This is a historical novel set in the time leading up to, during and following World War 2. It is set around the lives of three women, two of whom were real-life characters and the third is based on memories and tales told by survivors of Ravensbruck, the all-female concentration camp in Northern Germany.
We are introduced to Caroline Ferriday a New York socialite and sometime actor. She is horrified at the plight of the millions of displaced persons following the war, the orphaned children particularly those in France , and the horrors suffered by prisoners in the concentration camps. She makes it her life’s work to help the female prisoners once she learns of their suffering.
Dr Herta Oberhauser is initially introduced as a caring doctor but eventually succumbs to life as the only female doctor in the concentration camp and quickly enters into a regime of torturous medical experimentation on the women. Apparently, the experiments were deemed necessary to find better ways of treating and curing, some of the disease and distress encountered by the German soldiers.
Kasia Kuzmerick …a Polish political prisoner, the one fictional female character, is taken to Ravensbruck with her sister and mother. Her mother, a nurse, who assisted Dr Oberhausr (although not in the experimentation) suddenly disappears and her daughters do not know where she is.
This is an emotional, truly, heart-breaking story. The two sisters are among those women who undergo the experiments and become known as the Rabbits* because they have to hop around the camp following the experimentation on their legs.
We have heard before of the friendships that develop through trying, difficult and absolutely unimaginable times, and once again see how these times and experiences brought the women prisoners closer and then in turn brought them closer to Caroline.
The pain and hardships suffered by the Polish prisoners are hard to read and I was amazed at the way they fought together in the face of adversity, Note here, none of these words adequately portray just what they endured.
I listened to this story and was unable to turn it off. I objected that at times that was necessary, sleep, eat etc, but necessary also to take a step back from the atrocities performed against these prisoners.
I enjoyed hearing Ms Hall’s comments at the end of the book; what compelled her to write the story; her intense and extensive research of the subject and I commend her on writing this book and her efforts in bringing to light the harsh realities of the time and the incomprehensible suffering that took place.
I strongly recommend this book to all and look forward to reading Ms Hall’s next book – Lost Roses – but this first novel is a hard act to follow.
* The incredible story of the Lapins, the Rabbits is a fact and 35 of them – nearly half – went to the USA in 1958 as part of a philanthropic program to help with their post-war well-being, both physical and mental.