Saturday, May 26, 2012


The official beginning of the history of Ravensbrück concentration camp,  which can be  determined as May 15th 1939.  On that day the transfer of prisoners from the previous central concentration camp for women at Lichtenburg was started. On May 27, 1939 the appropriate police authorities of the Reich received the message that the installation in Ravensbrück was completed and transfers from Lichtenberg had now ceased. Admissions of female prisoners held in protective custody now have to be made into this  camp. At that time, 970 women  were registered as inmates. But already before 15 May, at least 310 women had been in Ravensbrück. Also, another point, they were mainly coming from Lichtenburg and had already begun in November 1938 together with about 500 male prisoners from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp with the construction of the first barracks and the camp wall.

women prisoners at Ravensbrück during excavation work
The decision, to build north-east of the town of Fürstenberg at that time in terms of a modern contemporary Concentration Camp specifically for women was decided, probably at the end of 1938. The geographic location of the site along the traditional border between Mecklenburg and Prussia was favourable for the planned project. Other factors were,  good transport links by train to Berlin,[from the city, sic] to Highway 96 and the waterways in the area of the river Havel, furthermore the camp was surrounded by lakes and forests in a natural way and shielded from the nearby town and prying eyes. At that time prosperous Berliner had used the area for their retirement villas or weekend properties. Inhabitants of the city relied on tourism and from trade of the Inland Waterways, (Binneschiffahrt) on the whole they were fishermen, trades people or occupied in agriculture. There was also a "Weaving Factory"[Spinnerei Fürstenberg AG,sic] which was due to the Treaty of Versailles camouflaged as such, but actively used as a Rearmament Factory.
 Its  name of the concentration camp came from the small village of Ravensbrück immediately adjacent to it, which had developed and became at that time already a suburb of Fürstenberg. Ravensbrück belonged administratively to Prussia, while the city of Fürstenberg was part of Mecklenburg. The land border, which ran through the midst of the Schwedt-Sea offered, again and again occasion for bureaucratic conflicts around the question, which administration was responsible for questions of problems in the camp when these occurred.
After the end of the war, was the administrative segregation an issue, the inhabitants of Fürstenberg adopted a stereotype distance formula with which they expressed that they had nothing to do with the events in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Only in 1952 was the village Ravensbrück incorporated into the city of Fürstenberg. Against the initial plans of the SED government,[Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands,i.e.East Germany, sic] to transfer and rename Fürstenberg to Ravensbrück, on this occasion the whole community stirred in fierce opposition and it was not done.

Land which was required for the building of the concentration camp sites for the most part was owned by the Prussian Forest Administration, but some of it belonged to private individuals as well as the"Faserstoff AG" ("Fiber Company"). In December 1938, the party office of the NSDAP,  initially started to buy the plots on behalf of the SS. Later on, the land registry records had been rewritten into the "Greater German Reich, Treasury  Waffen SS".  Since 1940, the terrain of the concentration camp expanded steadily and reached 1944 about the extent of the town of Fürstenberg. By the end of the war, however, not all land bought or occupied had been entered for some reason into the Land Register.
Like all the centrally planned and built concentration camps of the SS after 1933, Ravensbrück was also typical of this"ensemble". In a sense it symbolised the core of the "nationalistic" SS-ideal: a symmetrical scale of a shanty-town for slaves in addition to the workshops and industrial plants of a driven labour force, administrative buildings and clearly separated from that, but within sight, the homes for the"Herrenmenschen"(the ruling class)
In the first phase of construction until about 1940 the camp consisted of an area of ​​100 by 200 meters. It was surrounded by a four-meter high wall, on top of this was a high voltage barbed wire netting to thwart any escape attempt. Watch towers typical at other camp facilities were missing in the camp. Only the men's camp which was built later on had four watchtowers.
The prison camp consisted during its first phase of 14 Living-Barracks, two hospital barracks and an administrative barrack with kitchen and laundry facilities. The prisoner accommodations were originally designed and developed for the RAD Reichsarbeitsdienst[German Labour Service Units, where all males from the age of 18 had to perform physical labour for two years as a rule prior to military service, this was extended to females later on  sic] as low-rise buildings (Flachbauten) with their standardised items that were assembled on site and were dismantled at any time again if need be. [in modern term these were Kit Sets, sic] The contract for the establishment and development of barracks had been  taken over by the Ravensbrück carpentry Kühn, a company that prospered thanks to the orders of the SS since 1939. In the early years Kühn also manufactured and supplied coffins for the dead prisoners. Erich Kühn, the son of the former master carpenter, keeps in his by now disused factory timber beams that still bear the stamp FKL [Frauen Konzentrations Lager,sic]on them which his father and staff used during  his time as posts for the multi-storey bed frames.
The concentration camp was initially planned for a maximum of 3,000 female inmates. About this number,  there was a disagreement between Theodor Eicke, the Inspector of the concentration camps, and Oswald Pohl, then director of administration in the Main Office(SS-Hauptamt). Pohl first insisted for a capacity of 10,000 inmates,  Eicke who advocated for a lower figure apparently prevailed. Yet from the beginning, the camp was designed in its structure for a possible extension. The security interests as a result of the 1939 war and the resulting increased demand for slave labour in the armaments industry in the coming years created the dynamics of growth and expansion of the camp complex at Schwedtsee, with its own Water Works, Treatment Plant, Transformer Station and Telephone Exchange it was ideal and self-sufficient.

