Ravensbrück concentration camp

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Ravensbrück concentration camp
for women
Female prisoners from Ravensbrück being forced to work as slaves
PeriodMay 1939 – April 1945
LocationFürstenberg/Havel, Nazi Germany
Run byNazi Schutzstaffel (SS)
Total132,000 – 153,000 [1][2]
Deaths52,200[3] – 117,000[1] according to different sources

Ravensbrück concentration camp (pronounced "RAW-vins-brook"[4]) was a concentration camp for women, run by Nazi Germany during World War II. It was in northern Germany, near the town of Ravensbrück.

The Schutzstaffel (SS), led by Heinrich Himmler, ran Ravensbrück concentration camp.

In November 1938, Himmler gave the order to start building the camp at Ravensbrück. By 1939, Ravensbrück was the biggest women's concentration camp in Nazi Germany.[5]

Over time, the Nazis made Ravensbrück much bigger. By 1944, Ravensbrück had become a complex (a group of many concentration camps).[3]

Between 1939 and 1945, about 153,000 people were prisoners at Ravensbrück.[2]

Growth of Ravensbrück[change | change source]

The women's camp[change | change source]

After Heinrich Himmler decided that Ravensbrück should be built, the SS brought about 500 male prisoners from Sachsenhausen concentration camp to the area. The SS forced these prisoners to build Ravensbrück. SS records say that Ravensbruck was designed to hold 3,000 prisoners.[1]pp. 3, 12, 20, 24

Ravensbrück opened in May 1939. The camp's first prisoners were a group of about 900 women sent from Lichtenburg concentration camp.[5] Ravensbrück very quickly became full. From 1939 to 1945, the Nazis were constantly making the camp bigger to hold more and more prisoners.[2]

After Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, the Nazis made Ravensbrück much larger. They expected to send many Polish people to concentration camps, and they wanted Ravensbrück to be able to fit more prisoners.[5] However, by May 1940 (just eight months after World War II started), Ravensbrück was full of prisoners.[1]p. 15

When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in summer 1941, there were about 5,000 prisoners at Ravensbrück.[1]p. 15 By the end of 1942, the camp held 10,000 prisoners (including many Soviet prisoners of war).[1]p. 15

At its most crowded, the women's camp held 50,000 prisoners.[6]

New camps[change | change source]

To make room for more and more prisoners, the Nazis added new camps to the original women's camp.

In April 1941, the Nazis added a concentration camp for men next to the women's camp. The SS forced the male prisoners to build the new camps in the Ravensbrück complex, and to work on making the women's camp bigger.[7]

In June 1942, a "juvenile protective custody camp" called Uckermark was built next to the men's camp. This was a camp just for teenage girls and young women.[2][5]

By 1944, the SS had forced prisoners to build over 40 smaller camps (called sub-camps). These sub-camps held over 70,000 prisoners, mostly women. The original Ravensbrück camp became the office for these sub-camps. However, women prisoners were still kept there, and male prisoners had to keep making the camp bigger to fit more prisoners.[5]

Types of prisoners[change | change source]

Of the 153,000 people who were prisoners at Ravensbrück between 1939 and 1945:[2]

  • About 132,000 were women and young children
  • About 1,000 were teenage girls
  • About 20,000 were men

People were sent to Ravensbrück for many different reasons. Prisoners at Ravensbrück included:[8][9]

By country[change | change source]

The Nazis sent people from over 30 countries to Ravensbrück. For example, historians estimate that:[5]

Irma Grese, one of the camp's female guards

Guards[change | change source]

Male SS members were in charge of Ravensbrück. However, the camp had over 150 female SS members who guarded the prisoners.[9]

Ravensbrück was also a training camp for SS women. They learned how to be concentration camp guards at Ravensbrück. Then they would stay and work there, or go work at another camp. Over 4,000 SS women trained at Ravensbrück.[9]

Many of the female SS guards at Ravensbrück, like Irma Grese, treated the prisoners very badly.[8][9]

Life at Ravensbrück[change | change source]

Arriving at Ravensbrück[change | change source]

Example of the type of triangle a Polish prisoner would have to wear

When prisoners first got to Ravensbrück, their hair was usually shaved off. The SS took away their personal things, including their clothes. Prisoners had to wear striped uniforms, which included a dress and a head scarf. Later on in the war, when there were not enough uniforms, women were sometimes allowed to wear their own clothes. However, they had to mark a big white "X" on the back of their clothes to show that they were prisoners.[1]p. 76

Every prisoner was given a serial number. The SS never called them by their names - only by their numbers.[8]

Prisoners had to sew their serial numbers onto their clothes. They also had to wear colored triangles which showed why they were sent to Ravensbrück. In the middle of the triangle, they had to sew a letter saying what country they were from. For example, Polish prisoners had to sew a red triangle with the letter "P" (for Poland) onto their clothes. (A red triangle showed that a person was a political enemy of Nazi Germany.)[10]

