On a sunny morning in May 1939 a phalanx of 800 women - housewives, doctors, opera singers, politicians, prostitutes - were marched through the woods fifty miles north of Berlin, driven on past a shining lake, then herded through giant gates. Whipping and kicking them were scores of German women guards. Their destination was Ravensbrück, a concentration camp designed specifically for women by Heinrich Himmler, prime architect of the Nazi genocide. For decades the story of Ravensbrück was hidden behind the Iron Curtain and today is still little known. Using testimony unearthed since the end of the Cold War, and interviews with survivors who have never spoken before, Helm has ventured into the heart of the camp, demonstrating for the reader in riveting detail how easily and quickly the unthinkable horror evolved.
It was at times hard to grasp just how inhumane humans can be towards helpless, defenseless victims. The suffering was endless not only from their German captors but for many atrocities from the Russian liberators, and in some cases Communists reprisals in their native lands. Adding to this burden were those who escaped justice and punishment as well as the silence and cover up. It is hard to imagine a worse ordeal of the countless who lost their lives and those who lived and live with the memory. This is the type of book that should be required reading at the high school level to leave a lasting impression.
As a women's camp it received a lot less attention, publicity, recognition after the war which means all these women risk being forgotten and unacknowledged. It was a multi-cultural camp, with women
And yet the book describes the communities within the camp, the friendships and the mutual support given to each other. Writing sympathetically about the women's stories without minimising the horrors they lived through is challenging.
If the subject matter was different, I could have said this was a pleasure to read. It wasn't but it was certainly riveting.