W3 Book Club-“Lilac Girls“ by Martha Hall Kelly

by Teri E. Popp & Laura Chin, Tastemakers in Residence

Some of the books chosen by our W3 Book Club touch heart strings, help educate us, or give us glimpses into just how strong women can be when put to the test. Our host for a recent event, Renee, introduced us to all of this and more when she featured the excellently written “Lilac Girls“ by Martha Hall Kelly for our monthly read.

“Lilac Girls“ follows three women as they navigate their way through WWII and its aftermath. Over the years, our club has read many books about this point in time(*see footnote below); however, Kelly‘s book tells the little known story of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp‘s “Rabbits,“ so named as these young women from Poland were used by Nazi doctors as guinea pigs for horrific medical experiments.

Based on true events, the story is told from the perspective of: Caroline Ferriday, an actual New York City actress and socialite who came to the aid of these brutalized women; Herta Oberhauser, the lone female German doctor who helped the Nazis propagate these horrors; and Kasia Kuzmarick, a young woman caught up in the Polish resistance and subjected to medical experimentation and mutilation. Kasia, while not an actual person, serves as a composite character for the Rabbits. W3 Book Club sought to learn about, and honor, the brave women who were tortured at Ravensbrück, many giving their lives, while all suffered from ill health for their anti-fascist beliefs.

Our host decided to serve a homemade Polish meal for the occasion—one which the Rabbits probably dreamed of during the war on a daily basis. The dinner included:

Appetizers: Assorted cheeses, Crackers, Pin Wheel Rye Bread, and Olives

Main Course: Polish Sausage and Cheese Stuffed Sausage (available at https://kramarczuks.com in Minneapolis), Sauerkraut, and Potato Salad

Dessert: Kolaczki (Polish filled cookies)

We ended our evening with a lively discussion helping to further explore our understanding of these mostly forgotten heroines. We were heartened to learn that Caroline Ferriday brought many of the Rabbits—who she called Lilac Girls after the beautiful, resilient flowers that grew in her gardens—to the United States, where they were able to receive rehabilitative surgeries. In addition, she went on to help the survivors receive compensatory funds from the German government in the aftermath of the war (this was far harder to achieve than it should have been), as well as helped to hunt down Herta Oberhauser to ensure she did not practice medicine in Germany after the war. It is an unfortunate fact that Herta did, indeed, practice for 5 years before she had her license revoked. But, in the end, the Lilac Girls came to find peace, forgiveness, and return to their lives to share their incredible stories.

** WWII themed books W3 Book Club has read over the years

*Books read by W3 Book Club that included themes, or sub-themes, about WWII:
-"The Berlin Wall" by Frederick Taylor
-"Atonement" by Ian McEwan
-"Those Who Save Us" by Jenna Blum
-"Sarah's Key" by Tatiana de Rosnay
-"Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand
-"Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson
-"All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr
-“A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles
-“Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life” by Lisa Chaney