At 102, she is one of the oldest people to grace the cover of the fashion bible. Vogue has always been up for a surprise on the cover — and rightly so.

102-year-old Margot Friedländer still attends major social events, such as the German Film Awards in May 2024 (Agentur BaganzI/MAGO )

A woman who survived the horrors of the Holocaust as the “cover girl” of a leading fashion magazine? You might wonder if that isn’t a little disrespectful, considering Margot Friedländer’s life and story of suffering?

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Yet it is not. Because this woman has something to say as one of the most important surviving witnesses of the Holocaust. She has made it her life’s work to tell people about what she experienced. Always gently, kindly, with compassion, without pointing fingers. Her main objective is to preserve remembrance culture while respecting humanity.

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A perusal of the diverse Vogue covers in various countries where the magazine is published is proof that Vogue wants to be more than just a fashion rag: It sets themes and features unusual yet important people in the spotlight. Harry Styles, the first man on the cover British Vogue, garbed in women’s clothing to convey a gender-neutral attitude to life. Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist Malala Yousafzai or the then 106-year-old Filipino Kalinga tattoo artist Apo Whang-od were also featured on the magazine’s cover.

ALSO READ: How should cinema tackle the horror of the Holocaust?

‘Be human!’

Margot Friedländer, who survived Nazi atrocities and never tires of conveying her message to people, says in the July/August issue of German Vogue: “Don’t look at what divides you. Look at what unites you. Be human, be reasonable.”

She has spoken at schools and the German Bundestag. She is a regular guest at Holocaust memorial events. She has been awarded, among others, the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and an honorary doctorate from the Free University of Berlin.

But her favorite place to be is in schools, Friedländer said in the 2010 documentary “A Long Way Home,” co-produced by DW, because people there listen to her “incredibly.” “I’ve received — I don’t know — maybe a thousand letters. I always say: ‘It’s for you. We can’t change what happened.’ That has become my mission.”

Recalling how it all began

Thus, Vogue is sending out a clear signal together with Margot Friedländer. She is concerned with the shift to the right and growing antisemitism. She also discusses being worried by the fact that more and more young people are attracted to the right-wing slogans of the AfD, that antisemitic attacks are on the rise and that politicians are being assaulted in public spaces.

She was 12 when Hitler came to power. She remembers exactly how it started back then. That’s why she speaks; also on behalf of the victims who are no longer around to do so themselves.

Friedländer was born a German Jew in Berlin on November 5, 1921. Her family was murdered by the Nazis, while she herself was hidden by Germans in Berlin for a while, but fell into the clutches of the Gestapo in 1944 and was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

There, shortly after liberation, she married her husband Adolf Friedländer. She emigrated to the USA with him. He died in 1997. Years later, she decided to return to Berlin, despite doubts as to whether it was a good decision to return to the land of the perpetrators. With her memoir “Try to make your life,” written in 2008, she traveled the country to spread her message.

Making more than a fashion statement

However, Vogue would not be Vogue if it did not also address the sartorial aspect of Margot Friedländer’s life.

As a young woman, Friedländer dreamed of becoming a dressmaker and fashion designer. In 1936, she enrolled at a Berlin arts and crafts school and learned fashion and advertising drawing. She often sat in Berlin cafes on the fashionable Kurfürstendamm and watched the smartly dressed ladies, she told Vogue. She wanted to design clothes herself and had big plans, training as a dressmaker — but the Holocaust changed everything.

Yet, Friedländer was and remains a fashion-conscious woman whose walk-in closet in her apartment in a Berlin retirement home occupies a large and important place, as Vogue notes with great interest. In addition to “vintage” clothing that Friedländer still wears, there are also items of clothing and accessories by well-known designers.

The photo session for Vogue took place in the Botanical Garden of the Free University of Berlin. Friedländer had herself photographed in cheerful, colorful dresses with floral motifs, always smiling and friendly.

Her favorite accessory is a memento of her mother. It is a large amber necklace that she wears on many important occasions. The necklace is an eye-catcher and a statement — more than a fashion statement.

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