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Holocaust survivor, 102, is gracing the quilt of German Vogue

A glamorous woman with a sleek bob and gold jewellery smiles warmly on the cover of the July/August edition of German Vogue in a bright red peacoat by Italian designer label Miu Miu.

It is exactly the sort of cover the world’s foremost fashion magazine is known for, only the striking woman on the front is neither a supermodel nor a film star, rather Margot Friedländer is a 102-year-old German-Jewish Holocaust survivor. 

After her mother and her younger brother were deported to Auschwitz extermination camp in 1943, Margot went into hiding and sought to disguise herself by dyeing her hair and wearing a necklace with a cross. 

While she was helped by some Germans, she was ultimately betrayed to the SS and deported to Theresienstadt on June 16 in 1944 where she saw ‘so many people murdered’. Her entire family were killed at Auschwitz the previous year.

Today, as German Vogue’s accompanying interview notes, she works tirelessly with students to ‘make her story tangible for the next generation.’

Margot Friedländer, 102, on the cover of the July/August edition of German Vogue wearing a peacoat by Italian label Miu Miu. On her left lapel is the Federal Cross of Merit 1st Class and on the right lapel is the Order of Merit of the State of Berlin

Margot Friedländer, 102, on the cover of the July/August edition of German Vogue wearing a peacoat by Italian label Miu Miu. On her left lapel is the Federal Cross of Merit 1st Class and on the right lapel is the Order of Merit of the State of Berlin

Margot in the spring of 1943. She had already been living underground for several months and had sought to disguise herself as a Christian by wearing a necklace with a cross on it

Margot in the spring of 1943. She had already been living underground for several months and had sought to disguise herself as a Christian by wearing a necklace with a cross on it

Born in Berlin, Margot was 12 years old when Hitler came to power and said her family hoped he would just ‘disappear again’,and everything could go back to normal. 

It was a happy upbringing, where she enjoyed family weekend trips to Lake Scharmützelsee and playing on the swings at the Friedrichstadt-Palast, and spending time with her beloved grandmother, Adele, who called Margot, ‘my little mouse’.

In 1936 she started a course at the Berlin School of Arts and Crafts in 1936 where she specialised in fashion drawing and advertising. 

‘I had big plans,’ she told the magazine of her hopes of becoming a seamstress and designer.

Margot, who spends her time talking to school children about her experiences during the war, was photographed wearing a floral ensemble by Loro Piana for German Vogue

Margot, who spends her time talking to school children about her experiences during the war, was photographed wearing a floral ensemble by Loro Piana for German Vogue

Margot (right) is pictured with two friends on the Kurfürstendamm, one of Berlin's most famous streets, in 1943. She would be deported to Theresienstadt just a few months later

Margot (right) is pictured with two friends on the Kurfürstendamm, one of Berlin’s most famous streets, in 1943. She would be deported to Theresienstadt just a few months later

A young Margot pictured with her husband Adolf Friedländer. Both interned at Theresienstadt, the couple married when the camp was liberated

A young Margot pictured with her husband Adolf Friedländer. Both interned at Theresienstadt, the couple married when the camp was liberated 

Margot spent a year at the Rosa Lang-Nathanson salon, training to be a seamstress but in November 1938 she arrived to see broken glass everywhere and smoke in the air from burning synagogues. The salon never re-opened after Kristallnacht.

In the mid-1940s, at the age of 21, the Gestapo took her mother and brother Ralph away.

The last words her mother left for her, passed on verbally by a neighbor, were ‘Versuche, dein Leben zu machen’ – ‘Try to live your life’.

Margot tore off her yellow star – marking her as Jewish – and wore a chain was a cross pendant around her neck and dyed her black hair red.

A doctor even operated on her nose to try to ‘Aryanise’ her features.  

Adied by an underground network of 16 Germans, she moved around different hiding places after dark.  

Her period in hiding came to an end in the spring of 1944 when two men – Nazi collaborators – stopped her in the street and demanded her papers.

They carried her away because she could not produce identification documents, and while on the way to the police station, she told them the truth.

After saying ‘I am Jewish’, Margot says, she was ‘reunited with the fate of my family and all other Jews’.

She was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto, a transit camp for sending people to their deaths further east.

Recalling her experiences at Theresienstadt she said that she will never forget seeing the murders of ‘old ladies who asked for a piece of bread’.

At the camp, she reunited with Adolf Friedländer, 11 years her senior, who she knew from the administrative office of the Cultural Association in Berlin, where she had worked as a young woman. 