Female inmates in the construction of the SS-settlement 
" Residential area of the SS guards and Aufseherinnen" 
Just as in Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and other main camps (Stammlager) a common cell block was also established during the first phase for the women. The building was performed by the Fürstenberger Contrator Ahlgrimm. Ahlgrimm, at the end of April 1945 had helped some prisoners to escape, after the war he was ordered by the Soviet occupying power for the dismantling and removal of the camp. A camp own crematorium was put into operation in 1943 and 1944 expanded its capacity. Until then, the bodies of prisoners to be disposed off were taken and cremated at the municipal crematorium of Fürstenberg.

Crematorium and Road Roller
In 1940, the two-story headquarters building was finished and included a basement. The columnar-lined prestigious entrance located directly across from the SS-residential development, while its rear pointed back to the prison camp. In addition to the offices of the commander and the administrative department, the building housed the political office of the Gestapo, the infirmary for members of the SS, the postal censorship office and a pharmacy in the basement.

Former SS Commandants Residence and others. Today a museum 
Führer-house in the Residential area
The first workshops, in which the women prisoners had to work were probably built at the same time with the first living quarters at the back of the camp site. Since these shacks were used for other purposes and later moved like most shops to the industrial yard, this initial phase is difficult to reconstruct. The workshops were first under the control of the camp commander,  later they came under the jurisdiction of the SS administration office. The prisoners were doing there the traditional women's work as was also typical for the so-called work-houses: they sewed, did knitting, weaving on hand looms and made ​​straw sandals (Strohschuhe) and straw mats.
  A large proportion of the houses for the SS officers and guards were built in 1939/40. The SS-settlement, which still exists today, is located in an area beyond the shores of the Schwedt-Lake, a hilly terrain between the camp and the  village of Ravensbrück. If you approached from the Himmelpforter-Way straight to the camp, you are met first at a barrier (Schlagbaum), behind which are set in the "homeland preserving style"(Heimatschutzstil) and you will see, very visible, characteristic houses with half-timbered balconies and natural stone columns between manicured lawns, ornamental walls and little entrance steps. Location, size and features of each building are designed and followed to hierarchical architectural rules[very Nordic and Germanic, but pleasing to the eye sic]. At the highest point of the land were the four, well-equipped Leader Houses (Führerhäuser) in which lived the camp commander and other high-ranking SS officers with their families. There are two other  properties of Row-Houses next to it for NCO's and further eight for female overseers (Aufseherinnen). The latter were a mix of a new type of bachelor accommodation and garrison, in which the single female guards were housed in comfortable apartments in those days. The entire complex was built by the Ahlgrimm company. The elaborate interiors of the houses with wooden stairs and wall panelling and joinery was done by the Carpentry Company of Kühn.

