The Real Heroes of Lilac Girls

Last night a Goodreads reader named Cynthia posted a question on my page: “What will you do if Lilac Girls wins The Goodreads Reader’s Choice Award?” I told Cynthia I would shout it to the rooftops since my goal in writing the book was to get the word out about this incredible group of Polish political prisoners, The Rabbits, who endured so much after surviving Nazi experiments at Ravensbruck.

That is so true, but this morning I woke up thinking of another special group of women, the Rabbits who didn’t survive. Nine young women who also lived through the brutal experiments but were marched, some of them carried, since they were still recovering, to the shooting wall and executed. All because they volunteered in the Polish underground to sabotage the Nazi effort.image-15-2

It has been a teary morning assembling their pictures,  such lovely young women who never had a chance at life, but I wanted to post their faces and names so we can remember and honor them for their courage and dedication to fighting the Nazis, for standing up for what is right.

Thank you for supporting Lilac Girls. Thanks to you, the whole world is learning their story. And it has only just begun.

Irena Poborowna (center) Clockwise from top: Janina Flak, Wanda Kakowska, Wanda Polakowska, Malgorzata Dembowska, Romana Sekula, Zofia Szachowicz, Henryka Dembowska, Krystyna Krauzowna.

 

What Happened to Herta Oberheuser, the Only Woman Doctor at Ravensbruck, After She Was Released From Prison?

Spoiler alert…if you haven’t finished Lilac Girls you may want to read this once you have…

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Above, young Herta, a BdM pin on her lapel.

I’ve been loving my Skype sessions with book groups that have just finished Lilac Girls. One of the first questions many of them ask is “What happened to Herta Oberheuser after she was released from prison?”

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After several Polish “Rabbits” (above) testified that Herta participated in the horrific sulfa experiments at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, Herta was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

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Herta was quietly released from her twenty years after serving only five years, with permission from the United States. Like many other Nazi concentration camp doctors she returned to practicing medicine and developed a “flourishing medical practice” in northern Germany. There, she was recognized by a Ravensbruck survivor who quickly got word to French survivors, who contacted Caroline Ferriday. Once Caroline heard Herta was free she mounted a campaign, with the help of her physician friends at The British Medical Association, to have the doctor’s medical license revoked.

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Der Spiegel article about Herta found in Caroline’s archives.

In August of 1958 Herta’s license was revoked but she continued to practice medicine while she appealed the case with the support of some high profile friends and a cadre of lawyers.

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But before long Caroline and others’ hard work resulted in a victory for the victims of the experiments and Herta’s medical license was permanently revoked (below, a newspaper account found in Caroline’s archives).

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Some Wonderful New Caroline Ferriday Pictures

img_6447I love this new batch of Caroline Ferriday photos, especially this one of Caroline and her friend Helena Piasecka. Helena was one of the four so-called “Rabbits” who not only stayed with Caroline on their trip to America, but also married in the states and became one of Caroline’s lifelong friends. They are so happy to be together and Caroline’s whole look is amazing. Would love to know who took the picture!img_6446

Another great photo, this time Caroline in action, greeting the Polish women when they arrived in New York City.

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Caroline and “Rabbits” again. Not sure if this is in Warsaw, or NYC…can’t read the bottle on the table, but that might give a clue! Either way, they are having a lovely time.

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Caroline as a child and her mother Eliza. Such a sweet photo.

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I love all the pictures of Caroline but this one is my very favorite. Such a beautiful actress, with her whole career ahead of her. And that bow!

The Amazing Portrait of Caroline Ferriday Returns Home to The Bellamy-Ferriday House

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Last April I visited The Bellamy-Ferriday House in Bethlehem, Ct., Caroline’s lovely country home she and her family called The Hay. I turned the corner in her bedroom, a room I’d been to many times since I first started researching Caroline’s life for Lilac Girls and stopped in my tracks. On the lovely wallpapered wall was an oil portrait newly-donated to the house, painted of Caroline as a young woman. It was truly startling, as if Caroline was there in the room. The portrait is not signed but it is very nicely done and really captures Caroline’s beauty.

I revisited the portrait this past June when we were at the house shooting Stacey Fitzgerald’s documentary about the true story behind Lilac Girls. Dorothy Ambruso, one of the incredibly knowledgable house tour guides, told me visitors who take the house tour tell her they think Caroline looks like a famous actress onscreen today. Any thoughts on who they might be mentioning? Who does she look like to you?