(Review) Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Genre: Historical fiction, World War II, Holocaust, Ravensbruck.
Included are eight black and white photographs and three maps.
An "Author's Note" provides historical information on the characters. It also shares Kelly's research for the novel.
Lilac Girls is based on the lives of several historical people during World War II. It is also the story of the Rabbits, who lived to tell their story at Ravensbruck concentration camp.
The year is 1939, and Caroline Ferriday is a French consulate living in New York City. She helps the new arrivals, fresh off the boat, who are wealthy displaced citizens leaving France before Nazi Germany invades.
Kasia Kuzmerick is a teenager who lives in Lublin, Poland. Kasia' father is the director of the postal center. Her mother is an artist. Her sister, Zuzanna is a doctor working in a hospital. Kasia and her two friends are hiding in a field when German planes are first seen. They witness firsthand the brutality of Nazi Germany.
Herta Oberheuser is a new doctor living in Germany. She accepted a medical job working at a new women's camp.
I read this story in two days! That's 512 pages in two days. I was swept up in the story of these women.
Lilac Girls is an epic story telling so many stories of women in one volume.
The main characters are Caroline, Kasia, and Herta.
Caroline is a socialite. She attends parties and gala events with celebrities and political figures. During the war she multi-tasks at several duties, all for the war cause.
Kasia is a young girl filled with dreams and hope. She is crushed by what she witnessed, and she became swept up in a cause that held consequences.
Herta is a dark person. She is without feeling, and cold as an iceberg. She believes in the Nazi ideology, even going so far as to believe in Hitler's godlike religion.
Kelly gave strong representations of each character.
I didn't like reading Herta's story. I wanted to scratch her face. I wanted to rip out her hair. I wondered if she would ever understand what she had done?
Herta filled with so many emotions during the story pulled at my heart.
Caroline is hell on wheels. She had tireless energy. I envied her exuberance and vibrancy.
The secondary characters are the family members and friends of the women. They are also the women who were either the prisoners at Ravensbruck, or they worked as guards and medical personnel.
Lilac Girls covers the entirety of World War II. World War II began with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany on September 1, 1939. The war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945.
The progress of the war is presented in the story. Whether the war is on the Western front or the Eastern front, the war's progress is told.
After the war, the trials at Nuremberg is retold.
Further exposition of history and culture is examined. For example, how the characters felt when Germany seemed to be winning, and later when they knew Germany would soon be defeated. In addition, culture standards of women in the work force and what kind of jobs they could hold is examined. And women and their resourcefulness and loyalty no matter the cost.
The power of the story is propelled by the three women. Often in fictional stories, a romantic element tips the story away from strong female characters. The strength of Lilac Girls rests with the female leads alone. No man, even if the women had male partners, did not hold a candle to the women.
Lilac Girls examines the macabre medical studies done by the German doctors at Ravensbruck. Their experiments had lasting effects on the prisoners who survived Ravensbruck. This part of the story is not something I'd read much about. The lasting effects of the medical procedures, the war itself, and being a prisoner at Ravensbruck caused PTSD. At this time, counseling was not available for survivors. The condition was rarely discussed. People effected by the war wanted to "move-on" after the war ended. But, moving on was impossible. Through the later part of the story, Kelly depicted through characters their difficulties with PTSD.
Further links of interest:
Ravensbruck, from the Holocaust Museum.
Personal histories at Ravensbruck, from the Holocaust Museum.
History and Overview of Ravensbruck, from the Jewish Virtual Library.
Ravensbruck, from Jewish Gen.
Meet Dorothea Binz, Brutal Ravensbruck Guard Who Kissed Her Boyfriend as Prisoners Were Whipped. This link is from Martha Hall Kelly.
YouTube of Ravensbruck Trial Ends.
YouTube of The Rabbits of Ravensbruck. The video is subtitled.
Also from YouTube. I've included the 1st video only.