She recalled: ‘I wasn’t in love with Adolf. I needed time to become human again. It was the same for Adolf. The pain brought us closer together than being in love.’ 

The couple married shortly after the camp had been liberated and began a new life together in New York, where she worked as a travel agent and seamstress.

After Adolf died in 1997, Margot came to realise that she ‘wasn’t done with Berlin yet,’ returning to her city of birth at the age of 88, where she lives in an apartment in a retirement home.

Margot Friedlander (fifth from right in the third row) is pictured with classmates at the Jewish Middle School in Berlin, around 1930

Margot Friedlander (fifth from right in the third row) is pictured with classmates at the Jewish Middle School in Berlin, around 1930

Margot (left) with her younger brother Ralph and a cousin in 1937. Ralph was murdered in Auschwitz along with the rest of Margot's family

Margot (left) with her younger brother Ralph and a cousin in 1937. Ralph was murdered in Auschwitz along with the rest of Margot’s family 

Despite experiencing unimaginable horrors at the hands of her compatriots, and despite spending over 50 years in the US, she sees herself simply as a German and, as the magazine notes, she ‘speaks without being bitter.’

While many descendants of survivors are committed to carrying their parents’ and grandparents’ stories forward, no one working in Holocaust studies would dispute the fact that it will only become harder to refute denialists once the survivor generation has passed on. 

Margot speaks ‘in the name of the victims who can no longer speak’ but, as the cover text – the word ‘Love’ scrawled in her own handwriting – indicates, she tells her story not only to memorialise the past but in an effort to shape the future. 

She told the magazine: ‘Don’t look at what divides you. Look at what unites you. Be human beings. Be reasonable.’

Dismayed by the rise of antisemitism in Germany and elsewhere, and alarmed by the traction gained by right-wing parties like Alternative for Germany, Margot has been sharing a version of that message with young people for years. 

Now part of a dwindling generatinon of survivors, she continues to travel around Germany to tell the story of her life and promote remembrance. In 2022, she addressed the European Union parliament on Holocaust Memorial Day. 

‘We must be vigilant and not look the other way as we did then,’ she said. ‘Hatred, racism and antisemitism must not be the last word in history.’

‘Today, I see the memory of what happened being abused for political reasons, sometimes even derided and trampled all over,’ she told lawmakers, according o Reuters.

Margot (second from right) is pictured with family friends at Scharmützelsee, which is located in Brandenburg in Germany

Margot (second from right) is pictured with family friends at Scharmützelsee, which is located in Brandenburg in Germany

Margot is pictured with a family friend at the summer resort at Scharmützelsee in Brandenburg around 1937

Margot is pictured with a family friend at the summer resort at Scharmützelsee in Brandenburg around 1937

Margot and husband Adolf on the ship to USA where they emigrated in 1946. When Margot's husband died in 1997, she thought it was time to return to Berlin

Margot and husband Adolf on the ship to USA where they emigrated in 1946. When Margot’s husband died in 1997, she thought it was time to return to Berlin

Adolf Friedländer (right) is pictured with his parents and sister Ilse around 1915, when his father was serving as a soldier in the German army during WWI

Adolf Friedländer (right) is pictured with his parents and sister Ilse around 1915, when his father was serving as a soldier in the German army during WWI

‘Incredulous, I had to watch at the age of 100 years how symbols of our exclusion by the Nazis, such as the so-called “Judenstern,” are shamelessly used on the open street by the new enemies of democracy, to present themselves – whilst living in the middle of a democracy – as victims,’ she added, referring to anti-vaccine demonstrators pin yellow star badges to their clothes.

Speaking to the New York Times, Anna Wintour, Vogue’s editor in chief, referred to the ‘political currents across Europe’ and described Margot as ‘a wonderful subject, and a meaningful one.’

And, as the brooches on Margot’s lapels indicate, she has received some of the highest honours awarded by the German government for her efforts, namely the Federal Cross of Merit 1st Class and the Order of Merit of the State of Berlin.

But if Margot is an esteemed educator and activist, she is also a fashion enthusiast with a love of opera – and the photoshoot for the July/August collector’s edition of German Vogue celebrates her as much more than a Holocaust survivor. 

A photograph inside the magazine shows Margot dressed in a floral ensemble by Loro Piana while another image shows her wearing an outfit from her own stylish wardrobe. 

She continues to enjoy attending the opera and lives quite independently, rarely eating at the restaurant in her building because she prefers to whip herself up a fried egg at home after a busy day of campaigning.