Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree

What a book to make one thankful!

I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree, a memoir of the Holocaust, makes me so grateful for food, clothing, a warm bed, a hot shower... the list goes on.

At times one can think that the suffering of these people was only for a few years--that the Jews who survived the Holocaust were still able to live most of their lives normally. It seems easier to think this way; it helps us cope with the knowledge of what humanity was capable of doing to other human beings!

It is sobering, however, to think that at the time these Jews were in the midst of it, they didn't know how long it would be or if they would even come out alive. I can imagine their prayers with the Psalmist, "How long, O Lord?" (Psalm 13:1-2 and 35:17). When they did come out alive, they survived with scars and horrible memories.

One of the many gripping parts of the book is her description of coming into one of the most dreaded camps with a commandant rumored to be extremely cruel. This is how I remember it: It was the dead of winter, freezing cold. Hannelore was forced into one building (barracks) and told to strip naked. Then she was sent out into the freezing cold, naked, to the next building where she took an icy cold shower and sprayed down with chemicals (to kill lice and other vermin). Sent out into the cold again, naked, to the next building to be "examined" by the doctor, who inspected every crevice of her naked body. The humiliation! Out into the winter snow again, still naked, to the next building to finally receive merely an over-sized dress, stained underwear, and wooden clogs. No winter coat. No socks. And she was just thankful to have clothes again.

It reminds me of Betsie ten Boom, who died at Ravenbruck. While standing naked in line for the doctor's inspection, along with her sister Corrie, she brokenly remarked, as if a realization had just come over her, "Corrie! They took HIS [meaning Jesus'] clothes too! And I've never thanked Him!"

Hebrews 4:15 tells us that there is nothing we suffer that Jesus did not suffer. He understands. "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities..."

This poem that I learned as a child is always a reminder to me of how many blessings I have. May God always cause me to remember!

Today upon a bus I saw
A girl with golden hair;
I envied her--she seemed so happy--
And wished that I were half so fair;
I watched her as she rose to leave,
And saw her hobble down the aisle.
She had one leg and used a crutch,
But as she passed--a smile.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine;
I have two legs--the world is mine.

Later on the way to work,
I stopped to buy some sweets.
The boy who sold them had such charm,
I thought I'd stop and talk awhile.
If I were late, 't would do no harm.
"Thank you, sir, you've been so kind.
"It's nice to talk to folks like you
"You see," he said, "I'm blind"
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine;
I have two eyes--the world is mine

Later, walking down the street,
I met a boy with eyes so blue.
But he stood and watched the others play;
It seemed he knew not what to do.
"Why don't you join the others, dear?"
He looked straight ahead without a word,
And then I knew, he couldn't hear.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine;
I have two ears--the world is mine.

Two legs to take me where I go,
Two eyes to see the sunset's glow,
Two ears to hear all I should know,
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine;
I'm blest, indeed, the world is mine.

~ Dr. Tennyson Guyer

Click here to read about Laura Hillman's life now.

Book description from

In the spring of 1942 Hannelore received a letter from Mama at her school in Berlin, Germany--Papa had been arrested and taken to a concentration camp. Six weeks later he was sent home; ashes in an urn.

Soon another letter arrived. "The Gestapo has notified your brothers and me that we are to be deported to the East--whatever that means." Hannelore knew: labor camps, starvation, beatings...How could Mama and her two younger brothers bear that? She made a decision: She would go home and be deported with her family. Despite the horrors she faced in eight labor and concentration camps, Hannelore met and fell in love with a Polish POW named Dick Hillman.

Oskar Schindler was their one hope to survive. Schindler had a plan to take eleven hundred Jews to the safety of his new factory in Czechoslovakia. Incredibly both she and Dick were added to his list. But survival was not that simple. Weeks later Hannelore found herself, alone, outside the gates of Auschwitz, pushed toward the smoking crematoria.

I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree is the remarkable true story of one young woman's nightmarish coming-of-age. But it is also a story about the surprising possibilities for hope and love in one of history's most brutal times.

About the Author
Laura Hillman (nee Hannelore Wolff) was born in 1923 in Aurich, Germany, near the North Sea. She was the third of five children born to Karoline and Martin Wolff. Five years after Hitler came to power, Laura was separated from her town and family. The events Laura witnessed in the camps kept her from writing for many years, but she finally set out to write her memoir, facing for the first time the circumstances that led to her survival.

Laura now lives in Los Alamitos, California, and devotes her time between talking in high schools and colleges about her experiences and being a docent at the Long Beach Museum of Art. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.


  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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