Sunday, November 24, 2019

Weekend Review: Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler

Some Girls, Some Hats & Hitler / Trudi Kanter
NY: Scribner, c2012
272 p.
This was an unusual read -- a memoir first published in 1984 in England, then rediscovered a decade or so ago and republished. It follows the life of Trudi Kanter, an Austrian milliner who used her business to escape Hitler's incursions into Austria (after many struggles). 

It has a different take on WWII; Trudi is very focused on her business and her relationship, not so much on politics or social action. This story is about her. She's a regular person trying to keep her head down and not get involved in everything that's going on, rather, she wants to keep her life the way it is and continue her sewing and hatmaking without any disturbance. 

Unfortunately for her, being in the midst of Germany's invasion and being a Jewish woman, that doesn't happen. 

The story is full of incidents told clearly and plainly -- how she talks her way into a buying trip outside of Austria even when travel is restricted, how clients in England assist their escape, and how her parents stay in Austria thinking it can't possibly get worse (they do eventually get out). She describes her workroom and the women in it, and the way that some of them remain loyal to Trudi despite everything, and some not so much. The discussion of her business and the day to day work, and her own clothing as well as her husband's outfits, is of course of great interest too. 

I've seen some readers mention that they felt this was too 'lightweight' to be a proper WWII memoir, but I think that might be a bias against fashion as a serious topic coming through. Trudi does not hide the difficulties they faced, but she does use her connections and her own chutzpah to get them out of the country before they face any deportations or camps -- so that there is no element of that level of suffering here. That doesn't make her story any less compelling. 

The style is also very good. It moves along quickly, it has an intimate tone that draws you in, and her observational skills are finely honed. People leap to life in her words. The final chapter or so, describing their postwar life in England as businesspeople and refugees, is not quite as intense or complex, but hearing about how Trudi got them back on track after being displaced makes you admire this tough woman who could take care of herself. 

I thought it was a good read, another viewpoint via a personal account of those years from someone outside of Germany but still caught up in the growing disaster. If you're interested in millinery, women in business, the Austrian experience of German invasion, or a look at people with all their flaws showing, this will interest you.


  1. Sounds a wonderful read!! And my library has it so I have put in a request. Looking forward to this book.

    1. That's great that your library has a copy! Hope you find it really interesting.

  2. This sounds very interesting. I'm going to look out for it.

    1. Good luck finding a copy - hope you will like it.


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