Rose, Ella, Marta and Carla. In another life we might have all been friends together. But this was Birchwood.
As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day at work she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Ella has joined the seamstresses of Birkenau-Auschwitz.
Every dress she makes could be the difference between life and death. And this place is all about survival.
Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive.
Is her love of clothes and creativity nothing more than collaboration wth her captors, or is it a means of staying alive?
Will she fight for herself alone, or will she trust the importance of an ever-deepening friendship with Rose?
One thing weaves through the colours of couture gowns and camp mud – a red ribbon, given to Ella as a symbol of hope.
The Red Ribbon Extract
There she was.
Lost in contemplation of a book.
She wasn’t even reading it. Someone else was – a Guard.
He was a young guy with a bit of moustache fluff on his upper lip and a hand that kept dropping to hover over the gun on his belt. He’d obviously been at the book for a while. He was somewhere in the middle of it, tracing the words with a stubby finger. Rose’s eyes were following that finger as if it was loaded with gold and diamond rings. I couldn’t see anything special about the book.
I hissed her name. Rose never heard me.
The Guard didn’t notice her standing there, at first. When finally he did, his forehead crumpled with annoyance but he just stared at her.
‘Is it a good book?’ Rose asked politely, as if he was some nice boy she’d bumped into at the local library.
The Guard blinked. ‘Um, this? Yes. It’s good. Really, really good.’
‘The sort you can’t put down?’
Rose nodded too. ‘I think so too. I’m biased. My mother wrote it.’
The Guard stared at her so hard I thought his eyeballs would actually pop out. A fiery blush crept up from his collar to the roots of his hair. He looked at Rose, then at the name on the spine of the book. Without another word, he closed the book, walked to the stove and threw it in. Paper turned to ash. The Guard wiped his hands on his uniform as if they’d somehow been contaminated. If he could’ve scoured his eyes and purged his brain of that book, I think he would’ve done.
I tiptoed over, turned a stone-cold stunned Rose around and guided her out of that hut.