Sunday, 17 June 2018

Lilac Girls

Finished June 1
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

This book is based on real women in history. It is told around three women, with each of them taking turns in telling her story. One of them is the real-life New York socialite Caroline Ferriday. Caroline had worked as an actress, but by 1939 was acting as a liaison to the French consulate in New York City. Herta Oberheuser was also a real person, a young female German doctor who worked at Ravensbrück concentration camp. The third woman, Kasia Kuzmerick, along with her sister Zusanna, are based on real life women Nina Iwanska and her sister Krystyna, who were both operated on at the camp. The author did a lot of research, looking at letters, diaries, testimonies, and visiting the sites of the story. She includes an author's note that details her work, and where fiction varied from fact.
In the story, Caroline efforts are towards French people in the United States, and orphans homes in France. She tries to locate relatives of people who come into the consulate, and sends clothes, supplies, and money to the orphanages. She has a relationship with a well-known French actor, whose Jewish wife is still back in France, and after the war, when she finds out about a group of Polish women victimized by their Nazi jailors she takes on their case.
Kasia is a teenager in Lublin, Poland. Her older sister Zusanna is trained as a doctor, and their father is head of the postal office. Their mother is of German heritage, but that doesn't matter when Kasia and the other women of the family get caught up in a German sweep of the town and taken to Ravensbrück concentration camp for womn near Furstenberg. A number of the Polish women in her group were subjected to experipents related to sulfa, with doctors injecting their legs with bacteria and foreign agents. The became known as Rabbits, as they often hopped about on their good leg after the operations, and were experimental subjects, like rabbits had often been.
Herta came to Ravensbrück around the same time as the Polish women, and was the only female doctor at the camp. She was put on trial and imprisoned after the war, but was released early and went on to practice medicine afterwards.
As this novel tells the story from these three points of view, we see the motivations, and the blind spots for each of them. I love history and found this a fascinating story of an atrocity of war that I knew little about before.

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