I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Ravensbruck by Sarah Helm
Published by Little Brown on January 13th 2015
Genres: History, Holocaust, Jewish, Nonfiction
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Ravensbruck Concentration Camp is the worst atrocity ever committed solely against women, but today the name of the camp is barely known. From Ravensbruck's earliest days, when Himmler offered his own land for the camp, this book follows every stage of the story through to the camp's liberation by the Red Army. Based on meticulous research, If This Is A Woman lays bare the systematic brutalisation of mothers, pregnant women, children and babies. It details the extremes of cruelty enacted by SS guards and of suffering experienced by the prisoners, who were themselves reduced to inhuman acts.But at the heart of If This Is A Woman are stories of heroism and survival. The narrative centres on the experiences of women - from the farmer's wife to the aristocratic intellectual - who had the resilience, the mental and physcial strength to withstand their ordeal and to emerge from the camp alive.
I don’t think that it’s easy to write or talk about the Holocaust, to talk about concentration camps and the largest genocide of the twentieth century. It takes a special sensitivity to write about this subject. Sarah Helm brings sensitivity, strong research and solid writing to her latest book, Ravensbruck: Life And Death In Hitler’s Concentration Camp For Women. This book is nonfiction and worth the many hours of reading. It is dense, because it is so detailed and packed with information. I think if you are looking to gain a deeper understanding of the atrocities committed under Hitler’s regime, you need to read Ravensbruck.
If you have read Elizabeth Wein’s Rose Under Fire, you may be familiar with Ravensbruck as that is the concentration camp that the main character, Rose, is sent to. For me, that book was my first encounter learning about Ravensbruck. Helm’s book is a great crash course on the tragedy of Ravensbruck — both in what happened and how the events that took place there are not as well known as other concentration camps. Helm’s book clocks in at over 700 pages, however, it’s worth it for just how comprehensive it is.
The Holocaust is one of the worst tragedies of human history. It’s a subject that is rightfully studied in school. In my classes, we learned about the various groups of people that were killed by the Third Reich, however, the focus was mostly on the Jewish Holocaust. That’s fine. I think it’s worth focusing on. Yet, this means that not much time was spent learning about other groups that were targeted by the Nazis, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, prostitutes, Communists, and mentally and physically disabled. Helm chooses to focus most of Ravensbruck on these other non-Jewish groups of women. That’s not to detract from the Jewish Holocaust, in fact, there are chapters that focus on the plight of the Jews. Ravensbruck was not a death camp though, and the majority of prisoners were not Jewish, thus Helm’s focus makes sense.
I am typically a fast reader, I am able to get through a hundred pages on a good night. Ravensbruck: Life And Death In Hitler’s Concentration Camp For Women is a book that requires pause though. It’s a book that requires focus and thinking. So, it took me almost two weeks to get through because I could not just whip through the pages. Helm’s book is immensely readable, however, the atrocities described within — from the medical experiments on the Polish girls called Rabbits, to the executions, to the treatment of babies are not at all easy to get through. So much of what happened turned my stomach, and well it should. The subject matter is extremely difficult.
Overall, I am glad I read Sarah Helm’s Ravensbruck. I know more about this concentration camp for women than when I started. I won’t be forgetting Yevgenia Klemm, Grete Buber-Neumann, the Polish Rabbits and the many other courageous women who came through Ravensbruck. This is a book that will stay with me and one that still haunts me. It is absolutely worth reading.