The first Record of the strength of existing prisoners at Ravensbrück concentration camp, is dated the 21 May 1939. Accordingly, on that day 974 prisoners were registered at Ravensbrück. 114 of them were imprisoned for political reasons, 388 wore the purple triangle of the Bible Students (Jehovah's Witnesses), 119 women were so-called crime prevention detainees, 240 were considered to be antisocial, 95 women were detained because of allegations of racial shame. In addition, there were two so-called training prisoners and 16 miscellaneous  detainees in the camp.
The composition of this first group of prisoners in Ravensbrück principally reflected the spectrum of the Nazi policy exclusively towards women until the beginning of the war. Detained indefinitely in a detention camp, were not only as conscious opponents of the system, like the Political and the Jehovah's Witnesses, but also women who did not fit into the Nazi image of "normalcy" and "cleanliness"(Sauberkeit), although for the arrest criteria women differed in some respects from the practices of internment compared with men. Thus, for example, male homosexuals have since 1933, when exposed did face systematic arrest and once in a concentration camp had to suffer special harassment, while female homosexuality was not recognised in law as such or pursued. Male "protective custody" were mostly due to criminal grand theft and murder-related offences, while women were mostly detained for petty crime and abortion and put into a concentration camp. The females stigmatised as"asocial" prisoners were in the first place mainly prostitutes who had not adhered to government regulations,[they were legally obliged to register for health reason and income tax, sic] while men because of homelessness, begging, alcoholism were apprehended  during large scale area-wide raids and had been found as "lazy"(arbeitsscheu) and were sent to concentration camps. For women, the latter accusation played until after the war began with the introduction of compulsory service a larger role. The persecution for racial reasons , like Roma and Sinti were assigned by the SS the black triangle and considered as "asocial" elements. In June 1939 a total of 440 Roma women had been brought from the Burgenland in Austria to Ravensbrück. The Roma and Sinti women from Germany, Austria, and later from the occupied countries of Europe were up to their deportation to Auschwitz a significant group in the society of women prisoners' in the camp. Besides the Jewesses, they were exposed to the worst discrimination and harassment imaginable.
The most famous Jewish prisoner, no doubt was Olga Benario-Preste who later played in East Germany in the Tradition Of Care an important part.[Perhaps in a spiritual way, this statement by the researcher(Annette Leo) is confusing, as Olga was gassed in 1942,sic] The 31-year-old communist had belonged to the secret apparatus of the Communist-International and was during a failed attempt in 1935 after an uprising in Brazil by the authorities arrested and extradited to Germany. Olga Benario-Prestes was included  in one of the first transports of prisoners from Lichtenburg to Ravensbrück and was probably soon after Block Leader of the Jewish Block II.  Communist prison survivors later reported that she fought  bravely for the improvement of living conditions for the women in her barracks and dismissed as Block Leader for her insistence and for a time was locked in the cell block.
Testimony to the most cohesive and best organised inmates were the "Political's" and Jehovah's Witnesses, whose barracks because of the prevailing cleanliness and order wee considered the show piece of the blocks. A similar unity and discipline was also observed in barracks of the captive women (POW) of the Red Army. The Jehovah's Witnesses were not only numerically the largest group in the camp, but they also took a special place as prisoners. There were significantly more females detained as a religious community as fellow believers, while others were almost all persecuted groups, where the men had been in the majority. It has often been said, Jehovah's Witnesses were "voluntarily" in the camp. This opinion would probably be expressed that they could have been immediately released if they had renounced their religious beliefs and left their community by signing a waiver.. The women with the violet triangles were in eyes of the SS as particularly reliable. Margarete Buber-Neumann, who was nearly two years their block leader reported that: "The Jehovah's Witnesses up to 1942 (when a special punitive measure against the members of this group started), were the sought after workers that  had been in the concentration camp. "They cleaned the houses of the high-ranking SS officer and the guards headquarters, they cared for the children of the SS in their homes, they were maids in the commanders office, and to the officers in charge and the rest of the camp administration, they toiled in the SS nursery,  they took care of the bloodhounds of the SS,  as well as pigs, chicken and angora rabbits. In their devotion to duty, diligence, absolute honesty and in strict compliance with all SS commands, one could not imagine any ideal and better slaves under the camp prisoners. It went as far as that they were issued with special passes that allowed them to work without supervision and walk through the camp gate, for a Jehovah's Witness would never escape from the concentrate camp, it was simply against their belief, never to be deceitful".
The group of women with the red triangle of political prisoners was made up until the beginning of the War at first mostly from German and Austrian Communists, and Social Democrats. Many of them were there for an indefinite term of imprisonment and serving as "incorrigible" subjects time in a concentration camp. These women had been practising obstructive conduct, discipline, and solidarity before their detention in different jails. Numerically, they formed a small group in the prison society. In the post-war period until the end of the GDR, they published by their specific memories, a political organisation of a solid cohesion the image of Ravensbrück concentration camp to the public. The German Communist Gertrude Marx quoted the condition in Ravensbrück, and dedicated part in her narration with the words: "What impressed me in Ravensbrück from the outset was that comrades, mostly Communists, progressive people, received me at once into their circle, that they addressed me with 'Comrade' {...} These were all things that gave strength, courage and made ​​one help to survive.



