Historical fact interwoven with fiction…

Rose Under FireRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can applaud historical fiction that is written in an attempt to get a message across or in this case serve as a reminder never to forget the atrocities of the Holocaust. However taking the step in fiction when it comes to relaying events that happened during that time, especially the crimes, then I do think it can be . Mixing fiction with factual eyewitness testimony could make a reader question what is fact and what is fiction in certain scenes/books. I am thinking of younger readers, who are perhaps not so knowledgeable about the Holocaust.
The first part of the book dwells far too much on the flying and is often drawn out and disjointed. The second half that covers the time in the concentration camp and after the war, is much more structured and clearer.
The author concentrates on the story of the test subjects ‘The Rabbits’ in medical section of Ravensbrück. The young people who were used like lab rats. Cut up, mutilated, gangrene sewn into their bodies, bones and flesh chopped out of their limbs all in the name of medical science. The story describes how some these women bonded together through their fate and how they tried to save each other and survive the horror.
I felt the most pivotal part of the book was in the last few chapters. The discussions and thought processes during the trials, between Rose and the surviving girls.
Rose doesn’t want to testify against the war criminals. There are some interesting scenes depicting the victims and their reactions post-war. The years of living in the camps with the abusers and murderers have conditioned the victims. They have been conditioned to shrink back, flinch, to stay out of sight and mind, and most importantly not speak up. Most of them are still frightened by their abusers, which makes speaking out against them in open court a non-option.
This was something I dwelt upon, because I think most of us assume that feelings of anger and vengeance would be the at the forefront of each victims mind, when in fact it was probably still the fear. I had to wrap my head round the fact that my first reaction was to feel anger at the victims and Rose in general for not wanting to shout out the crimes committed against them to the world. Why wouldn’t you do your best to put those murderers behind bars? Why wouldn’t you seek vengeance for the dead?
Instead I realised that the ones who spoke up then and the few remaining survivors of that era that still do, they speak for all and for the dead, because not everyone can. Similar to veterans of war conflict who often never speak about their traumatic experiences.
Another important point that was made in the end was about Anna Engel. Brought in on a truck with Rose she goes from victim to aiding and abetting the SS medical team in their experiments. She chooses to collaborate to survive. She becomes part of the killing machine. Rose still sees her as a victim of circumstance. She feels sorry for Anna and the fact she will be facing a long prison sentence. Róz’a is one of the surviving Rabbits. She was mutilated during the experiments and Anna was part of that torture.
I had a hard time understanding how Rose could be so complacent about Anna and her actions in the camp. Why does she still see her as one of the survivors, as opposed to one of the perpetrators? Are the actions of Kapos and collaborators really excusable just because they felt that they had no other choice and it was a do or die survival choice?
Why doesn’t Rose feel any kind of guilt towards Róz’a when she is hugging and being friendly to
Anna Engel?
I guess you can tell that there are many elements of the book that have made me ponder, which is usually the sign of a book worth reading. Overall I think it could have done with more structure in the first half and I stand by my fictional vs fact opinion in regards to the Holocaust.
I received a copy of this book via NetGalley.

View all my reviews


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