Saturday, June 9, 2012


 Among the first buildings that were erected on the grounds of the women's concentration camp, was one of the cell blocks. Camp commandant Max Koegel had specifically made inquiries with  the Inspection of the Concentration Camps in order to proceed, for the need for a prison building: it is impossible to maintain order in the camp, he wrote, "when these hysterical women[he used the German expression "Weiber" not "Frauen' which is somewhat derogative,sic]  full of spite can not be broken by strict confinement because the women's camp has no other severe penalties that may be applied". Apparently Koegel played on the fact that officially at the beginning in Ravensbrück there was no corporal punishment allowed, this did not prevent  the overseers, however, to beat and harass women every day. But in January 1940, after a visit of Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler to  Ravensbrück, was flogging (25 lashes or strokes as in men camps), allowed for female prisoners. Beatings took place twice a week in the cell block, where the women were strapped to a Block.
"The Punishment Block", where inmates were strapped into, to receive Lashes or Beatings with a Stick.

After another order (Erlass) since July 1942 from  Himmler, "stringent corporal punishment"could also be imposed on women, this meant blows to the naked buttocks. Wanda Kiedrzynska remembers that the beatings until July 1942, was done by the female wardens Hasse and Binz, after that there were prisoners who volunteered and carried out this task for an extra ration of bread. Then on 2 December 1942, a decree for all concentration camps was issued, which limited the use of corporal punishment considerably to some extent. Apart from the threat of confinement in the bunker, the stick or strapped to the block,  prisoners would receive other forms of penalties: Hour-long standing at attention in front of the office, in the worst case, from evening to morning roll call, hair being shorn with scissors, deprived of food for the entire block, detention in the prison or sentencing to the criminal block, where shortened food rations and increased harassment particularly heavy work had to be performed.
The arrest period into the Camp Bunker  was usually seven to 14 days. The women were given at this time only one Lunch (Mittagessen)  every three days, and a blanket. Margarete Buber-Neumann was in the spring of 1943 after the replacement of Ms.Langefeld in a dark arrest cell, among other reasons because she had suppressed as a writer of the Oberaufseherin reports of rule violations of other prisoners. When she was discharged after a total of 15 weeks, she was completely exhausted and hallucinating. "The light was hateful to me and the awful reality. I wanted to close my eyes and return to my fantasies," she wrote. Wanda Kiedrzynska reported that about 350 Jehovah's Witnesses after they had refused in December 1939 collectively to pack Christmas packages for German soldiers, were kept for three weeks in the Bunker, in unheated cells without jackets, hygienic pads, any garments, blankets or the usual straw-mattresses. When, on 9 January 1940 they returned to the barracks, many of them had frostbitten noses, ears, hands and on legs.

