The Red Ribbon
Three weeks after being detained on her way home from school, fourteen-year-old Ella finds herself in the Upper Tailoring Studio, a sewing workshop inside a Nazi concentration camp. There, two dozen skeletal women toil over stolen sewing machines. They are the seamstresses of Birchwood, stitching couture dresses for a perilous client list: wives of the camp’s Nazi overseers and the female SS officers who make prisoners’ lives miserable. It is a workshop where stylish designs or careless stitches can mean life or death. And it is where Ella meets Rose. As thoughtful and resilient as the dressmakers themselves, Rose and Ella’s story is one of courage, desperation, and hope — hope as delicate and as strong as silk, as vibrant as a red ribbon in a sea of gray.
The Red Ribbon
Fourteen-year-old Ella is striped down and treated as subhuman by the Nazis and tries to survive. When she hears of an opening at the Upper Tailoring Studio of Auschwitz, she prays she will be given a space. The one way to survive is to work, otherwise she will be killed. Once Ella is chosen, she helps design clothes for high ranking officers wives, SS guards, and the commander in charge of the camp's wife. While there she runs into Rose. Their friendship grows and they rely on each other to survive the horrors of the Holocaust.
What worked: This is a poignant and heart wrenching look into one part of the Holocaust. I didn't know about this tailoring studio that used Holocaust victims of Auschwitz to design fine clothing for SS officers and other high ranking officers wives. There are those who bully other victims and others like Rose who believe in compassion, even among the horrors around them.
The one big thing about this novel is the choices people make during hardships and horrors like war. It reminded me of MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING by Victor Frankl where he describes how some prisoners dealt with being in the camps. In THE RED RIBBON readers see how some show little acts of kindness and others are quick to abuse and bully. What I really liked was at the end of the book the author writes how it is dangerous to judge other's behavior without knowing why they do what they do. She adds that still all have to take responsibility for their actions, good and bad. This is shown in vivid detail throughout the novel.
Ella struggles to stay alive are often put to the extreme test. Her friend Rose's fantasy stories and her acts of charity to other prisoners stays with Ella even when she wants to lash out in anger after she's targeted for extreme acts of cruelty. The one scene where SS guard Carla is quick to hurt Ella is filled with pain and shock. It reinforces the idea that these guards only think of the prisoners as subhuman.
A big theme of this book has to be not only hope, but the power and strength of friendship. Ella and Rose's friendship helps them through trying and difficult times. Each support the other.
A must read book for those reading up on the Holocaust. Poignant with hope symbolized in the forbidden red ribbon that Rose gives to Ella. This hope carries both of them through a horrific time in our history.