Review: The Girl in the Striped Dress by Ellie Midwood

Germany, 1947.

A strange case scheduled for the Denazification Court lands on the desk of an American psychiatrist currently serving in Germany, Dr. Hoffman. A former Auschwitz guard, Franz Dahler, is set to appear in court, and he has requested to bring the most unexpected witness to testify in his defense – one of his former inmates and current wife, Helena.

As soon as one of the newly emerging Nazi hunters and former Auschwitz inmate, Andrej Novák, recognizes the officer’s name, he demands a full investigation of Dahler’s crimes, claiming that the former SS man was not only abusing Helena in the camp but is also using her as a ploy to escape prosecution.

Silent, subdued, and seemingly dependent on her husband’s every word, Helena appears to be a classic victim of abuse, and possibly more of an aid to the prosecution instead of the defense. As she begins giving her testimony, Dr. Hoffman finds himself more and more confused at the picture that gradually emerges before his eyes; a perpetrator is claimed to be the savior and the accuser, the criminal.

The better Dr. Hoffman gets to know each participant, the more he begins to question himself; whether he’s facing a most unimaginable love story, or a new and still-nameless psychological disorder affecting the very manner in which Helena sees the events of the past.

Review

There are a lot of things that drew me to this story. One of the key things is that it is partly based on a true story. Secondly, I couldn’t comprehend the idea of a relationship between an SS Soldier and a Jewish inmate.

This is Helena’s story. She was an inmate at Auschwitz when she met an SS Soldier, Dahler. Dahler seemed different from the other SS soldiers. However, he was also similar to them in many ways. He was different in that he viewed and treated Helena as a human being which is not something that most of the other inmates experienced with the SS soldiers. On the other hand, Dahler had moments of cruelty and was especially known to be quick with the whip.

I had so many questions as I read the first chapters of this book. I wondered whether Stockholm syndrome was at play. At the trial, Helena’s demeanor spoke volumes and I was concerned. Through Helena’s story, we get to learn how the two met and fell in love in a place where there didn’t seem to be any room for such feelings.

This is quite a heartbreaking read. The horrific tales of what happened in Auschwitz had me tempted to skip chapters. I still can’t believe just how low human beings(Nazis) had sank. Where was humanity in that era?

Overall, this is quite a well written and researched story that will tug at your heartstrings and give you plenty to think about.