Oh, MY HEART! This book. Whew…. it was a rough one. Easy to read and plow through in terms of an interest and anticipation standpoint? Yes, absolutely. Easy to read without having your heart break into a million pieces over and over again? NO.
Auschwitz Lullaby seriously broke my heart. I mean, they all break my heart but this one really shattered it. I devoured this in about a day and just couldn’t stop reading. This book is a little different than other WWII books I have read as it centers around the Gypsy population of the Auschwitz concentration camp. I didn’t know much about the Gypsies during WWII and how they, too, were treated in such an inhumane way by the Nazis.
Helene is a mother of 5 with a loving husband who all reside in Germany. Aside from being a mother, Helene is also a purebred German married to a Gypsy man, a big no-no back then. Gypsies were not accepted under the Nazi regiment in Germany and in 1943, all people of Gypsy descent were forced out of their homes and transported to concentration camps. Because Helene was German and not a Gypsy, she was not ordered by the SS to board the train to Auschwitz, only her 5 children and husband. Helene was never going to depart with her young children, especially during the war. Despite the SS’s efforts to keep her back, Helene boarded the cargo train with her family and hundreds of other prisoners as they embarked to the misery awaiting them in Auschwitz.
Once in the Gypsy camp in Auschwitz, Helene learned quickly that she must do whatever it takes to protect her children. Because she was of pure German lineage, the Gypsy’s chief medical doctor, Josef Mengele, developed a soft spot for Helene. Mostly due to his own inhumane desires to study and perform disgusting experiments on children and twins, he assigned Helene as head of the new Kindergarten and preschool for all children in the Gypsy camp. There, they would be fed well, kept warm, and sheltered from the many rapid diseases that infiltrated camp’s brusque living conditions. Mengele wanted the children safe and healthy, at his expense only.
Despite the horrific conditions Helene and the other prisoners were forced to undergo day after day, she knew there was a reason she was called to Auschwitz. She made it her personal duty to protect not only her children, but the hundreds and thousands of innocent souls that passed through the dreaded Nazi camp gates, and she was willing to do anything to uphold this promise.
Auschwitz Lullaby is a beautifully written story that brings light to the bravery and courage of the prisoners of the Gypsy camps. Based on a true story, Helene and many other characters in the story did exist. Most historical fiction stories will represent a real person or story, but will include mostly fictional elements to appeal to the reader. However, in this story the majority of the events written are true to history and did happen.
What stood out most in this story is the length Helene went to protect her children. Despite the disgusting living conditions, physical abuse, and scarce food rations they were forced to suffer through, Helene was one of the most amazing mothers I’ve ever read about. From start to finish, I felt her love and passion to save her own -and all of the camp’s-children. I adore Helene and am in complete amazement at her bravery and courage. Not only to risk her life every single day to care for the children, but to stand up to one of the Holocaust’s most inhumane officer notorious for his gut-wrenching experiments, Dr. Mengele, was amazing to read.
This story did not get into as many details of the camp conditions/war as others I’ve read but that was perfectly fine by me, as not every WWII book should be about the same thing over and over again. I enjoyed the uniqueness of this novel and my soul burst with love and wept with misery for Helene and the woman who sacrificed everything during the war. I am so glad her story was written and shared, as it should never be forgotten for as long as time stands.