Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on March 31st 2015
Buy from IndieBound
Just north of Berlin, and hidden behind the Iron Curtain after World War II, Ravensbruck was a concentration camp unlike any other. Ninety percent of the camp’s prisoners were not Jewish; they were members of the Resistance, political prisoners, “asocials”, lesbians, and prostitutes. And they were all women.
It’s not easy to pick up a 700+ page book on any topic, but reading a doorstop focused on the Holocaust turns that challenge up a notch. You can see clear evidence in many of the Goodreads reviews of Ravensbruck, which repeatedly mention how long it took to finish. Still, after pouring through heartbreaking details, many readers note how worthwhile they found the weeks or months they spent reading, and I couldn’t agree more.
“But just as Auschwitz was the capital of the crime against Jews, so Ravensbruck was the capital of the crime against women. Deep in our collective memory, throughout literature of every period and every country, atrocities against women have always horrified. By treating the crime that happened here as marginal, history commits a further crime against the Ravensbruck women, and against the female sex.”
I’ve been fascinated by Holocaust history since I read Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars in elementary school, so I’ve read a seemingly endless number of memoirs, novels and nonfiction titles with information that tends to overlap. Though the broad scope of Ravensbruck is familiar, as Sarah Helm narrows in on the camp, its female prisoners, and the atrocities that took place within its gates, the details are incredible. And incredibly heartbreaking. Though much of it is difficult to bear, the thought of not knowing—of allowing these stories to stay hidden—feels far worse.