Ravensbruck by Sarah Helm

Ravensbruck by Sarah HelmRavensbruck by Sarah Helm
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on March 31st 2015
Source: Library
Pages: 768
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.


  • I have been waiting for this review – and it is so good! I love that last line.
    This sounds like a good book to buy, so I can take all the time I need with it.

  • Like Naomi, I’ve been waiting for this post! I’m so glad that you felt like it was all worth it. We have to keep reading about the things that happened so that they don’t happen again. Not sure how successful we are, really. I definitely think I need to buy this one – I won’t want to give it back to the library when I’m done.

    • I think we’re pretty good at keeping the big picture in the forefront, but when it comes to details (like the specifics of this camp), we really do need to make sure books like this don’t go unnoticed.

  • I remember wanting this book when it came out, as it got excellent reviews in the UK broadsheets, but I forgot to make a note of it, so thanks for reminding me. I’ll put it on my Wish List now. As Naomi says, if you got it from the library you’d have to review it several times, probably.

    • I almost let it slip away, too, but I’m so glad it came back around to me. I definitely had to renew it several times!

  • Congrats on getting through that! Not an easy 700+ pages, I imagine. I had barely heard of Ravensbruck until I saw you mention you were reading this in a Monday post, but right around the same time, it popped up in my reading (The Nightingale). Now I want to learn more!

    • Ohhh, I hadn’t heard that about The Nightingale!

    • I’m the same – had heard the name, but knew nothing. Shocking, really, as though as it was a women’s camp it didn’t matter so much??

  • I’m glad to hear that the time you invested in this book has been worth it. It’s still sitting unopened on my bookshelf, but I am determined to start reading it in January. 2016 will be the year of nonfiction doorstoppers, I think, since I have Applebaum’s Iron Curtain and Rappaport’s The Romanov Sisters waiting for me as well.

    • I embraced the nonfiction doorstoppers a bit more than usual this year and they definitely paid off! Good luck :)

  • This one sounds interesting. The 700+ pages is scaring me off, though. I’ll put it on my list,b ut I’m not sure I’ll ever pick it up.

  • You finished it! And I will never ever read it because don’t be mad at me but I do not like reading nonfiction about World War II unless it is just about the Blitz and Londoners being super stalwart. And also if I ever want to face up to a 700+ page book, I’m going to probably read Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton.

  • I think this is a book I will enjoy. I will have to add it to my TBR list.

  • It’s strange that this concentration camp isn’t very well known, like the others. I’m sure it should be. Glad this author put so much into this work. Sounds harrowing

  • It sounds like this is an interesting new perspective on the holocaust and WWII, even if you’ve read a lot about that time period already. I’m a bit nervous about how dark and gritty this would be, but I think it’s probably worth picking up anyway.

  • Pingback: Favorite Nonfiction of 2015 - River City Reading()

  • I definitely want to read this one now. Do you think it is audiobook-worthy or needs to be read in print?

    • There aren’t any maps or anything specific you would would need to see in print (though there are a few photos), so the only thing that might push me away from audio is the length. If you don’t mind a long audiobook, it would probably be a good choice!