Living conditions[change | change source]

When Ravensbrück first opened, and the camp was not too crowded, living conditions were not too bad.[11] However, during the winter of 1939 to 1940, the camp got more crowded, and the SS reacted by giving the prisoners less food. After 1941, the food got much worse, and prisoners got much less of it.[5]

The women's camp at Ravensbrück had twelve barracks where the prisoners lived. They slept on wooden bunks which had three rows, one on top of the other. Each barrack had a washroom and three toilets with no doors.[12] There was very little sanitation. After 1943, sanitation in the barracks got much worse. This made it easier for diseases to spread.[12]

Towards the end of World War II, the camp was so crowded that 1,500 to 2,000 women were packed into barracks meant to hold only 250 people. Many women had to sleep on the floor, without even a blanket.[12] In 1945, the barracks were so crowded and sanitation was so bad that an epidemic of typhus spread through the camp. The disease killed many prisoners.[5]

Slave labor[change | change source]

Female prisoners entering the Siemens factory to do slave labor, with SS guards nearby
A road roller used by prisoners to pave roads

Every morning, the prisoners had to get up at 4:00 in the morning for roll call. This meant they had to stand in line while the SS counted them.[12]

After roll call, prisoners went to work. Every prisoner at Ravensbrück was forced to work. If a person could not work, they would be killed.[8]

Many prisoners worked at a Siemens Electric Company factory next to the women's camp. The prisoners worked as slaves, making parts for Nazi V-1 and V-2 rockets (flying bombs).[13] Other prisoners worked at important German companies like Daimler-Benz (now Mercedes-Benz) and AEG (a German electrical company).[14][15][16]

Some prisoners in the women's camp did other jobs, like:[13]

Some women had to work outside. They built roads and buildings. Sometimes these women were used like animals. For example, sometimes twelve to fourteen women would have to pull a huge roller to pave the streets.[13]

Women who were too sick or injured to do other jobs - usually because of medical experiments - knitted things like socks for the German Army, or cleaned the barracks and latrines.[13]

Prisoners usually worked for twelve hours a day. Some worked from 7:00 in the morning to 7:00 at night. Others worked from 7:00 at night to 7:00 in the morning.[13]

Prisoners did not have to work on Sundays.[12]

Medical experiments[change | change source]

Starting in 1942, Nazi doctors did medical experiments on 86 women prisoners.[17] The doctors did two types of experiments.

In the first type, the doctors cut the women's legs, muscles, and nerves, or broke their leg bones. Then they infected these wounds with bacteria. Sometimes they rubbed wood or glass into the wounds. Then they gave the women sulfanilamide antibiotics to see if they would work.[17]

In the second type of experiment, the doctors studied whether bones could be taken from one person and put into another person. They amputated some women's arms or legs to do these experiments.[17]

In January 1945, Nazi doctors sterilized about 120 to 140 Roma women and children. The doctors were trying to find a quick, easy way to sterilize people.[17]

Some women died from these experiments. The SS killed some other women who had wounds that did not heal.[17]

Sexual abuse[change | change source]

Some of the women and young children at Ravensbrück were raped or sexually abused.[18]

Starting in 1942, the SS created brothels in eight other concentration camps, like Buchenwald and Dachau.[19] Women from Ravensbrück were forced to work as prostitutes in these brothels.[20][21]

Death at Ravensbrück[change | change source]

The crematorium at Ravensbrück. When people died at the camp, their bodies were burned to ashes here

Nobody agrees on how many people died or were murdered at Ravensbrück. Estimates range from 52,200,[3] to 90,000,[8]p. 8 to 117,000.[1]

Prisoners at Ravensbrück died for many reasons. These included:[3]

  • Starvation
  • Diseases
  • Medical experiments
  • Being forced to work too hard without having enough food, water, or medical care

Many prisoners were also murdered by the SS.

Murder[change | change source]

The gas chamber at Hadamar. Prisoners were sent here to be murdered between 1942-1944

Unlike many other concentration camps, Ravensbrück did not have its own gas chamber until early 1945.[7] The SS used other ways of killing prisoners.

Regularly, the SS would perform "selections." They would pick out prisoners who looked too sick or weak to work. Then they would kill these prisoners.[8]

At first, the SS killed prisoners by shooting them or giving them lethal injections in the camp's "hospital." Then, starting in 1942, they began sending prisoners to other places that did have gas chambers, like Hartheim Euthanasia Centre, so they could be killed there. Between 1942 and 1944, the SS sent about 60 groups of prisoners to Hartheim to be gassed to death. Each group had 60 to 1,000 prisoners in it.[5]

The SS also sent prisoners to Auschwitz concentration camp to be killed in its gas chambers.[6]

