Michelangelo in Ravensbruck: One Woman's War Against the Nazis is a detailed record of Hitler's command, written between 1945 and 1946 by Countess Karolina Lanckoronska, a Polish-Catholic aristocrat with an indomitable will and a formidable intellect. In a memoir written in no-nonsense, reportorial style, this art professor tells of her activities and imprisonment for what the Nazis called her troublesome interference with the Reich's rule of terror.
With her wealth and connections, the countess could have escaped to Switzerland at the occupation's outset. But, an ardent patriot and dedicated teacher, she vowed to remain and continue her everyday life as well as to join the underground, all the while working to provide food and support to those in Nazi jails and prisons. Her head-on dealings with the SS and Gestapo, especially a perilous exchange with Nazi henchman Hans Kruger (in which he reveals a mass murder of Polish professors), land her in the notorious Ravensbruck concentration camp. There, she bolsters the women inmates (especially the rabbits, women subjected to medical experimentation) with nursing care and her extra rations of food. She also offers them sustenance for the spirit lectures on art and history that lift their vision beyond the high prison walls.
Lanckoronska spent five years in captivity before her release, brought about by the intervention of Carl Burckhardt, head of the International Red Cross. She lived out her days in exile in Rome, working to tell the truths of war and celebrate Polish culture. Her almost dispassionate telling of the suffering she witnessed makes for heartbreaking, often horrifying reading, but this is reading we must do, especially in our own troubling times.