Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book Review: Ravensbruck by Sarah Helm

Published by:Nan A. Talese
Publication date:3/31/2015


A groundbreaking, masterful, and absorbing account of the last hidden atrocity of World War II—Ravensbrück—the largest female-only concentration camp, where more than 100,000 women consisting of more than twenty nationalities were imprisoned.

Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and the architect of the Holocaust, oversaw the construction of a special concentration camp just fifty miles north of Berlin. He called it Ravensbrück, and during the years that followed thousands of people died there after enduring brutal forms of torture. All were women. There are a handful of studies and memoirs that reference Ravensbrück, but until now no one has written a full account of this atrocity, perhaps due to the mostly masculine narrative of war, or perhaps because it lacks the Jewish context of most mainstream Holocaust history. Ninety percent of Ravensbrück's prisoners were not Jewish. Rather, they were political prisoners, Resistance fighters, lesbians, prostitutes, even the sister of New York's Mayor LaGuardia. In a perverse twist, most of the guards were women themselves. Sarah Helm's groundbreaking work sheds much-needed light on an aspect of World War II that has remained in the shadows for decades. Using research into German and newly opened Russian archives, as well as interviews with survivors, Helm has produced a landmark achievement that weaves together various accounts, allowing us to follow characters on both sides of the prisoner/guard divide. Chilling, compelling, and deeply unsettling, Ravensbrück is essential reading for anyone concerned with Nazi history.

My Thoughts

Concentration Camps are not easy subjects to read about obviously due to not only the human depravity that surrounds them but also just the heaviness of the subject itself. What I mean by the heaviness of the subject is to write a truly good piece of non-fiction about concentration camps the author must delve into great detail not just about the prisoners experiences but also about the experiences of the guards, the German citizens living around the camps, and don't forget the liberators, that is a lot of information and as you can see by the number of pages (768) of this book that Sarah Helm did a fantastic job of showing us inside Ravensbruck. Not to mention when showing so many sides of a story it is really hard not to offend one of these parties of people over another I feel though that Helm's did an excellent job of this staying as objective as humanly possible when presenting the information to us the reader. I know there is a lot of material out there that broaches the subject of concentration camps but as far as I can tell this book is the only one that focuses on Ravensbruck, sure other camps are mentioned since a lot of them were interconnected and of course prisoners were shipped back and forth between different camps, but Helm's is vigilante about sticking to the main setting of Ravensbruck. I personally had heard of Ravensbruck through other books on concentration camps however there was not very much information about it all I knew was that it was in Germany, that there was a Siemens factory there, and that it was for women only, but that was the extent of it, not a lot to go on so picking up this book was like discovering a whole new concentration camp which was eye openingly horrifying. I particularly had a hard time reading about deaths of children especially babies, there was many times I had to put it down and couldn't pick it back up for many days after. I can't even say I enjoyed this book because what is really to enjoy about this type of content but it feeds a need that I have to know how things like this occur. How countries full of people could be so complacent that others were suffering in such a way and nothing was being done, I was especially horrified to hear how General Eisenhower didn't want to piss off the Russians by going into Ravensbruck and liberating it since the Russians were given the go ahead to be the first into the area. Basically the whole book shows us not only the evil in people but also the hope that these women had in each other. If you want to read a great work of non-fiction you have to look no further than Ravensbruck.

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