Olga Benário Prestes was a German-Brazilian communist militant.
She was born in Munich as Olga Gutmann Benário, to a Jewish family. Her father, Leo Benário, was a Social-Democrat lawyer, and her mother, Eugenie (Gutmann), was a member of Bavarian high-society. In 1923, aged fifteen, she joined the Communist Youth International and in 1928 helped organize her lover and comrade Otto Braun's escape from Moabit[Berlin, sic] prison. She went to Czechoslovakia and from there, reunited with Braun, to Moscow, where Benário attended the Lenin-School of the Comintern and then worked as an instructor of the Communist Youth International, in the Soviet Union and in France and Great Britain, where she participated in coordinating anti-fascist activities. She parted from Otto Braun in 1931.
After her stay in Britain, where she was briefly arrested, Olga attended a course in the Zhukovsky Military Academy, something that led her to be charged in rightist histories with being an agent of Soviet military intelligence. Be it as it is, due to her military training, in 1934 she was tasked with helping the return to Brazil of Luís Carlos Prestes, to whom she was assigned as a bodyguard. In order to accomplish this mission, false papers were created stating that they were a Portuguese married couple. By the time they arrived at Rio de Janeiro in 1935, this cover had become a reality, as the couple had fallen in love. After a failed insurrection in November 1935, Benário and her husband went into hiding, and after barely escaping a police raid at their bunk in Ipanema, they were both eventually arrested in January 1936, during the harsh anti-communist campaign declared after Getúlio Vargas had proclaimed martial law and was already plotting the 1937 coup that would eventually lead to the institution of the fascist-like Estado Novo régime.
Pregnant and separated from Prestes, Benário clung to her alias, only to have her real identity disclosed by Brazilian diplomacy, working hand-in-hand with the Gestapo. Her lawyers' attempted at avoiding extradiction by means of an habeas corpus at the Brazilian Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal), based on her pregnancy, that would have left a newborn Brazilian national in the power of a foreign government. As Brazilian law forbids the extradiction of nationals, Olga's lawyers expected to win time until Olga gave birth on Brazilian soil to an ipso facto Brazilian citizen - irrespective of the child's paternity, which remained legally doubtful in the absence of evidence for Olga's and Prestes' actual wedding - something that would have rendered extradiction quite unlikely. The plea, however, was speedily quashed, the rapporteur-justice alleging that habeas corpus was superseded by martial law and that Olga's deportation was justified as "an alien noxious to public order". She was then, despite an international campaign, taken back to Germany in September 1936, the commander of the German liner that took her having cancelled scheduled stops in non-German European ports, therefore foiling communist attempts at rescuing her. On arrival, she was put in prison, where she gave birth to a daughter, Anita Leocádia. The child was subsequently released into the care of her grandmother, Leocádia Prestes.
Olga, however, was eventually sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp and from there to an experimental extermination camp set up at an old psychiatric hospital in Bernburg Euthanasia Centre in 1942, where she was gassed.

                                                                        continued under Part 2

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