In 1939, Countess Karolina Lanckoronska, professor and wealthy landowner, joined the Polish underground, was arrested, sentenced to death, and was held in Ravensbruck concentration camp. There she taught art history to other women who, like her, might be dead in a few days. This inspiring and beautifully written memoir records a neglected side of World War II: the mass murder of Poles, the serial horrors inflicted by both Russians and Nazis, and the immense courage of those who...
In 1939, Countess Karolina Lanckoronska, professor and wealthy landowner, joined the Polish underground, was arrested, sentenced to death, and was held in Ravensbruck concentration camp. There she taught art history to other women who, like her, might be dead in a few days. This inspiring and beautifully written memoir records a neglected side of World War II: the mass murder of Poles, the serial horrors inflicted by both Russians and Nazis, and the immense courage of those who resisted.
This is a fascinating book, though for reasons its author may not have entirely intended. Written in 1945-46 but just published in the United States, Michelangelo in Ravensbruck is a memoir of the German and Soviet occupations of Poland—but it is not the kind of World War II memoir we are used to. The author, who died in 2002 at the age of 104, was a wealthy countess, a professor of art history, a devout Catholic, a fervent anticommunist and a member of the Polish underground. In 1942, she was arrested by the Gestapo, which sent her to a series of prisons and then to Ravensbruck, the women's concentration camp north of Berlin. But because of who she was—and who she was not—Karolina Lanckoronska's experience, and the meaning she makes of it, differed in fundamental ways from those of Jewish camp survivors such as Primo Levi and Jean Amery. Her account is as interesting, and as valuable, for what she puts in as for what she leaves out.
—The Washington Post
"Offers a rare insight into this aspect of the Holocaust and of the courage of those who resisted the mass murderers."
[Lanckoronska's] almost dispassionate telling of the suffering she witnessed makes for heartbreaking . . . reading, but this is reading we must do.
A Polish aristocrat born in Austria, Countess Lanckoronska (1898- 2002) became an art history professor at the University of Lvov, Poland. When the Soviets invaded in September 1939, the countess joined the resistance and eventually evaded arrest by fleeing to German-occupied Krakow, where she worked with the Polish Red Cross and continued her resistance activities. At Stanislawow, where she had been delivering care packages to prisoners, Lanckoronska was briefly imprisoned and local Gestapo chief Hans Kruger confessed to her that he had murdered 23 University of Lvov professors, a war crime she made it her mission to publicize. Imprisoned at Ravensbruck because of her political activities, the ever-resilient Lanckoronska cared for victims of medical experiments and taught art and European history. She eschewed her privileged status to join the ranks of prisoners, but as a Christian Lanckoronska never shared the ordeal of Jewish concentration camp prisoners, and her memoir says little about atrocities committed against European Jewry. Although the style is stilted and restrained, this is still a worthy, unsentimental eyewitness account that sheds welcome light on a tumultuous era of modern Polish history. 8 pages of b&w photos; map. (Apr. 5) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
A Polish aristocrat blessed with a considerable sense of noblesse oblige recalls years of resistance to totalitarian rule. Countess Karolina Lanckoronska, who died in Rome at the age of 104, in 2002, wrote this rich memoir in 1945 and '46. She sent parts of it to two English publishers, she writes, who rejected it as "too anti-Russian." A few years later, she sent it to two more publishers, who rejected it as "too anti-German." In the context of Cold War politics, the publishers were right. In whatever context, Lanckoronska describes, sometimes with considerable indignation, what life was like in Lvov when the Red Army first invaded it under the partition following the Nazi-Soviet pact; a university professor of art history and specialist in the Renaissance, she clearly considered the newcomers barbarians, easily amused by baby rattles and ignorant of how to use a toilet or shower. By her account, the Soviets were also easily misled, childish as they were, yet not without resources and the ability to induce fear: "I was expecting the NKVD every time the doorbell rang," she writes. With the arrival of the Nazis, she found a new enemy, and so did they. Captured and sentenced to be executed for working with the resistance, she was spared by odd circumstances: One of her interrogators admitted to her that he had participated in the murder of 25 of her fellow professors, and when she brought the matter to another Nazi officer, her sentence was commuted to imprisonment. At Ravensbruck concentration camp, perhaps improbably, she organized her barracks into a miniature university and taught art history to her fellow inmates-and, summoning up the weight of her nobility, also commanded "a degree oforderliness in collective living to ensure that contact with the Germans was kept to the minimum possible."An unusual memoir from an unusual point of view, one that at times recalls Czeslaw Milosz's The Captive Mind; readable and thought-provoking.
Translator's Acknowledgement vii
List of Illustrations viii
Map: The Partition of Poland in 1939 x
Note on Pronunciation xi
Preface Eva Hoffman xiii
Introduction Lech Kalinowksi Elzbieta Orman xvii
Prologue by the Author xxv
Lwow (22 September 1939-3 May 1940) 1
Krakow (May 1940-June 1941) 40
On Tour in the 'General Government' (July 1941-March 1942) 78
Stanislawow (March 1942-7 July 1942) 114
The Lacki Street Prison in Lwow (8 July 1942-28 November 1942) 245
Berlin (29 November 1942-9 January-1943) 182
Ravensbruck (9 January 1943-5 April 1945) 194
Names of the Lwow professors murdered by Kruger
Letter from SS General Ernst Kaltenbrunner to the President of the International Red Cross
Index of Names 333