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If This is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruck,…
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If This is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruck, Hitler's Concentration Camp for… (2014)

by Sarah Helm

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Towards the end of this harrowing book, when I just wanted the horror to end, I found myself considering the effect of writing it on its author. Sarah Helm’s intention was to rescue the historical truth of a forgotten atrocity, but it must have been a gruelling project. There’s a quiet courage between the pages of this book, not to be dismissed because it is of a different order to the heroism among the victims whose fate the reader comes to know.

Sarah Helm became interested in the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp when she was writing A Life in Secrets, Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WW2. Many Australians will know about this woman who despatched female agents into France for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), from the portrayal of Hilda Pierce in the TV series Foyle’s War or Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond novels and films. Helm tells us that after the war, Atkins went searching in Germany for her missing agents, 100 of whom were Missing Presumed Dead, and twelve of whom were women. That took her to Ravensbrück, the only concentration camp specifically for women, and one which was set up in the beginning for dissidents, (Communists from within Germany and its occupied territories, pacifist Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Polish resistance) and people who did not conform to the Aryan ideal – people who were intellectually and physically disabled, the Romani (gypsies), a-socials (prostitutes and habitual criminals) and Jews. Although there were medical experiments on some of the women, the primary purpose of the camp was to provide slave labour (e.g. for the purpose-built Siemens factory making munitions components) and although a steady number of women were shot and gassed in order to meet extermination targets, the intention was to work the women in inhumane conditions until they became useless and then died.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2016/06/01/if-this-is-a-woman-by-sarah-helm/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Jul 16, 2016 |
I was at first a bit reluctant to read this book as I got the feel from the first pages it would be one of these interview account types, not to mention the depressing subject matter. But I am glad I persevered and experienced the awareness of what these women endured under the most horrific conditions.

It was at times hard to grasp just how inhumane humans can be towards helpless, defenseless victims. The suffering was endless not only from their German captors but for many atrocities from the Russian liberators, and in some cases Communists reprisals in their native lands. Adding to this burden were those who escaped justice and punishment as well as the silence and cover up. It is hard to imagine a worse ordeal of the countless who lost their lives and those who lived and live with the memory. This is the type of book that should be required reading at the high school level to leave a lasting impression. ( )
  knightlight777 | Mar 14, 2016 |
Excellent and incredibly well-researched book. Read copy from Stonnington Jul15
  decore | Jul 24, 2015 |
On a sunny morning in May 1939 a phalanx of 800 women - housewives, doctors, opera singers, politicians, prostitutes - were marched through the woods fifty miles north of Berlin, driven on past a shining lake, then herded through giant gates. Whipping and kicking them were scores of German women guards. Their destination was Ravensbrck, a concentration camp designed specifically for women by Heinrich Himmler, prime architect of the Nazi genocide. For decades the story of Ravensbrck was hidden behind the Iron Curtain and today is still little known. Using testimony unearthed since the end of the Cold War, and interviews with survivors who have never spoken before, Helm has ventured into the heart of the camp, demonstrating for the reader in riveting detail how easily and quickly the unthinkable horror evolved.
  GalenWiley | Apr 13, 2015 |
I received an e-book copy of this title via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

After reading this book, the idea that Ravensbruck was not a death camp is beyond me. This book tells the story of the only concentration camp designated specifically for women. The author does a wonderful job with this book. She weaves together the stories of the prisoners, guards and facilities together gracefully. She includes a great deal of first person quotes from some of the women who passed through the camp. This really helped give the book a very personal feel. The book is quite long, so it will take a good investment of time to get through. It is very much worth it. Some of the stories in the book will break your heart and boil your blood. I find it hard to praise a book that covers so dark a topic, but this book really was a very impressive read. I think this book should become one of the standout works on WWII concentration camps and women in WWII. ( )
1 vote LISandKL | Mar 23, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 038552059X, Hardcover)

A masterful 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—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 war, Ravensbrück became an extermination camp, and by 1945, between 30,000 and 50,000 had been murdered.
      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 catalogue 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 mankind both for bestial cruelty and for courage against all odds.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:57 -0400)

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