 Prison Cells and Bunker below
Punishment was arbitrary for any expression of life from "arm-in-arm walk" on the camp road, or the writing of poems, to be found in another block up to the theft of food or material  taken from the factory. For Sabotage in armament factories was punishable by death. In a secret circular to the commandants of all concentration camps on 11 April 1944, it was ordered to hang publicly those convicted of sabotage in he camp grounds. According to Wanda Kiedrzynska however, she found that in the women's camp at Ravensbrück no public executions took place on the gallows. Those women that were sentenced to death, were killed outside the camp wall with a shot to the neck  by small calibre weapons. Survivors among prisoners recalled a sand pit in a nearby wooded area as the execution site. Other executions have taken place in the immediate vicinity of the crematorium, because the prisoners in the camp heard shots from there. But if the narrow space between the wall of the cell building and the garages, which is now referred to, at the the memorial site with a plaque as a "shooting course"(Erschießungsgang), actually served this purpose is questioned in more recent investigations.
Bernhard Strebel indicates that 65 of the Russians women alone were accused of sabotage and shot in the period from 6 May 1944 to 11 March 1945. Germaine Tillion and Margarete Buber-Neumann reports of about 15 Jehovah's Witness, which were returned in the fall of 1942, from Auschwitz to be executed at Ravensbruck. The vast majority of the total of at least 260 women that were executed had been Polish resistance fighters. They were not killed for crimes committed in the camp, but had already received their Death Sentences by a special court imposed by the Gestapo and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp awaiting execution because they had participated in the resistance struggle against the German occupation. In the daily records special prisoners of the Gestapo and those sentenced for sabotage were not differentiated, so no exact figures are available. Wanda Kiedrzynska speaks of a minimum of 160 Polish women that had been shot. The same fate also suffered several English, French and some German parachutists, who were detained for months in Ravensbrück  before they were led to their deaths. Among them, Violette Szabo, Denise Bloch and Lilian Rolfe, they had been secret service operators for the English (SOE) in France and had had built up a resistance network. Executed at Ravensbruck was the German Communist Käthe Niederkirchner, who was parachuted behind enemy[German, sic] lines, on Soviet orders and shortly thereafter fell into the hands of the Gestapo. During the rule in the East German Communist tradition, Käthe  Niederkirchner took a special place for the public to revere
Entrance to Execution Chamber. The memorial stone reads in parts which is still legible in German:"Wir waren Hunderte Frauen und Mädchen von der SS durch Genickschuss ermordet". (We were hundreds of women and girls murdered by the SS by a shot through the neck.)
Similar to the other main camps, the Cell Building (Zellbau) in Ravensbruck had several functions. It was the camp prison, interrogation and torture place for the feared head of the Political Department, Ludwig Ramdohr. It also served as a prison and execution site for prisoners who were deprived of the regular courts and were subject only to the RSHA jurisdiction. This affected the resistance fighters from occupied countries, who came under the Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog) decree under strict secrecy to Ravensbrück. It also affected many other special prisoners of the Gestapo: Collaborators of enemy intelligence agencies, and prominent prisoners, family detainees who were held as hostages. Particularly noteworthy are the men and women of the resistance group of 20 July and their families. The "Special Commission Lange", which was involved in the investigation after the assassination attempt on Hitler resided in the Security Police School Drögen at the other end of the town of Fürstenberg. There, the prisoners were brought in for questioning, but in some ways still civilised as the relatives came to Drögen and were able to visit them.

Ramdohr was feared for its brutal methods of interrogation in the camp.
In the spring of 1945, Ramdohr because of the maltreatment of a female Polish prisoner, and the unauthorised contact with a prisoner was arrested on 20 April 1945 and sentenced by an SS and police court in Berlin to six years imprisonment. Ramdohr allegedly extorted from prisoners false confessions in order to pursue criminally members of the SS.  For his rehabilitation Ramdohr was transferred to a penal probation battalion and moved to the front.
On 3 May 1945 Ramdohr was arrested by the U.S. Army. In the first Ravensbrück Process in Hamburg's Curio House he was indicted for war crimes. During the trial, Ramdohr said about his methods of interrogation:
a) It is a fact that the food for prisoners on remand had been shortened.
b) It is certainly happened that prisoners had to stand for hours before they were interrogated by me [...]
c) I have beaten prisoners.
d) inmates were injected with a narcotic, the same that was used for an operation, and then, after they fell into a semi-sleep-like state, I started questioning. [...]
e) I tied the hands behind the back of prisoners, when she was on her stomach on a table, in a way that the head was sticking out of one end of the table. At that stage, I put a high chair with a bowl of water underneath. I then took the women by the hair and dipped her face into the water. [...] [water boarding is apparently now an accepted method by the CIA during interrogation of terrorist suspects, sic.]
f)I had a spy system. I had some prisoners who worked constantly for me, [...]
Ludwig Ramdohr was on 3 February 1947 sentenced to death. In spite of a request for clemency the death sentence by hanging on 3 May 1947 was enforced.

