Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Lilac Girls: A Novel by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac Girls: A Novel.  Martha Hall Kelly. Random House Publishing Group. April 2016. 496 pp.  ISBN#: 9781101883075.

Caroline Ferraday comes from a rich family and has no need to work.  However, she is a volunteer at the French consulate and is passionately dedicated to helping French refugees and especially raising money and clothing for French children without family or friends.  For the Germans under Hitler are ravaging Europe and is now headed for France, causing many to attempt to flee to America.  Caroline is about to become enamored with a married well-known actor, whose family will also become victims of Hitler’s aggressive policies.

The reader needs a very strong stomach for what follows.  Kasia Kuzmerick wants to act like a grown-up and begins to accept low-level jobs for the Polish resistance.  One admires her courage and tenacity and yet every move she makes seems to foreshadow eventual capture and imprisonment.

On the other hand, we meet a very young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, whose training has been limited to dermatology since female doctors are almost unheard of in Germany.  Desperate to use her knowledge and skills, especially as a surgeon, she signs up for government service and winds up in the Ravensbruck concentration camp for women.  At first she is appalled at the horrors she witnesses and is expected to perform herself.  Eventually she succumbs to cooperation because her own imprisonment is the only option left for refusing to obey orders.  What is fascinating about this story is the fact that both women must do things they abhor in order to survive.  The consequences of these choices, however, turn out quite different after the war eventually ends.  Being a survivor isn’t always enough of an excuse.

These women are outstanding heroines in their fierce belief in hope, hope they will come out of their experiences whole somehow and hope that justice will prevail.  Such an attitude is easy to blithely state when detached from intense suffering but indomitably brave when called to compromise or silently live in physical, mental and emotional agony.

Lilac Girls: A Novel is a novel every reader will never forget.  That, after all, is the purpose of recounting the realities of WWII and the Holocaust, including those non-Jews who bore the ferocious, tyrannical policies of Hitler carried out by his henchmen and women.  As painful as the story described hits the reader, it is a starkly told tale that must be told, lest we forget! Highly recommended historical fiction!

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