liberation, she returned to Prague and married Kurt Epstein in 1946. In 1948, after the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, she emigrated to New York City and established a new fashion salon on the Upper West Side. She lectured at universities on her experience during the war before dying of a brain aneurysm in 1989.
Helen Epstein is a veteran arts journalist and author or translator of ten books of non-fiction including the trilogy Children of the Holocaust, Where She Came From: A Daughter’s Search for Her Mother’s History; and The Long Half-Lives of Love and Trauma. Born in Prague, she grew up in New York City. Her reviews and articles have appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and websites.