cover image Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women

Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women

Sarah Helm. Doubleday, $37.50 (768p) ISBN 978-0-385-52059-1

Former journalist Helm (A Life in Secrets) seamlessly combines oral and written accounts of prisoners and female guards in this well-researched, chronological narrative of the “only Nazi concentration camp built for women.” Heinrich Himmler had chosen the forested, lakeside site north of Berlin for its “natural beauty,” and it came to house a variety of female prisoners—only about 10% were Jewish—including Polish countesses, British spies, Gypsies, resistance fighters, and common criminals. Liberated by the Soviets in 1945, Ravensbrück’s location in the new East Germany meant that, for the West at least, it essentially “disappeared from view.” Helm rectifies this historical void, immersing readers in the stories of individuals and groups to capture not only horrific and graphic depictions of torture and murder, but also the humanity of the women and their desire to survive in the midst of dehumanization, factional fighting, and starvation. While some—like the communists—were honored in East Germany, Helms also describes acts of courage from the “asocials and criminals,” now-nameless prostitutes, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. This book deserves significant attention, both for Helm’s notable interviews of aging witnesses and as a beautifully written history of events that offers additional insight into Nazism and those caught in its path. (Apr.)