Ginette, Cathérine, Caro—different names for a woman known by many only as the younger sister of the fashion designer Christian Dior. But it was Cathérine who was active in the French resistance and was deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in mid August 1944. In the Torgau labor camp, a sub-camp of Buchenwald, she was forced to clean unexploded bombs in an acid bath.
A few weeks later, the Nazis transported her to Abteroda, where she had to work in an aircraft engine factory for BMW. On February 24, 1945, she was sent from there to another sub-camp in Markkleeberg, this time to a Junkers aircraft engine plant. After the war, she inspired her brother to create the world-famous perfume named Miss Dior.
Cathérine was unhappy in her new surroundings, so in 1936 she followed her brother Christian, who was 12 years older than her, to Paris, where he took his first steps in the fashion industry.
After Great Britain and France declared war on September 3, 1939, Cathérine returned to her father in Callian. Christian also sought safety there, and the siblings grew their own vegetables to keep their heads above water.
On July 6, 1944, Cathérine was arrested in Paris. She was tortured in Fresnes Prison in an attempt to make her betray other resistance fighters. Cathérine was then sent from Fresnes to Romainville, from where she was deported on August 15, 1944, on the last transport to leave Nazi-occupied Paris. The transport arrived at the Ravensbrück concentration camp on August 22, 1944. Cathérine was registered there with the prisoner number 57813 and had to wear the red triangle that identified her as a political prisoner. The reason for Cathérine’s arrest and deportation to Ravensbrück was noted on her prisoner registration card: “Activity harmful to the Reich.”
Cathérine was placed in what was known as “new arrival quarantine,” which lasted until September 4, 1944. On September 21, 1944, her name appeared on a list of 500 female prisoners who were to be transferred to the Torgau labor camp, a sub-camp of Buchenwald. Nearly all of the women on the list were French.
A list of amended prisoner numbers, which is now stored in the Arolsen Archives, shows that Cathérine was still in the camp on December 19, 1944. The camp leadership was dissatisfied with the Frenchwomen’s work and suspected sabotage. As a result, the women were sent on two transports to another sub-camp of Buchenwald known as Markkleeberg. The first transport left Abteroda on February 12, 1945, the second on February 24, 1945.
Cathérine was placed on the second transport to Markkleeberg. The prisoners in this forced labor camp had to work for the Junkers aircraft engine company. The women carried out heavy construction work there. A prisoner registration card from Buchenwald, which is now held in the archive, confirms that Cathérine was registered there on February 26, 1945.
On April 21, 1945, Cathérine managed to escape from a death march. She was liberated by the Soviet Army in Dresden. From there she returned to Paris, where she was reunited with her brother.
I sometimes wonder how I managed to carry on at all during those years—for my sister, she with whom I had shared the cares and joys of the garden at Callian, had been arrested and then deported in June 1944. I exhausted myself in vain in trying to trace her. Work—exigent, all-absorbing work—was the only drug which enabled me to forget her.Christian Dior,
Life after the war
In 1952, Cathérine testified as a witness against 12 Frenchmen and two Germans in the Rue de la Pompe Gestapo trial in Paris. Eight of the French defendants who had been involved in her arrest and torture were sentenced to death, while the others were sentenced to lengthy or lifelong hard labor.
Justine Picardie, author of the book Miss Dior: A Story of Courage and Couture, learned from people who knew Cathérine that she herself very rarely talked about her experiences during the Second World War. After 12 years in Paris, Cathérine moved back to Callian, where she lived with Hervé and cultivated roses that she sold to perfume manufacturers in Grasse.
Cathérine Dior received multiple awards for her work with the resistance, including the Croix de Guerre, the Croix du Combattant Volontaire de las Résistance, the Polish Cross of Valor, and the British King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom.