"New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France. An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences. For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power. The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten."

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly review: the Ravensbrück horror

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is a historical fiction novel set across New York in the US, Paris in France, Lublin in Poland, and Germany in the World War II era. It is the first book under the Woolsey-Ferriday trilogy. It presents the story of three women affected by the war in one way or the other. The book was published by Ballantine Books in English on April 5, 2016.

The first of the three girls referred to in the title is the New York-based actress and socialite, Ms Caroline Ferriday. She helped the displaced French people and the Ravensbrück ‘rabbits’ post the war. The book is loosely based on her life, so it may be considered part non-fiction. The second is Kasia Kuzmerick, the Pole sent to the women’s concentration camp in Germany, where she became part of the ‘rabbits’ after the Germans performed medical experiments on a group of prisoners. The third and the last reference is to the German lady doctor Herta Oberheuser who was part of the team of doctors who performed the aforementioned surgeries. Both Ferriday and Oberheuser are actual historical figures. The ‘rabbits’ existed too, and the fictional character of Kasia is based on Nina Iwanska, one of the survivors of the camp and the war.

I have a penchant for books belonging to the Hitler era. So, maybe with a bit of bias, I am stating that I liked the book. The fact that the premise and the characters are not entirely made up appealed to the true-crime aficionado in me. After all, what can be a bigger crime than a world war and systemic annihilation of a race?

The story of the ‘rabbits’ is very upsetting and heartbreaking. There is a lot of literature out there which covers the atrocities the Nazis carried on the Jews. While that is undoubtedly abhorrent, the ‘rabbits’ and their pain seems to have been forgotten by history. This book is a beautiful attempt to provide a voice to them and countless other women imprisoned and tortured at Ravensbrück. It also serves as a reminder that no evil is everlasting.

A perfect read.

Purchase your copy of Lilac Girls. Also, refer to its Goodreads listing.

Cover image courtesy of Ballantine Books.

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