Lilac Girls – Martha Hall Kelly

I resisted reading this book because concentration camp sagas are sad and depressing; the inhumanity hard to digest. But the author quickly drew me into the story about three women from different countries whose paths eventually intersect. Caroline Ferriday, a liaison to the French consulate, is safe in America, but WWII becomes personal when her lover is trapped overseas. Her character is based on the true story of a New York socialite who championed a group of concentration camp survivors after the war known as the Rabbits. In Poland, Kasia Kuzmerick is drawn into the underground resistance; a decision which lands Kasia, her mother and her sister in Ravensbruck, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. The terrible conditions provide for difficult yet compelling reading. Unable to find work, young German doctor Herta Oberheuser answers an ad for a medical job only to find herself at Ravensbruck caring for prisoners. Through Herta, we see how her Nazi upbringing allows her to lose sight of humanity as she oversees heinous medical experiments. Although the subject is gruesome, the book provides at least some small voice for the horrors one group of Polish women endured at the hands of the Nazis.



The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

519HKX9M69LAnne Frank is a typical teenager living in Amsterdam in 1942, except she’s Jewish, and anti-Semitic laws make life increasingly hard. To avoid a concentration camp, the Franks go into hiding with another family and an acquaintance in a secret annex above Mr. Frank’s office stockpiled with food and supplies. Anne continues her diary while in hiding. She includes war details, but more often writes about loneliness and isolation. She details her crush on the teenage boy sharing the annex which ebbs given her father’s disapproval. She also describes feeling solidarity with Jews being persecuted, but resents it and wants to be seen as an individual. For two years, she details confinement and deprivation, but the diary ends abruptly in 1944 when the family is betrayed to the Nazis and arrested. Anne’s father, the family’s sole survivor, gets her diary back from Miep, a young woman who helped them, and publishes it to fulfill Anne’s wishes. It is both a condemnation of the horror of the Holocaust, and one of the few accounts from a young person’s perspective.   

Sophie’s Choice – William Styron

SophiesChoiceAt its core, this book is about the no-win ethical choice a woman must make during the World War II era. Three people share a boarding house in Brooklyn. Stingo, an aspiring author, is drawn into a difficult relationship between a Jew and his Catholic lover. Nathan is charming, but a schizophrenic who self-medicates and is violent. Sophie is Polish and a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp. As Stingo gets to know Sophie, she slowly tells him about her past — about how she was sent to Auschwitz with her two children. Stingo’s growing closeness to Sophie prompts Nathan, who is at times delusional, to accuse them of having an affair. He threatens to kill them. Stingo and Sophie flee and she finally reveals the horrific decision she was forced to make in Auschwitz about her kids. Stingo proposes marriage, but Sophie is deeply depressed, an alcoholic and desperate to self-destruct with Nathan. This is a beautifully written book, with fully realized characters, well deserving of the National Book Award it was awarded in 1980.