More than ten years ago when I first started researching the true story of the “rabbits,” for the novel I wrote about Caroline Ferriday and her fight to help a group of young Polish women, Lilac Girls, (coming Spring 2016 from Ballantine Books) these photos inspired me to tell the story. The photos below were taken in October of 1944 by a friend of theirs, fellow prisoner Germaine Tillion, and hidden in a box of oats until they were discovered after the camp was liberated. The camera used to take the photos came from a new prisoner from Warsaw, traded for bread.
Himmler personally chose a group of 70 women, young Polish Catholic political prisoners who’d been arrested for fighting Nazis in the underground and subjected them to medical experiments. The experiments were used to replicate battlefront injuries and included opening the legs surgically to introduce glass and wood shards, dirt and tetanus cultures. Many of the women and girls were operated on three or four times on the same legs, often without anesthesia and many died after the operations. Those that survived were permanently maimed and crippled. The youngest victim of the experiments was 14.
Several of the women were executed, to hide these crimes against humanity and it was no secret the camp administration planned on executing all of the “rabbits.” In order to document the surgeries, at great risk to herself, fellow Ravensbruck prisoner Joanna Szydlowska secretly took pictures of the women above, behind a barracks. The women hid the film in their barrack and in April 1945, the Swedish Red Cross rescued a French prisoner named Germaine Tillion (later a friend and colleague of Caroline Ferriday’s) who took the film and developed it in Paris after the war. After the war, Germaine Tillion sent the negatives back to the victims of the operations.
Source for all photographs above: US Holocaust Museum
Can’t wait until Lilac Girls launches and everyone can read the story of Caroline and the rabbits.