No matter, how many movies we see, how many books we read on Holocaust it is never enough. I have read articles, saw documentaries on World War 2, which was already depressing. Then one day while looking for books on Goodreads, I came across Lilac Girls, and the moment I read its summary I knew it might the one book which will be like an eye-opener on Holocaust. The real-life story surrounded around two main characters and the other main character inspired from a survivor of Holocaust is a must-read.
The story revolves around three main characters – *Caroline Ferriday*, *Herta Oberhauser*, and *Kasia Kuzmerick*. During & after World War 2, how the lives of these crosses path and changes direction for all is the crux of the story. Caroline coming from a wealthy background is a former Broadway actress who chose to volunteer at the French Consulate in NYC. Herta Oberhauser is a surgery student before the war and aspires to become a surgeon in the male-dominated Nazi world during the war. Lastly, there’s Kasia, a polish patriotic teenager whose life changes when Germany invaded Poland and she decides to work underground for a dream of free country. Working for the underground, Kasia unfortunately gets caught and along with her mother & sister lands in the horrific Ravensbruck – the largest concentration camp for women located 50 miles of Berlin.
*Ravensbruck* formally called as ”reeducation” camp but in reality was a hideous place where women, prisoners were ill-treated to the level that most of these women give up and die of inhumane living conditions. Initially assumed to be built for 7000 prisoners, Ravensbruck later accommodated more than 50000 people. The living conditions deteriorated as war progressed, limited food supplies, unhygienic conditions causing outspread of diseases and limited warm clothes available to bear with cold were some of many nauseating things there.
One of the major highlights of the camp was around ‘rabbits‘ which were the people who got operated illegally in the camp, some were injected with sulphuric substances in the well-known gas chambers and some got bone transplantation. *Kasia* the main protagonist was one of the ‘rabbits‘ in the camp, only few of the survivors of these deadly experiments. How Kasia & her sister got operated, their survival, ever-growing affection was one of the many best parts of the book. How Kasia remains positive and wanted to spread the word about these to the outer world was put in an intriguing manner. Although Kasia was a inspired character, but Martha brought life to Kasia and my feeling grew more & more as every chapter progressed.
*Herta* was the one who performed these experiments on Polish prisoners with the ambition of only female doctor in the camp and moving up the career ladder. Herta did resist initially how the male doctors in the camp gave injections to the prisoners for them to die on the pretext of an easy death. Despite here initial defiance, she went ahead with her career in Ravensbruck and ultimately became one of the lead doctors who performed these treatments. There were moments when I got little sympathetic with Herta when she was puzzled with her decision to continue her job. How she wanted to quit it and go home but couldn’t because of her father’s death and family’s financial needs was congenial. Don’t take me wrong, I’m not on Herta’s side, but I think Martha put Herta’s perception well enough that we might feel sympathetic with her a little bit.
*Caroline* was truly the hero in every sense, her non-paying job at the French consulate and still continuing the zeal to help French orphans in the long period of 6 years. Post war also, she continued her support to the ‘rabbits‘, their treatment in US, and also fighting for justice. How she continued to play a mother figure to Kasia & her sister and the rest of the ‘rabbits‘. It is actually saddening to refer these people as ‘rabbits’ as if they don’t exists but the truth is far more gruesome.
How the stories takes turn in the events of War and these characters collide with each other slowly is written in a phenomenal manner. Martha has done an extensive research and put the story in an overwhelming manner that it is difficult to put the book down. Yes, it is depressing story but a must-read not only for historical-fiction lovers but for all.
Lilac Girls was a *5-star* read for me.
– The Wanderer