It’s 1939. Upper class Caroline, working in New York City for her pet cause, the French Families Fund, is scrambling for money for French orphans. In Poland, teen aged Kasia is helping the boy she loves deliver things for the resistance, as the Germans have taken over her town, when she, her mother, her sister, and the boy are all taken captive by said Germans and sent to a re-education camp. German Herta, trained as a doctor but passed over for men, is working for her despicable uncle in his butcher shop when an opportunity arises to be one of the doctors in the re-education camp. She jumps at the chance to get away and to practice her profession. Through the course of WW 2, the lives of these very different women will become linked.
The most sympathetic character is, of course, Kasia. Her fate in Ravensbruck camp is better than many, but still horrendous. Herta, sexually abused by her uncle, is sympathetic at first, but as she becomes involved in the Ravensbruck experiments, even though she had little choice, I just couldn’t care about her feelings. Caroline, while important for the ending, seems extraneous. She’s a woman who did good things for the camp survivors, but reading about her life actually took away from the suspense of Herta and Kasia.
This is not an easy book to read. The gruesome atrocities of the concentration camp are vividly described. But it’s a compelling read; once I got past the first few chapters, I couldn’t stop reading. The tension is nearly unbearable at times. I was surprised to find at the end that these were real women, and the story is based on their lives. While books like this can be painful to read, I’m so glad to see them being published at a time when the world is in such turmoil as it is now!
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