Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women

eBook - 2014
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Random House, Inc.
A masterly and moving account of the most horrific hidden atrocity of World War II: Ravensbrück, the only Nazi concentration camp built for women
On a sunny morning in May 1939 a phalanx of 867 women—housewives, doctors, opera singers, politicians, prostitutes—was marched through the woods fifty miles north of Berlin, driven on past a shining lake, then herded in through giant gates. Whipping and kicking them were scores of German women guards.
     Their destination was Ravensbrück, a concentration camp designed specifically for women by Heinrich Himmler, prime architect of the Holocaust. By the end of the war 130,000 women from more than twenty different European countries had been imprisoned there; among the prominent names were Geneviève de Gaulle, General de Gaulle’s niece, and Gemma La Guardia Gluck, sister of the wartime mayor of New York. 
     Only a small number of these women were Jewish; Ravensbrück was largely a place for the Nazis to eliminate other inferior beings—social outcasts, Gypsies, political enemies, foreign resisters, the sick, the disabled, and the “mad.” Over six years the prisoners endured beatings, torture, slave labor, starvation, and random execution. In the final months of the war, Ravensbrück became an extermination camp. Estimates of the final death toll by April 1945 have ranged from 30,000 to 90,000.
     For decades the story of Ravensbrück was hidden behind the Iron Curtain, and today it is still little known. Using testimony unearthed since the end of the Cold War and interviews with survivors who have never talked before, Sarah Helm has ventured into the heart of the camp, demonstrating for the reader in riveting detail how easily and quickly the unthinkable horror evolved. 
     Far more than a catalog of atrocities, however, Ravensbrück is also a compelling account of what one survivor called “the heroism, superhuman tenacity, and exceptional willpower to survive.” For every prisoner whose strength failed, another found the will to resist through acts of self-sacrifice and friendship, as well as sabotage, protest, and escape. 
     While the core of this book is told from inside the camp, the story also sheds new light on the evolution of the wider genocide, the impotence of the world to respond, and Himmler’s final attempt to seek a separate peace with the Allies using the women of Ravensbrück as a bargaining chip. Chilling, inspiring, and deeply unsettling, Ravensbrück is a groundbreaking work of historical investigation. With rare clarity, it reminds us of the capacity of humankind both for bestial cruelty and for courage against all odds.

Baker & Taylor
Traces the sobering history of World War II's largest female concentration camp, revealing the torturous experiences and deaths of thousands of women prisoners of more than 20 nationalities. By the author of A Life in Secrets. Simultaneous.

Publisher: New York : Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, [2014]
ISBN: 9780385539111
Branch Call Number: eBook
Characteristics: 1 online resource
text file
Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc


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Oct 12, 2015

This is a great book on the concentration camp for women, Ravensbruck. It was well researched and well written. It is long with over 650 pages, but well worth the time. Helm took the trouble to find as many people from that time as she could and it shows in the book. Read it !

athompson10 Sep 30, 2015

Meticulously researched and extremely well written. Much of the information in this book is horrifying but the author presents it clearly, concisely and with as many survivors' voices as can be found. It is fascinating to read about the entrenched political, class, religious and national differences among the prisoners at Ravensbruck and how so many of the women were able to work together for their mutual survival.

Feb 13, 2015

RAVENSBRUCK is such a fine example of exemplary non-fiction, treating its horrific and brutal subject with an even hand and a great deal of grace. Author Sarah Helm does not shy away from her subject of Hilter's concentration camp for women, detailing the barbaric conditions, the cruel treatment, and the overall futility. This detail is not offered just to shock; Helm shares it in such a way that the reader's exposure to the horror grows much as it must have for the women, letting us see what terrible impact it made on individuals.

This is what sets RAVENSBRUCK apart: Helm's focus on the women of the camp and their voices, many of which have been virtually unheard in writing about the concentration camps. Throughout the book, Helm takes the time to focus on the different groups brought into the camp and the women of those groups who led or held them together, and who worked to bring humanity into such a desolate place. This allows the reader to see on a human level what love and charity can grow in desperate times (such as the small gifts prisoners made for each other, or how they shared meager food and water), and also how horrible every day details we may not have heard are (stores of food and tinned milk in the storage sheds were discovered as the camp began to be shut down, even as women and babies were dying).


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