If This is a Woman
Earlier this year I attended the launch of Sarah Helm’s outstanding book If This is a Woman – Inside Ravensbrück: Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women. Little used to be known about the Ravensbrück camp despite the fact that by the end of World War II, nearly 130,000 women from more than 20 different European countries had passed through its gates. Sarah Helm’s book changes that.
In her book Sarah Helm has unearthed testimonies and interviews with Ravensbrück survivors that have never been told before. Reading the book was tremendously difficult. The details are harrowing and extremely unsettling. The tragedies, the bravery and absolute despair – all captured through the voices of women who were there.
These are stories that you will never forget. These are stories that need to be told over and over again – especially as we see the world becoming more intolerant. That is why Sarah Helm’s book is so important and that is why I decided that we needed to organize an event where we could properly discuss the contents of book and tell for the future.
Yesterday a most distinguished panel consisting of the historian professor Jane Caplan, the journalist Caroline Moorehead and the author Sarah Helm took on the challenging question “If this is a Woman” and “Has History failed Ravensbrück? Why the Women’s Camp Matters”. The biographer and journalist Anne Sebba moderated the discussion.
It turned out to be a most fascinating discussion that covered so many different aspects. What was particularly interesting was listening to stories about how women found ways of supporting each other in the camp. The discussion also focused on the role of different nationalities and we learned more about the French women of the Resistance who ended up in Ravensbrück.
I was immensely honoured to welcome Selma van de Perre, who is a survivor from Ravensbrück. Selma was one of the 7,000 women who were rescued by the White Buses mission led by the Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte. Selma is in many ways remarkable. The evening ended with her story. A story that was told in a most dignified and moving way.