In the still available Ravensbrück admission lists 881 children aged up to 16 years are recorded from 18 countries that were brought in during the years 1939-1945 into the camp. Among them were 263 Jewish and 162 Roma children. From the lists it can also be ascertained that they were mostly accompanied by their mothers or a relative. There were also orphans admitted. They found in Ravensbrück mostly "new mothers", entire networks of helpers who cared for them. From memories of many surviving prisoners can be seen to what degree the concern for the needy and endangered little creature was for many women, especially if they themselves had been separated  for years from their own children, the care they provided and efforts meant not only additional sacrifices, but also a source of moral strength: "Many women and mothers were motivated by the awareness that they had to care for a child, when it [the child, sic] was taken away from them, they also took a piece of their life." so remembers a survivor. The children received, the same as adult prisoners, a number and the appropriate triangle markings.[Ordnung muss sein! sic]

An unidentified companion drew this portrait of the Daughter of the Czech inmate and Health Care Professional Zdenka Nedvedova,   she was only allowed for a few hours to keep the photo of her daughter which she had received.

 Already in June 1939, 14-16 year old boys and girls entered  the women's concentration encampment. These were Roma's from the Burgenland in Austria, who had been rounded up along with their mothers and later deported from  Ravensbrück to Auschwitz. Also, Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, Polish and German children were taken in, sporadically until 1942. During 1943, transports of children and their mothers with Turkish, Hungarian, Romanian, Spanish and Portuguese passports arrived. These were Jewish women with their daughters and younger sons, who had lived within the bounderies of the German Reich or from  occupied countries by German Forces and had the nationality of States, that were allied (verbündet) with Hitler-Germany. Once the scope of the National Socialist Jewish policy[Die Judenfrage,sic] could be extended to these persons, they were deported to Ravensbrück from the Germany, Belgium, the Dutch transit camp Westerbork and the city ghetto of Theresienstadt. Larger groups of men with children came after the defeat of the Warsaw uprising in late 1944 to Ravensbrück. Also  with the clearance of sub-camps around Auschwitz and the deportation of Hungarian and Slovak Jews from these countries in late 1944 early 1945, women with their children entered the camp.          
The children had, like all other prisoners, stand for hours every day on the parade ground. From 12 years on, they were used, along with the adults doing work shift in the Rüstungsbetriebe (armament factories). The boys were separated from their mothers and came into the men's camp where they had little chance of survival. About living conditions and accommodation for the smaller children, there is conflicting information. The Czech inmate physician, Dr. Zdenka Nedvedova-Nejedlá said in one of the Hamburg Trials, the children had slept in Revier (Hospital) area number I in a separate room. As their numbers grew, however, they were taken in January 1945 with their mothers into the block 32. Bernhard Strebel in an unspecified time frame an approved arrangement from headquarters that children were under 14 years were taken (apparently without their mothers) into a separate block, where they did receive daily one Liter of skimmed milk. The secret lessons so Strebel claims, where Polish Children who had participated in classes there, was then only possible in exceptional cases. However, the children were alone if the mothers had to work. Charlotte Müller remembers the days that the children could not leave the block, had to stay quietly in one corner of the day-room, toys were not allowed. They were at the mercy of the SS-Aufseherinnen(SS-Wardens). Rita Sprengel watched children playing in the camp street " roll call" or "gassing."

Standing at attention at Roll Call, drawing by prisoner Felicie Mertens 

The concentration camp was not set up for the births of children. In the first years of its existence, pregnant women were taken for their delivery to the Templin hospital. The fate of these children has not been explored. Presumably they were put into homes of the NS-People's Welfare (NS-Volkswohlfahrt), their mothers had then returned to Ravensbrück. According to statements of prisoners since 1942 children were born in the camp as well. Although a decree of the Chief of Security Police and SD, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, on 6 May 1943, forbade the acceptance of pregnant women into Ravensbrück, yet during this time more than often women, who were expecting a child,  arrived with transports from Auschwitz and Majdanek. The SS doctor Rolf Rosenthal and the prison nurde Gerda Quernheim got rid of the problem in another way: They performed abortions, often even in the ninth month, or they killed the new born. In 1943,  the gynaecologist Dr. Treite replaced Rosenthal, under im the new born were not systematically killed, but their chances of survival were still low. The number of births increased by  the end of 1944 after the Warsaw Uprising, many pregnant Polish women came to Ravensbrück. From September 1944 to April 1945 560 children were born in the camp. 104 of the entries in the register of births are not crossed out. But this means only that the infants did not die in the first few weeks. About half of them were sent along with their mothers in March 1945 with a transfer to Bergen-Belsen. According to the testimony of the former prison nurse Hidegard Brand  during the Hamburg Trial all the children lost their lives, many of them died already on the transport. In spring 1945 more transport of mothers with children were sent to certain death.

