Researching Lilac Girls in Paris Made the Book Come Alive

One of the best things about writing Lilac Girls was traveling the world searching for clues about the true story. I spent a lovely week there learning so much about Caroline. The archive she left at The University of Paris Ouest Nanterre La Defense and the staff at the library there was especially helpful. Below are some of the things I found in the archive that helped the book come to life.

From the archive in France. Clockwise: Caroline’s Medaille de la Reconnaissance Francaise, (Medal of French Gratitude)-one of Caroline’s many honors awarded by the French government, group shot of Caroline and committee in Poland, laundry ticket Caroline used to take notes on, at Jardin du Luxembourg: me with translator Mail Feryal AKA Josephine Boulanger, who lovingly translated Caroline’s letters for me.
From the archives-clockwise: Telegram from Norman Cousins, Caroline’s typewritten list of “Lapins”,French map of concentration camps, Ravensbruck and others marked in red by Caroline, Caroline’s lovely, engraved calling card.
While researching in Paris I stayed at The Hotel Lutetia (pre-renovation) which the Nazis used as headquarters, lovely Paris and the best profiteroles ever made, reward for a hard day’s research.

24 thoughts on “Researching Lilac Girls in Paris Made the Book Come Alive”

    1. Can you help me understand the title? I live to read historical fiction and this was an amazing story about something I knew nothing about. But I cannot get any connection between the title and the story. Thanks!!

      1. In a Kasia chapter which takes place at Caroline’s house Caroline tells her that lilacs only bloom after a harsh winter, just like the girls.

    2. How were you able to gain access to these documents in Paris? Were they in the archives in the Marais? Or where? I look forward to listening to the audio version of the book, which I just got from the library.

  1. I just finished Lilac Girls today, what a wonderful read. Now I am on a mission to learn more about Caroline and the ladies she helped. Thank you for opening so many eyes to this part of history that many of us missed.

  2. Hi Martha – Just finished Lilac Girls. What a fabulous first novel! Even more, what a terrible/wonderful story of cruelty of the worst kind, followed by discovery and redemption, told by you in a riveting manner. You have written a necessary read in this age of Holocaust deniers, heightened white nationalism, and dwindling numbers of people to provide personal testimony. I hope Lilac Girls becomes a movie. I also hope it becomes a must-read at the high school level, akin to what To Kill a Mockingbird was to my generation.

    Personal note: I’m Jewish, from Galician (Austria-Hungarian/eastern Polish, now Ukrainian) roots. As far as we know, everyone in both families had emigrated to Toronto Canada by the start of WWI. My parents become naturalized American citizens early in their marriage, and my brothers and I grew up in Detroit as first-generation Americans. My family now extends 6 generations from the first immigrants and is spread throughout Canada, the US., and Israel.

    My husband and I reside in an overwhelmingly Holocaust-ignorant Christian world in rural northern Michigan. When asked (as I sometimes am), “Why didn’t they fight back more?” I will now offer the person a list of books – yours included – that describe both the overall miserable living conditions that Christians experienced under the Nazi Reich and the daily resistances that Jews and Christians alike demonstrated at great risk in order to maintain a semblance of personal control and integrity.

    Thanks!

    1. Thank you for your wonderful note, Carol and for sharing some of your family’s fascinating history. It’s hard to fathom that in this day and age people ask you “Why didn’t they fight harder?” Thank you for helping to educate people. 💜

    2. So well said! In addition to your recommendations, please offer the ” not knowing” a novel, written by Mark Sullivan, “Beneath a Scarlet Sky”. Very informative, and may answer the QUESTION!

  3. Hi Martha, I just finished to read Lilac girls, I’m impressed thank you
    my grandmother Maria Cabaj was one of the rabbits, I know the story from her,
    my babcia was a wonderful person, she didn’t like to remind this cruel time of her life
    but I read her memories published in a book and translated in many languages,
    I would like to know, if your book has been translated in Polish, I’d like to recommend it to my family and friends. I have never heard the name C. Ferriday connected to the story of rabbits , the book you wrote helped me to understand better the background of my grandmother’s visit in US and not only that. You did a lot of research one more time
    thank you so much..

    1. Dear Hanna, How lucky you are to have had such a lovely babcia. Lilac Girls has been published in Polish–I’m happy to send you one. Just contact me at marthakelly10@gmail.com with your address and I will send it. Did your grandmother ever tell you about the trip she took to the US? Do you have any pictures from the trip or of her you’d like to share? I’m always so curious about the women and how they stayed so positive through so much hardship!

  4. Martha,
    When I think of a book and the characters even when I’m not reading is a sure sign that I’m completely consumed! Days after finishing, I’m still thinking about it!! I absolutely loved Lilac Girls and your masterful storytelling. It is beautifully written and I am thankful you told this unimaginable story. Thank you for not leaving me hanging on what happened to Matka! Looking forward to the prequels!
    Kim
    Houston, Texas

    1. Halina is a product of my imagination, but she is real to me in many ways. One of my favorite characters in the book.

  5. Hi Martha, I just finished the book Lilac Girls today and want to thank you for the painstaking effort you put in to bring this important aspect of the Holocaust to light. In many ways, this work is as important as the work done by Caroline Ferriday, as by documenting her good work and the reality of that time, hopefully it will motivate more to speak out against injustice, offer assistance and keep us from repeating mistakes of the past. I took my children to the Holocaust museum in DC recently and was amazed to see that there are some parallels to the current US political atmosphere and the pre-Hitler days. I pray that we all learn to be a little more tolerant and accepting of people for their differences and recognize that we are all part of one small, interconnected human race.

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