Monday, July 27, 2009

So now that I feel pretty comfortable writing fiction queries...

It's time to switch it up and start writing non-fiction queries.

I've decided to try and branch out to write about some of my non-fiction interests as well. I have been reading books and thinking about all three for a few years now, and tried two years ago to start my own ad-writing business, but that quickly went onto the back burner when I decided to start graduate school instead. But what the heck... you can always find some extra time to write. Right? That's our theme around here.

So today, since I was organizing files anyway, I flipped through my non-fiction writing from college. I did my undergrad in History, and my special interest was the plight of Polish Catholic women during WW2 (an interest that stems from the fact that the Polish side of my family all disappeared in WW2... the American emigrant side was never able to contact them again). I am currently struggling with a proposal on the "Rabbits of Ravensbruck" for a WW2 history magazine. Does this sound interesting to you?

When Wanda Poltawska regained consciousness in the Ravensbruck hospital after her first operation in 1942, her leg was in a cast. Written on the plaster was the Roman numeral “II”. She and the other five women in the room compared their casts; two of them had “I”, two “II”, and two “III”. They were mystified. They were relatively healthy (except for malnutrition) and had no need for surgery. They hadn’t been told why or how their operations were being conducted. They had no way of knowing that the numerals signified what material had been introduced into incisions in their legs to bring about infection: I was fragments of wood, II glass splinters, and III a combination of both.

These women were all Polish-Catholic political prisoners held in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. Without trial, they had been sentenced to long and painful deaths as the victims of Nazi medical experiments, on treating battlefield wounds with sulfanilamide medications. Some would succumb to their wounds and some would be executed; some survived to tell their story at the Nuremberg trials of the medical staff. These women refused to be willing victims of the Nazis and struggled to protect each other and to expose their miseries at the camp hospital to the world. But have the “rabbits” (their joking way of referring to themselves as guinea pigs) of Ravensbruck been forgotten?

I am prepared to write a short article of 2500-3000 words on the 74 women who resisted medical victimization at the hands of the Nazis. Although this is a small group, they have an intriguing story. These women protested their treatment to the camp leadership, knowing it would be futile but hoping to take a stand; they passed information about their condition outside the camp, where word of medical abuses eventually reached the Allies; and they were dedicated to ensuring there was at least one survivor to tell their story after the war. Their spokeswoman told the camp commandant that, “as political prisoners they all preferred execution to operations”.

The other members of the Ravensbruck concentration camp did their best to shelter the “rabbits” and to hide them in the final days, as the war came to a close and the doctors sought to destroy the evidence of their inhumanity. These efforts included a female Russian electrician cutting the power in the midst of roll call so that the injured prisoners could be relocated and hidden. Finally, in 1946, four survivors testified against the three members of their medical staff held responsible: Doctors Gebhard and Fischer, and the female Doctor Oberheuser. The two male doctors were both condemned to death by hanging; Gebhart claimed his sentence was unjust, but Fischer, visibly shaken by the testimony against him, said at the end of his trial, ““I would have liked to stand up and say, hang me immediately. I am finished.”

Man, I feel like this should be shorter, but I have so much to say about these women! They truly took a heroic stand in the face of terrible mistreatment and death.

But then again, that's why I'm struggling with this query.

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