Knitting to remember and teach

by | Mar 9, 2022 | Other News

Knitting and the Holocaust. Two things that most people would not automatically connect. Tanya Singer, founder of the research project, Knitting Hope, seeks to explore this connection through knitted textiles created during the Holocaust.

Whether a ragged baby blanket or an oversized sweater, all of us keep and save objects that evoke strong memories.

“Handmade objects, or even the memory of one, can spark a powerful emotional response even decades later,” says Singer. “Knitting Hope ensures that knitting’s role in Jewish material culture is recognized for the significant impact it has had on maker and wearer alike.”

Holocaust education and knitting knowledge are an important part of this mix. When I first saw an online article by Singer, I could not believe that someone had actually married (or should I say knit) these passions of mine together. I have been active with the the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater for nearly three decades and an avid knitter for most of my life.

In March 2021, when the COVID pandemic seemed especially endless, Singer launched Knitting Hope’s first outreach with a knit along (Knitters all making the same thing at the time) of a pattern adaptation for a small red dress made for Judy Fleischer Kolb by her grandmother in the Shanghai Ghetto.

For six weeks via zoom, Singer alternately hosted sessions on how to navigate some of the more technical knitting involved with the red dress with educational sessions related to Holocaust education. Hundreds of people knit the red dress and dozens tuned in each week for the sessions, creating an amazing community spread all over the world.

At the knit along’s conclusion, more than 50 red dresses were donated to the Illinois Holocaust Museum, where the little red dress is exhibited. The dresses will be used in the learning trunks sent out by the museum as part of their educational outreach programing.

Knitting Hope also helped connect people on many levels. For example, one of last spring’s speakers, Rena Berlin, the former education director of the Virginia Holocaust Museum who lives in Richmond, spoke about her efforts to pass legislation mandating Holocaust education in Virginia. Unfortunately, she felt the law had had little teeth and hadn’t made a significant impact. I later connected with her and shared that the Holocaust Commission with the help of JCRC’s across the state had actually gotten an amendment passed in February of 2020 with a plan for a meaningful curriculum to be implemented by the fall of 2023.

Knitting Hope’s current undertaking, the Dayenu knit along, started March 7, but it is not too late to join. As Passover approaches, Singer will be hosting a series of zoom webinars and discussion sessions tied to a pattern inspired by Holocaust Survivor, Helena Weinruch.

Weinruch, who is 97, has worn her elegant, bright blue metallic sweater with angora sleeves for decades each year at Passover. As the Knitting Hope website explains, “After WWII, Helena met Ann Rothman, a knitter who survived in the Lodz Ghetto by knitting for Nazi wives. Once free, Ann knit Helena a sweater that would have been the height of elegance in the 1940’s, something only a free person could wear. Ann asked Helena to ‘wear it to remember them.’”

This varied and rich knitting community created by Tanya Singer is one of the silver linings of COVID. As a test knitter for the pattern, I can say it is a great project for beginners, and if it is not a style that you see yourself wearing, consider making one for someone who might enjoy it. The plan is for those who have knit Deyenu sweaters to wear them on Passover as a gesture of remembrance during this festival of freedom.

The line up of speakers promises to be well worth the time, even if viewers are not knitting a blue sweater. Speakers include Jodi-Eicher Levine, author of Painted Pomegranates and Needlepoint Rabbis: How Jews Craft Resilience and Create Community, and Stephanie Butnick, Tablet deputy editor and co-host of the Unorthodox podcast. (She will also be in Virginia Beach April 7. See page 26.)

Singer says she plans to “keep sharing stories of the ways women turned to knitting or knitted objects to resist, remember and rebuild their lives after the Shoah.” She also continues to search for garments such as the dress and sweater.

Knitters in Hampton Roads who are participating or plan with the blue sweater as part of the Deyenu Knit Along, please contact me at I would like to make the connection.

For more information on the Deyenu Knit Along, visit

-Wendy Auerbach