Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm

Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for WomenRavensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book took me a really long time to read. I had to put it down for a few months. It is incredibly well researched and the author pulls no punches. The book is historical but told in categories and chronology. Ravensbruck was a concentration camp in eastern Germany built to "re-educate" women. In the beginning, the prisoners were mostly political and asocials. A large majority were Polish.

Of particular interest, Himmler allowed medical experiments to be performed on 76 young, healthy women, beginning with introduction of foreign objects in their legs to copy shrapnel. Additionally, bacteria, tetanus, typhus, staff were also administered to the women. Eventually, the doctors did experiments that removed bones, muscles, ligaments, to see if they would grow back, maiming the women permanently. Those who lived, lived under the protection of other prisoners. At all costs, the "rabbits" were to survive and show the world what had been done to them. Their physical maiming was an archetype of the abuse the women suffered every day.

So then I put it down for a few months.

In the interim, I picked up a historical fiction called Lilac Girls and recognized names from Ravensbruck. I used Ravensbruck as a reference and found myself reading it again. Ravensbruck is also the camp where Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy, were held.

The difference between this and other books about Ravensbruck is that this book is not one single experience but a broad overview of the camp as told by hundreds of sources. The author writes about the historical holes that previously existed about Ravensbruck because it was liberated by the Russians (by liberated, I mean that the Russians arrived and raped and pillaged the camp and town) then fell under communist rule. The Polish rabbits that returned to Poland, returned to a country run by Stalin and the Stasi. The Russian prisoners were advised to never speak of it. Many first hand accounts were destroyed or died in the Gulags.

It is the best and most comprehensive book I have read about Ravensbruck. For an uplifting perspective on forgiveness, read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. For a well researched book including hundreds of perspectives, read this one.

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