Register of Births, all except three have been crossed out, one has to assume that the other new born died or were killed.    
During the hight of expecting births, inmate Lisa Ullrich  at the insistence of mothers became block leader in 1944 and furnished a "Mother and Child" barrack. Her "people"  were- a Czech Paediatrician, a Czech and a German woman doctor and a baby nurse - which she herself had selected. About 150 pregnant women of different nationalities, more than 100 mothers and 96 infants were there to care for at that time. "We vowed to do everything in our power to get the kids to a "save" place", Lisa Ullrich wrote later in her memoirs. Even so, in this environment the lack of necessities of life, for all the babies to survive was almost impossible.  In the second half of March of 1945 as part of "Operation Bernadotte"  the first "white buses" of the Swedish Red Cross arrived in Ravensbrück, for women from Scandinavia, Holland, Belgium and other Western countries to go to Sweden.  On 11 March 1945 The Frenchwoman Pienotte Poirot gave birth to a son. She cried bitterly that she could not go to Sweden with a new born: "With my mates, we discussed how we could help Madame Poirot and her young son[ ... ] I then told the mother that we would have to report that the child had died. [...]. The little guy, we would make ready, wrap him  into a blanket, folded and tied like a package that would look like the little bundles of other women. Once we learned the women went to the gate, I would bring the package to the gate[ ... ]We organised an observation post. But the evacuation was delayed by several days. We had a terrible fear and anxiety, the tension was almost unbearable. Then came the command for the French women to line up, names were called out and compared with the lists. Everything worked. The women went to the camp gate. Now the sign was given to us. I took the bundle in both hands and had only one thought: 'if only he did not cry!'. I reached the gate, called out to the guard that the woman had forgotten her luggage, handed it to the mother. 'Madame, the baggage' I said quickly. Soon she was out to the camp gate". - Guy Poirot is now a teacher in Paris. He visited Ravensbrück in 1975 with his family.
Source: Sigrid Jacobeit / Lieselotte Thom-Heinrich: Kreuzweg Ravensbrück, Lebensbilder antifaschistischer Widerstandskämpferinnen, Leipzig 1987
Ullrich, Lisa. Born 1900 in Odessa - died 1986 in Berlin. Worker,  Communist Party functionary.  Arrested  in 1933 and kept in custody until 1935 convicted and kept in Jauer prison until March 1936, after "protective custody" in Moringen, Lichtenburg, Ravensbrück, as prisoner No. 108 (1939) / 58 292 (at the end August 1944). Released in May 1939 in Berlin.  Re-arrested 22nd August 1944 and transferred to Ravensbrück, after liberation politically active again.
The Dutch women Anni Hendrik, whose husband was shot,  gave birth on 19 February 1945 to a son whom she named Behrend. Behrend was the first child to be born in the "Siemens Camp". Yvonne Useldinger from Luxenburg wrote on March 6 in her diary:"The child is in our barrack. Words are missing to express all the feelings, the people have become raw (sind roh geworden), the kid is too reminiscent of people who inspire pity, we keep the mother and the child. From my scarf with wire I knitted a jacket".   Few children born in Ravensbruck, who survived the camp, who had come into this world in the last weeks before the liberation  had the good fortune to be included with the transport of the Red Cross to Sweden. The son of Annie Hendriks died on Swedish soil, however, shortly after its evacuation.

continued under Part 5

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