In early 1945, the SS made prisoners build a gas chamber at Ravensbrück.[7] By this time, the Nazis knew that the Soviet Red Army was getting close. They wanted to kill as many prisoners as possible before the Red Army arrived. In its last few months, Ravensbrück became an extermination camp (a death camp).[9] The SS started sending children and prisoners from Ravensbrück's sub-camps to the main camp, so they could be gassed to death. In just a few months, the SS killed 5,000 to 6,000 prisoners in the gas chamber.[22]

Death march and freedom[change | change source]

In March 1945, the Red Army was very close to Ravensbrück. The SS did not want to leave any witnesses to tell the Soviets what had happened at Ravensbrück. In March, they sent about 8,000 prisoners to other concentration camps.[23]

On April 27, the SS forced about 20,000 female prisoners and about 3,000 male prisoners to march towards the middle of Germany.[23] This was a death march.[24] The SS guards had been ordered to kill anyone who could not keep up.[24] However, Soviet soldiers found the route of the march and freed the prisoners who had survived the death march.[23]

On April 29, the SS guards that were still at Ravensbrück ran away from the camp. The next day, the Red Army arrived at Ravensbrück and freed the camp. They found only about 3,000 very sick prisoners. These were the prisoners that the SS had left behind because they were too sick to march.[25]

Photo gallery[change | change source]

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Saidel, Rochelle G. (2006). The Jewish Women of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. Terrace Books. ISBN 978-0-299-19864-0.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "Ravensbruck: Historical Overview and Map – Memorial" (PDF). Ravensbrück Memorial. Brandenburg Memorials Foundation. 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 28, 2016. Retrieved February 20, 2016.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Berenbaum, Michael (2016). "Ravensbrück: Concentration Camp, Germany". Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved February 20, 2016.
  4. "Glossary". A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust. College of Education, University of South Florida. Retrieved February 20, 2016.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 "Ravensbrück". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved February 20, 2016.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Laqueur, Thomas (April 1, 2015). "If This is a Woman: Inside Ravensbrück, Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm – Review". The Guardian Online. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved February 20, 2016.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Baumel, Judith Tydor; Laqueur, Walter (2001). The Holocaust Encyclopedia. Yale University Press. p. 238. ISBN 978-0300138115.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Helm, Sarah (2015). If This is a Woman: Inside Ravensbrück, Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-1408705384.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Helm, Sarah (March 31, 2015). Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women. Nan A. Talese. ISBN 978-0385520591.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Women of Ravensbrück: Who Were They?". Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies: Virtual Museum. University of Minnesota. February 6, 2014. Retrieved February 21, 2016.
  11. Buber-Neumann, Margarete (January 2009). Under Two Dictators: Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler. Pimlico. p. 162. ISBN 978-1845951030.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 "Women of Ravensbrück: Life in the Barracks". Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies: Virtual Museum. University of Minnesota. February 6, 2014. Retrieved February 21, 2016.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 "Women of Ravensbrück: Slave Labor". Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies: Virtual Museum. University of Minnesota. February 6, 2014. Retrieved February 21, 2016.
  14. Buggeln, Marc (2014). Slave Labor in Nazi Concentration Camps. OUP Oxford. ISBN 0191017647.
  15. Clarke, Alan (1995). Barbarossa. Orion Books. ISBN 978-0-304-35864-9.
  16. Mitgang, Herbert (August 23, 1990). "Daimler-Benz and its Nazi History: Mercedes in Peace and War (Book Review)". New York Times Online. The New York Times Company. Retrieved February 21, 2016.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 Spitz, Vivien (April 1, 2005). Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans. Sentient Publications. ISBN 978-1591810322.
  18. Hedgepeth, Sonja M.; Saidel, Rochelle G. (December 14, 2010). Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust. Brandeis University Press. ASIN B017MYEXY0.
  19. Wickert, Christl (2002). "Tabu Lagerbordell." In Insa Eschebach, Sigrid Jacobeit, Silke Wenk (eds). Gedächtnis und Geschlecht. Campus Fachbuch. p. S44. ISBN 978-3593370538. (in German)
  20. Schulz, Christa (1994). Weibliche Häftlinge aus Ravensbrück in den Bordellen der Männerkonzentrationslager. In Claus Füllberg-Stolberg (ed.). Frauen in Konzentrationslagern. Bergen-Belsen Ravensbrück. Bremen. ISBN 3-86108-237-3. (in German)
  21. "Nazi Sex Slaves: New Exhibition Documents Forced Prostitution in Concentration Camps". Spiegel Online International. January 15, 2007. Retrieved February 21, 2016.
  22. "Women of Ravensbrück: Murder". Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies: Virtual Museum. University of Minnesota. February 6, 2014. Retrieved February 21, 2016.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 "Ravensbrück: Liberation and Postwar Trials". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. January 29, 2016. Retrieved February 21, 2016.
  24. 24.0 24.1 "Death Marches". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. January 29, 2016. Retrieved February 21, 2016.
  25. "Women of Ravensbrück: Murder". Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies: Virtual Museum. University of Minnesota. February 6, 2014. Retrieved February 21, 2016.