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.