I Will Plant You Like a Lilac Tree: A Mem­oir of a Schindler’s List Survivor

Lau­ra Hillman
  • Review
By – August 3, 2012

Han­nelore Wolff’s (Lau­ra Hill­man) fam­i­ly had sent her to a Jew­ish board­ing school in Berlin and for a while she was safe. When she learned through two let­ters from her moth­er first, that her father had been mur­dered by the Nazis, and sec­ond, that her two broth­ers and her moth­er had been ordered to report for trans­port to the East, Han­nelore wrote to Gestapo head­quar­ters despite her mother’s plea that she should save her­self, and request­ed that she be allowed to be trans­port­ed with her moth­er and broth­ers. The request was grant­ed and soon her hell began: the jour­ney in the cat­tle car to the Pol­ish ghet­to and sub­se­quent hell­ish jour­neys to a series of eight con­cen­tra­tion camps, one worse than the oth­er except for one that was odd­ly sur­re­al­is­tic and almost pleas­ant, but which held a secret, prob­a­bly sex­u­al. A Ger­man offi­cer who want­ed her to reveal the camp’s secret to get even with its com­man­dant, raped Han­nelore. By the time she reached Auschwitz she was close to dying, and then she was sum­moned to Plas­zow, the camp where the inmates were shel­tered by Oskar Schindler, the Right­eous Gen­tile. How did she get on that list? 

Every survivor’s sto­ry is unique. Was he saved by luck? By learn­ing nev­er to vol­un­teer? By land­ing a job in the kitchen, the infir­mary, or through some sin­gu­lar skill? By the loy­al­ty and help of a friend or rel­a­tive? By a Chris­t­ian? In all sur­vivor sto­ries at least some of the above are present, but in Lau­ra Hillman’s sto­ry there are addi­tion­al ele­ments that helped her to sur­vive: her beau­ty, her abil­i­ty to speak per­fect Ger­man, her strength of spir­it, and her love for Dick Hill­man, a fel­low pris­on­er whom she lat­er mar­ried. I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree is an incred­i­ble sto­ry of reach­ing deep with­in one­self to find courage, strength, and even love dur­ing those hor­ri­ble times. Dick Hill­man and Han­nelore Wolff mar­ried after the war. He had promised her that: I will find you wher­ev­er you are.” He kept his promise. Nei­ther ever saw their fam­i­lies again. The writ­ing is live­ly, with much dia­logue, elo­quent descrip­tions of the sur­round­ings and the var­i­ous char­ac­ters with whom Han­nelore inter­acts. It is a grip­ping sto­ry as well as a mov­ing mem­oir. Ages 13 up.

Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

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