This memoir is a true love story rediscovered. It is the simply written account of how a strong-willed young Jewish milliner stalwartly managed to escape Nazi-occupied Vienna, Austria, along with her husband, Walter. They made their way across Europe, finally settling in London where Trudi was able to regain her standing as a designer of fashionable hats. With a massive amount of spunk and determination, Trudi not only saved herself and Walter, but also was able to get her parents out of Austria.
The author was born Gertrude Sturmwind in 1905, the daughter of a Viennese jeweler. She enjoyed a privileged life and as a young woman was described as stunningly beautiful, chic and charismatic. She was a hat designer for the best dressed-women of Vienna. She flew to Paris each year to see the latest fashions for inspiration for her millinery designs. In Vienna, she frequented the most elegant cafes and had many suitors. And she fell deeply in love wit Walter Ehrlich, a charming and romantic businessman.
As Hitler’s tanks rolled into Austria in 1938, amid cheering crowds, life changed for Trudi, her family and Jewish friends. She writes, “The mob now had the upper hand… worked up, ordered by their leaders to commit terrible crimes, they did as they were told.” The young Jewish couple’s world collapsed and they were desperate to escape.
But, as Linda Grant writes in the book’s introduction, “Trudi realized women still looked in the mirror and wanted to wear hats. Her new collection reflected the new reality: she decided to use more veiling to hide the sadness in women’s eyes.”
Trudi’s writing is not fancy but it cuts right to the heart, telling the true story of her astonishing escape to blitzed London where she and Walter had to rebuild their lives. Trudi’s husband and father even had to spend time in an interment camp in England because they were foreigners.
This book was self published in 1984. This republished version was edited by Virago Press, which has been unable to trace the copyright holder. How remarkable that an English editor stumbled upon this gem while sifting through a secondhand bookshop in London. Though Trudi Kanter died in 1992, we now have this extraordinary book and a second chance to discover her story. In these pages she is alive — vivid, tenacious and unforgettable. Her beautiful hats are long gone, but her story in this book is her legacy and has been discovered again.