Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women [Book Review]

courtesy of Amazon


I’ve been studying the Holocaust and learning about concentration camps for quiet a number of years. It started when the news showed ovens at a concentration camp. I believe it was Auschwitz, but I can’t be sure. I also can’t remember why the news was speaking of the ovens. It could have been an anniversary of the Holocaust. What I do remember is since seeing that I began to learn everything I could about, what I feel, is the most tragic thing to happen in history.


After reading so much about the Holocaust and realizing that those who lived through it are reaching the age in which death will soon be upon them, I decided to write a book on the subject. It is a historical fiction book and it’s still in the works. I started it in 2003 or thereabouts and I’m still working on it. Not working on it continually. I’ve missed placed it a few times, life happened, miss placed it again when I did find it and life happened even more. I finally decided to put it in a safe place. Now I just need to head back to it and finish the editing.

For my book I had to read a lot of books on the Holocaust. I preferred those written by those who survived or told their story to another than those who did research and wrote their version of events. Of the 50 or so of books I’ve read, I had my three favorites and one film:

Because of Romek by David Faber
Five Chimmeys by Olga Lengyel
Night By Elie Wiesel

Auschwitz: Inside The Nazi State

There have been other movies which made an impact on me such as Schindler’s List (1993) and Holocaust (1978) to name a few. I could make a grocery list of Holocaust movies I’ve seen, but want to focus this post on the book about Ravensbrück.


Of all the books I’ve read, this one has become my all time favorite. It not only gives the history of the camp as in whose idea it was (Heinrich Himmler’s), how it was built (by men prisoner’s from other camps) and it’s intentions. It also gives the history of the war, to an extent. The book touched on the treaty Hitler signed with Stalin not to invade Russia and then invaded Russia. It spoke of the ties and promise Hitler made to Hungry not to invade it and do away with the Jews there and then, as with Stalin and Russia, went back on his promise.

The book spoke greatly about the rabbits in the camp. Rabbits were women selected for medical experiments. They had their legs cut open and shared glass inserted to see how long the leg and the prisoner would last. Gas gangrene was also injected for the same reason. Many became deformed or unable to walk after these experiments. They also became the first on the list to be killed once the news of Russians arriving became known because the rabbits knew too much. But a lot of rabbits survived the experiments and the camp and lived to tell their story in this book.

Dorthea Binz


The books talks about the evilness of Dorthea Binz, a supervisor at Ravensbrück who took pleasure in beating women to inches of their life or just plain killing them. She would kiss her married boyfriend in front of women who were being beaten by other guards. Her pleasure in life was seeing others suffer…physically.

Johanna Langefeld

Then there was Johanna Langefeld, the first head guard who also took pleasure in punishing women. However, later in the book it speaks of how she tried to help the women, especially the rabbits. She was very much against the medical experiments going on and the systematic killings. When she went against the orders of the camp Commandant she was quickly shipped off to another camp, never to hear from again.

I was on the fence about Langefeld as I was reading about her and still am. However, there’s no denying Binz was just plain evil. The war only allowed her to act on her inner desires of inflicting physical pain on to others.




I knew the Russians were the first to liberate the camps, but I wasn’t aware of what they had done themselves. I saw the Russians as heroes, along with the Americans and British until I learned how the Russians raped not only German women, but also raped quite a few of the prisoners they had liberated. They raped prisoners they found hiding in woods or fields as well.

The German women they raped were not prisoners but civilians of the state. The horror the Russian soldiers placed on the women was horrific, especially the prisoners. After all they had gone through, the beatings, tortures, experiments, being held in dark rooms that were cold and wet for weeks, even months without food or bedding, they had to endure the rapes by those they saw as saviors. No longer were the Russian soldiers the face of friendliness but of more acts of horror these women would go through. When they encountered Polish soldiers they too became questionable characters. However, they were nothing like a majority of the Russian soldiers. The Polish soldiers did what the Russians should have, and that’s help the women by giving them food, clothing and ensuring them they are save.


I would have included the Swedish in the mix of those who helped rescue the prisoners, but reading how they wouldn’t intervene when they knew what was going on in Ravensbrück makes me want to NOT give them any glory. And don’t get me started on the Swedish Red Cross. Those in high power in the Swedish office were in bed with a lot of members of the high Nazi command. Enough said.


What these women went through and still survived the camps (I say camps to include all concentration camps) is amazing to me. I always said some had to survive to tell their story, otherwise, no one would believe it. Even with eye witness accounts there are those who do not believe the Holocaust happened. No one seems to doubt slavery happened or the Japanese were in internment camps, but many can’t believe us human beings can be so vile and evil as the Nazis were. Perhaps, if those who deny the Holocaust accept it really happened will have to accept or acknowledge the possibility, they too, are capable of such atrocities.


It’s hard to get those who survived to tell their story. There were those in the book who hadn’t told their story in over 40 or 50 years because telling it will admit it really happened. Some believe not talking will make it go away. Not for them, but for the world. Some held on to momentoes of their stay at the camp that belonged to other prisoners that didn’t survive.

I’ve met a camp survivor (Gloria Lyon in 2004) and had a nice afternoon speaking to her and her husband (also a camp survivor). She was in the process of writing her story so she wouldn’t reveal a lot to me. But we spoke about the Holocaust as well as other things that wasn’t Holocaust related.

I found this YouTube interview Gloria Lyon did in 1997 you all might want to see.


I highly recommend this book to the world, regardless if you are interested or not. Its a hard read for the information comes from those that were there not the author who did research and decided to write a book based on research. The author of Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women, Sarah Helm, also gave her thoughts on testimonies from other testimonies she received. Some contradicted each other, but most were in lined with one another. One thing they all had in common is the suffering they went through. Regardless of how they suffered, they suffered.

This book is also a one stop shop, in my opinion, on the history of the war, the treaties signed and broken and how much Himmler played a role in the extermination not only of the Jews, but of everyone Hitler and Himmler felt needed to go. There was no rhyme or reason to the Nazis logic, which is what I was hoping to find while reading. But the more I read the more the reason the Nazis thought they had, there weren’t any. Sometimes you have to see things through enemy eyes to try to understand…NOT condone, just understand. And yes I know, trying understand what the Nazis did is beyond understanding but I was hoping to see something. Yet, how can you see something that isn’t there and will never be there.


Hebrew word Zohar, means Remembrance

In honor of those that survived and those that didn’t I got this tattoo. The writing is the Hebrew word Zohar which means Remembrance. I added a red tear drop for those that died in the camps.



Author: Sarah Helm
Released: 22 March 2016
Edition: Reprint
Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Pages: 784
Where To Buy: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks


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