The red ribbon by Lucy Adlington

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Hot Key Books, 2017. ISBN 9781471406560
(Age: 12+) Recommended. Themes: Holocaust. Auschwitz-Burkenau. Dressmaking. Survival. World War Two. The first section of this book, Green, describes a young woman, Ella living in nightmarish conditions, underfed, abused, forced to work making dresses in a shed with no amenities. At first I thought it to be a dystopian novel of a nasty future, or perhaps a tale of enslaved women today, but it became a story of how some girls lived at Auschwitz-Birkenau, that most hated of Nazi Concentration Camps, used in Poland during the 1940's for the killing of all those whom the Nazis wanted to be rid of. Within this camp the commandant's wife set up a dressmaking room to have the women make them fashionable clothing. Ella and her friend, Rose struggle to keep themselves alive, and befriend one of the guards who likes Ella's dressmaking skills and gives her some extras for her work. But they fall out over a red ribbon and Ella and her friend, Rose are sent to the laundry to work.
The privation, poverty, abuse and utter inhumane way these people were dealt with makes hard reading, and I needed to leave the book for a while before finishing it.
The book gives an insight into a small event in Auschwitz where a commandant's wife did actually set up a dressmaking salon amongst the absolute horror of the place for the use of other officers' wives and some of the guards. Apparently she enjoyed going there to have couturier dresses made for her. That these women could have the skinny enslaved women as their dressmakers reflects the piteous way in which the camp residents were seen.
Descriptions of the thousands brought to the camp in the final years of the war to be killed makes up the background of life lived there, but when the authorities realised that the end of the war was imminent, many more thousands were force marched away from the now burning buildings, to die in the snow. Ella survived through someone's kindness and hope became a catch cry through the rest of her life.
There are many novels written about the Holocaust and they fill in the history for teens who are unaware that such brutality existed in our world. And still does. So this is a novel which many will read, acquainting themselves with the horror of the past and like Ella, hoping for a better future.
Fran Knight