I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Monday, May 15, 2017

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

New York socialite Caroline Ferriday is overwhelmed at the French consulate with her volunteer work there and with the boxes of goods, she sends to the orphans in France when things become even more chaotic after Hitler marches on Poland and then France.  During this time she falls for a dashing French actor on broadway, Paul. whose wife is back in France with her own lovers running her fashion store, their marriage broke shortly after it began. The French consulate tries to get Paul's wife out of France, but by this time it is too late. Roosevelt's State Department has passed impossibly strict standards to get into this country or to leave it.  It doesn't help that Paul's wife is half Jewish.  So Paul manages to get permission to go over there, knowing that it will be a one-way ticket. Caroline hears from him at first then things go silent. Her boss gets her clearance to listen to and follow top secret information in order for her to find out what is going on with Paul and his wife.  The last word is that they are being sent to a work camp at Natzeiler-Struthof in the French mountains and that his wife died of Typhus en route to another.  Things are tense financially in Caroline and her mother's house so she begin's to sell off the family silver starting with the oyster forks in order to provide for the orphans.  They cut up old dresses and use up all of Caroline's old Broadway clothes to make clothes for the children.  But her mind is constantly on Paul.

Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager from Lublin, wants to do more for her country and to prove herself to the young man that she loves, Pietrik who runs a cell in the underground.  He lets her do a small job that she succeeds at and then insists on doing more. Against his better judgment, he lets her do a larger job.  But things go wrong and she is noticed by a brown shirt who follows her back to her job at the movie theater.  Waiting inside of the ticket booth is Pietrik, his sister, and Kasia's older doctor sister, Zuzanna.  When the brown shirt arrives to arrest her he takes all four of them and at that time Kasia's mother is there to drop off her lunch and insists on going too so he takes her Matka.  The four women are kept together and sent to the only all female concentration camp within Germany's borders: Ravensbruck.  Pietrick is sent elsewhere.   Matka who was a nurse at one point in time, gets noticed by Dr. Herta Oberheurser who has her transferred there from the bookbinding shop to the Revier, or hospital, and transferred out of the block she was in to block one where the special people live and get extra rations, which Matka just finds ways to give to other people in need.  Kasia is trying to find a way to live with the guilt of bringing them all there in the first place when she and her sister and Pietrik's sister's path crosses that of Dr. Oberheurser and not in a good way, but in a way that will change their lives forever.

Dr. Herta Oberherrser has a hard time getting a job or\ a degree as a doctor, much less a job as one.  She lands one that is part time at a dermatology clinic that becomes more and more part time as the war begins and fewer people go to the dermatology clinic.  Unlike her, her father is a firm supporter of the Jews and very ill.  When he can no longer work and she sees an advertisement for a doctor's position in a re-education camp she realizes she would be able to send the money home and finally work as a real doctor.  When she gets there she finds out the reality and doesn't want to do it, but her family is depending on her to support them and these people obviously did something wrong to be there.  With the help of her old doctor friend Fitz they kill a patient together by injection and as he told her once you've worked there a while, you get used to it.  And boy, does she.  She is able to carry out the most heinous acts all in the name of science and the love of her country.  She is the only female doctor there and she feels pressure to do better than the other doctors.  She even believes she is doing real scientific work.

While Caroline Ferriday and Dr. Herta Oberherser are real people, Kasia is based upon Nina Iwanska and her doctor sister Krystyna who went through similar experiences in the camp.  It is interesting to watch these three women as they evolve across the pages of the book.  These are strong women for any time period, but especially for that time period.  They bucked the social norm and did things their own way, even if that way was horrific.  They stood tall and never backed down.  And love them or hate them you had to respect their drive and daring, but not necessarily the person.

*If you want to know more about Ravensbruck I highly suggest reading the book Ravensbruck: Life and Death In Hitler's Concentration Camp by Sarah Helm. I posted a review of the book and here is a link to it: http://nicolewbrown.blogspot.com/2016/01/ravensbruck-life-and-death-in-hitlers.html

Nietzsche said a diet predominantly of potatoes leads to the use of liquor.
-Martha Hall Kelly (Lilac Girls p 307)

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Lilac-Girls-Martha-Hall-Kelly/dp/1101889586/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1494853731&sr=8-1&keywords=lilac+girls+by+martha+hall+kelly


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