A designer of haute couture, Frieda Sondland used her creative skills to survive the Holocaust. Born in Berlin, Germany in 1921, she married Gunther Sondland when she was sixteen and a half years old. When she was seventeen, and pregnant with her first child, Frieda and her parents were forced to leave Germany for South America. Frieda supported herself and her daughter by working as a clothing designer in Montevideo, Uruguay. Eight years later, Gunther joined them. Frieda and Gunther moved to Seattle in 1953 to reunite with Gunther’s family who had emigrated there after the war. In Seattle, Frieda worked in the alterations department for both John Doyle Bishop, and Frederick and Nelson until she and Gunther opened their dry cleaning and alterations business in West Seattle. In 1957, their son, Gordon, was born. Since arriving in the United States, Frieda has become a beloved and active member of Seattle’s Jewish community.
“I think it was the happiest day of my life when we finally got together after eight years of separation forced by the war. I kept thinking how lucky we were that we still liked each other. But he still found me interesting and attractive and he was the only person that I really loved. I lived with his pictures for almost nine years, you know? And now we have been married sixty-three years.”
“We are both willing to work, make things go. We love each other and we are best of friends. He has a different perspective on things. We don’t argue, we don’t fight. Where the children are concerned I was very lucky to have another child. I have a Latin daughter and a Yankee son. So you know, I felt very lucky. And you don’t throw things away.”
“All through their hardship and exile, my parents had working ethics and their determination. I always saw them working and being happy. I never looked upon work as something horrible or undesirable. All my life I felt I was lucky to have a healthy body and a job. When I worked here in West Seattle, we had a shop and the people would come in in the morning, and ‘Oh, I’m so tired Mrs. Sondland, I would like to sleep a little bit more.’ I used to admonish them. I’d say, ‘Be happy you have a healthy body and a job to go to.’ I think work is something that helps you over bad times, over good times, when you do something well and you are recognized. You feel a certain pride.”
© 2004 Jewish Women’s Archive. Photographs by Joan Roth.