“Lilac Girls”

Martha Hall Kelly’s first novel “Lilac Girls” follows the lives of three very different women during World War II.  This book depicts a fictional narrative of these women from the late 1930s to 1959.  The characters of Caroline Ferriday and Herta Oberheuser were real.  Kasia Kuzmerick is a composite character.

Caroline Ferriday was a wealthy woman who worked for various causes during and after the war.  Herta Oberheuser, a German doctor, was a staff member of the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, Hitler’s only major concentration camp exclusively for women.  The third main character, a young Polish girl, Kasia Kuzmerick, is loosely based on the 74 Polish “Rabbits” who were imprisoned at the camp.

In the novel, Kasia and her sister, are sent to Ravensbruck for working with the Polish underground.  Kasia’s mother, because she protests her daughters’ imprisonment, is taken as well.  At Ravensbruck the girls and many other young women were subjected to brutal experiments that either killed or maimed them forever.  The experiments were performed by Herta Oberheuser.

Caroline Ferriday works with a French relief agency and eventually gets involved in trying to win justice for the Polish “Rabbits.”



Kelly’s novel is well researched.  The most powerful parts of the book deal with the brutality of the staff at Ravensbruck and the bravery of those victims of Nazi hatred.  Kelly chooses to invent a love interest for Ferriday because she felt the relationship gave Caroline more of a personal connection to France.  Unfortunately, I felt, it detracted from the main intent of the story–to tell a true story of the pain and suffering of these captured  women.

This is a powerful story of the bravery of women.  Perhaps a better written and more intense novel dealing with French women during the war is “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah.  But both books portray the horrors of war through the eyes of women.


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