Monday, June 17, 2019

I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree by Laura Hillman

I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree
Laura Hillman
Published 2005

Hannelore Wolff was a Jewish teenager attending school in Germany, during WWII, when she learned that her father was deported and murdered by Nazis. A short time later, her mother and two brothers, ages 10 and 11, were scheduled for deportation; Hannelore courageously requested to be deported with them so she could protect her younger brothers and they could stay together as a family. 

Hannelore Wolff (Laura Hillman) 1923-  

Immediately, Hannelore began telling in terrifying detail the conditions and treatment by the Nazis, beginning with the deportation process at an animal farm and stock pens. Unfortunately, it was difficult to keep her family together, especially because she was transferred to seven different camps over three years; nonetheless, she did all she could to remain alive under the most horrific circumstances. 

Hannelore's younger brothers

Many of her opportunities for survival came through friendship, courage, and coincidence. But one of her best opportunities came by love. She met a Polish POW, Dick Hillman, who was also Jewish. It seemed to be love at first sight! Because he worked in the kitchen, he was able to sneak extra food, hot coffee, or soup to Hannelore, especially while she was sick. They tried to stay connected, but it was often impossible. Yet while they were together, it was obvious Dick felt the same for Hannelore, and one day he promised her a lilac tree, just like the one she often thought of from her mama's garden back home.
One day when this is over, I'll plant you a lilac bush. Perhaps it will grow old and become a tree, like the one you remember. 
And we will run barefoot through the meadows [Hannelore added]. Just think of all the buttercups and other wildflowers we can gather along the way. 

As it seemed, she and Dick would never make it out of these labor camps alive, until they heard the hopeful news of Oskar Schindler. She and Dick were added to Schindler's list of Jewish workers and were to be transferred to Czechoslovakia. If you know the story of Schindler, he was instrumental is saving 1200 Jews from Nazi labor camps. And if you also know, a miscommunication or mix up caused the women on Schindler's list to be sent to Auschwitz for several months, until Schindler could bribe the Nazi officers to transfer the women to the camp in Czechoslovakia where they would work for him alone.  

Oskar Schindler 1908-1974

The ending is almost unbelievable, as Hannelore, sick with scarlet fever and emaciated from lack of nutrition, almost did not make it out alive. Even before that mix up at Auschwitz was worked out, Hannelore was selected for the gas chamber. It would take sly determination and quick thinking on her part to save her own life before it was too late.

Hannelore's story is appallingly treacherous and shockingly unthinkable. I read it in less than two days because I could not put it down. I know these stories are difficult to read, and it was especially for me because I kept thinking of my 11-year old son like Hannelore thought of her little brother. It is absolutely heart breaking. But I also believe that these stories are necessary to be told and to be read. 

Hannelore eventually survived to the end of the War, and she and Dick were married immediately. A few years later they moved to the United States. She has since changed her first name to Laura, and today she is 95-years old. If I ever got the chance to meet her, I would give her a big hug. Thank you, Mrs. Hillman, for sharing your story.  

Laura Hillman, after writing her story in 2005


If you like true stories, biographies, coming-of-age stories, stories about the Holocaust and WWII, and stories of survival, courage, and hope, then this is the perfect book for you. Also, if you liked The Diary of Anne Frank or The Hiding Place, you will love this story. This is considered YA, like Anne Frank, but this memoir also contains mature content and heavy themes. Under 270 pages, I read my copy in two days, which is a record for me. Others could probably read it in one sitting.


Carol said...

I agree they need to be told despite their appalling nature, Ruth. I read a post by Ruthiella earlier about a similar situation but where there was no happy ending.

Ruth said...

I'm not surprised. What book did she read, I wonder???