(Review) Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm

Publication Date: March 31, 2015. First published in January 2014 under another title: If This is a Woman.
Publisher: Nan A. Talese.
Genre: Nonfiction, Holocaust, Germany, Nazi, World War II.
Pages: 768.
Source: Free copy from Netgalley and Nan A. Talese in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 Stars for excellent.

Ravensbruck was a concentration camp in northern Germany. It was located in a forest near a lake. The location seemed ideal, tranquil, and private. Ravensbruck was built in 1939 in order to house women imprisoned by Nazi Germany. The reasons for imprisonment were: political, social outcasts, Gypsies, Jews, mentally sick, handicapped, or any women who were considered an enemy of Nazi Germany.
The number of women murdered at Ravensbruck is a guess. Upwards of 90,000 women died at Ravensbruck. The files were burned in the last days of the war and a solid count is obscure.
Sarah Helm has written a chronological history of Ravensbruck, from the beginning plans of the camp, to the last days of its torturous rule.
Helm interviewed women who had been imprisoned there, or had worked as a guard. Many of these women had not shared what had happened with their families.

My Thoughts:
This is a lengthy book to read. It is exhausting. Not because of the amount of pages, but because of its content. I was only able to read a few pages and then pause.
The first time I'd heard of Ravensbruck was while reading The Hiding Place. Corrie Ten Boom and her sister were prisoners there.
I believe Ravensbruck is a necessary book to read on the history of the Holocaust. I've not read another book on this concentration camp. Nor have I read another Holocaust book that is as in-depth in detail.
When writing a review on Holocaust topic books, I am not comfortable using words like wonderful story, or excellent portrayal; those descriptions seem too cheerful and insignificant. I stumble with adequate words to express how I feel and am left feeling depleted and dumbstruck.
It is important to share the stories contained in Ravensbruck. Their stories affect the humane world and may prevent another event like the Holocaust.

There are several points that led me to give Ravensbruck 5 stars for excellent.
  • Chronological detailed history of the concentration camp.
  • Biographies of historical people that were apart of the creation and running of the camp. For example: Heinrich Himmler. 
  • Interviews from women who were prisoners and women who were guards. 
  • Detailed information pertaining to: medical experiments, history of the poisonous gas, torture practices, and the increase of children born at Ravensbruck. 
  • Lastly, Ravensbruck showed the breakdown of what human attributes were left of the prisoners. Many of the women became ghosts of their former selves. I cannot imagine the strength it took to move forward with life afterwards.  
On a final note, there is an interesting follow-up on the Siemens Company in Germany on their historical role at Ravensbruck. 


  1. Thanks for the review. It looks like something I'd be interested in reading.


Post a Comment