Rating: 5 stars
The Lilac Girls follows the lives of three women during World War Two and the post war years. It is a very well researched and moving story of how the war impacted the lives of these women in such diverse ways.
Caroline Ferriday is a single, 37 year old socialite in 1939 with homes in both New York City and Connecticut. She volunteers full time as head of family assistance for the French Consulate and sends care packages to orphaned French children.
Kasia Kuzmerick is a 17 year old living in Lublin, Poland with her sister Zuzanna and her parents. She spends time with her best friends Nadia Watroba and Pietrik Bakoski, navigating friendships, crushes, and young adulthood.
Herta Oberheuser is a 25 year old German medical student and a member of the League of German Girls, the female wing of the Nazi Party Youth Movement.
The chapters alternate, focusing on each of these women. It is a very graphic and disturbing story of life in the concentration camps, specifically Ravensbruck, the only camp specifically for women, or as the Germans called it, a “re-education” camp for women. Any story of the holocaust is a rough read and Martha Hall Kelly’s detail of life at the camp is unnerving and not for the squeamish.
The book is divided into 3 parts. Part one starts off in 1939 introducing us to each woman and their lives right before they are forever changed by the war.
Part 2 takes place during 1945-1947 and we see how they navigate the aftermath of war. Part 3 jumps to 1957 and to what I found to be a very satisfying conclusion.
I went into this story with no prior knowledge of what this book was about except that it was a WWII saga. I was so impressed with how real the description of camp life was and am always amazed when an author can capture the details of a time that the never experienced. I read the Author’s Note afterwards and was surprised to find out that this was a true story and meticulously researched. Caroline Ferriday and Herta Oberhauser are real people and Kasia and her sister Zuzanna are loosely based on Nina Iwanska and her sister Krystyna. The author said, “My goal with all this research was to write a fictionalized account of the events that took place at Ravensbruck, to take readers to the places that the people involved in the story of the Rabbits passed through, and perhaps give some insight into what they might have been feeling in order to breathe new life that had fallen from public view.” Matha Hall Kelly succeeded brilliantly.