Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is an eye-opening account of the medical experimentation that occurred in Ravensbruck concentration camp during World War II. While I was aware that medical experiments were performed on prisoners at certain camps, I was unaware until now of the plight of these women, who were referred to as 'rabbits' due to their role as human laboratory animals. They suffered greatly at the hands of their Nazi oppressors.
While the book is categorized as historical fiction, it is based on well documented facts. It tells the story from three different perspectives of 35 Polish female victims who were subjected against their will to these sulfa experiments. When American socialite Caroline Ferriday learned of these women who had been virtually abandoned by the post-War Russian controlled Polish government, she fought to bring them to the United States for corrective medical treatment. She was aided in her efforts by political journalist Norman Cousins, among other notables.
In the process of rescuing these women and hosting them while in the U.S., a bond was formed, as might be expected of people working so closely together toward a common goal. Caroline and two of these ‘rabbits’ became lifelong friends. (Note: The term ‘rabbits’ is viewed as demeaning by these victims who showed amazing courage in the face of such inhumane oppression.) These two Polish sisters spent a great deal of time at Caroline Ferriday’s estate which was famous for its lush, fragrant lilac bushes. Thus, the book’s title: Lilac Girls.
This story was at times difficult to read, but the resiliency and determination of some of these women is an inspiration to all of us. I highly recommend Lilac Girls and give it five stars for its well-documented exposure of horrid events too soon forgotten.