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A Scarsdale Resident on the Power of Textiles During the Holocaust

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A Teaching Trunk featuring a crocheted little red dress, created by a museum docent. The trunk is part of an Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center program that reaches more than 1,200 students a month.
Photo courtesy of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center

Tanya Singer’s Knitting Hope project examines how textiles and clothing represented both resistance and resilience throughout the Holocaust.

Scarsdale resident Tanya Singer wears many hats — and sometimes even knits them.

A teacher, activist, writer, and knitter, Singer recently utilized all of her skills to teach others about the significance of textiles during and after the Holocaust with her years-long project, Knitting Hope.

Knitting Hope was sparked by stories, and dresses, like that of Judy Fleischer Kolb. Kolb was born into the Shanghai Ghetto, following her family’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1939. There, Kolb lived with her parents, uncle, and grandparents, along with about 20,000 other refugees, during World War II. Similar to other survivors, Kolb found comfort in hand-knit clothing, like a little red dress her grandmother made. Kolb’s moving story and dress are being shared with the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, as well as with Knitting Hope.

Singer herself knit to find comfort during trying times, particularly when her 13-year-old son underwent brain surgery. Singer also studied ways in which people used knitting to resist the horrors of the war, honor friends and family, and recover from the WWII’s aftermath.

A modern iteration of the little red dress. Photo by Gale Zucker

This work culminated in February 2021, when Singer collaborated with Kolb and fellow knitter Melissa Shinsato in a multiweek Knit-Optional Knit-Along. With the use of Shinsato’s knitting pattern, inspired by Kolb’s little red dress, participants could knit their own versions of the iconic garment, using step-by-step instructions. The Knit-Along also included special-guest discussions with Kolb.

Plus, the virtual format of the knitting events was COVID-19-safe yet helpful in expanding the program to knitters from the United Kingdom, Australia, Greece, and across the U.S. Singer says she is optimistic about the future of Knitting Hope and stresses the importance of projects that draw attention to the Holocaust.

“I wish Holocaust education was a given and that all educators understood the importance of raising children to be active citizens who stand up for the rights of others and work to uphold Democracy because they know what can and has happened — including what we saw in Charlottesville and the Capitol,” says Singer. “At this time of increasing anti-Semitism and hate, we must ensure that our schools are sharing the important lessons of Holocaust history.”