Professor Dr. Karl Gebhardt, chief physician and director of the Sanatorium Hohenlychen and personal physician to Heinrich Himmler, between August 1942 and August 1943 led experiments on 74 Polish prisoners and twelve prisoners of other nationalities. Some were used by creating artificial leg infections, and then refute the likelihood of a successful treatment with Sulfonamides. Gebhardt was trying with this brutal and deadly experiment on many women to restore his "honour" as a physician. After the assassination of Reinhardt Heydrich in Prague, he was responsible for his treatment and it was in this context that he rejected the use of Sulfonamide. After Heydrich died of his injuries a few days later, Gebhardt wanted to "prove" the ineffectiveness of Sulfonamide. [During WW II German Field Hospitals used Sulfonamides extensively in traumatic and infected wounds,sic]
In another, equally absurd series of experiments which came up at the Nürnberg Doctors' Trial that could not really be clarified as doubts were raised, was the operative removal from prisoners, of parts of bones, muscles and nerve tissues, apparently in order to test the possibility of transplants after wounds [that is injuries sustained in combat, sic] and to explore the regenerative potential of the body.
|Jadwiga Dzido shows her scarred leg to the court at the Doctors Trial, while expert witness Dr. Alexander explains the nature of the medical experiment performed on her.|
Unique in the history of Ravensbrück, is the protest campaign of the Polish women against medical experiments. The subjects were almost exclusively young women and girls from the Polish resistance, who were sentenced to death. In camp jargon they were called the"rabbits"(Kaninchen). When it was announced in March 1943 that trials were to begin again, despite assurances to the contrary, for a second series of experiments, the "rabbits", who themselves could by now only move on crutches, organised a protest march to Oberaufseherin(Superintendent) Langefeld, declaring that they would rather die than permit, that doctors commence operating on them again. Langefeld reacted helplessly. She had not known that the experiments would be resumed. According to Nina Iwanska who was a victim of the experiments and had organised the opposition, delivered a petition the following day signed by all the subjects to the camp commandant. In it, they asked the question "whether such experiments are provided in our judgements whose contents we do not know". The commander Suhren did not respond to this petition, curiously no attempts for further experiments did take place at that time. But on 15 August another ten Polish women were ordered to the infirmary. They refused, however, and hid themselves in Block 15. Only when the camp leader threatened to execute all the residents of the Block, the ten women came forward and were dragged into the bunker, five of them were immediately operated on. As punishment, Block 15 was cordoned off, doors, windows and shutters were shut and locked, and the prisoners remained there for three days and four nights without food, no light and little fresh air.
Thereafter, there were no further operations that took place. Yet the SS in the fall of 1943 did shoot ten of the women that had been operated on. The rest were assigned to various work details, all enjoyed the protection and sympathy of the other prisoners. During this time some of them were able to document the crimes of the doctors and sent secret messages in different ways outside. The "almost unanimous support"was best demonstrated in January and February 1945, when the forced re-operated women were threatened again with execution. Nina Iwanska remembers that the "comrades of the Red Army"[the Russian women, sic] cut off the power supply for the entire camp to stop the morning roll call. As guards and camp police then surrounded Block 24, the column of morning-coffee collectors deliberately instigated a commotion which enabled the "rabbits" to escape. With the help of Blockätesten(Block-Elders) and the people engaged in the political department as writers, they replaced the numbers of dead prisoner comrades for those that got away. Nevertheless, the game of hiding inside the camp became more and more dangerous. "That's why we took the decision," said Nina Iwanska, "that eighteen of us should go with the various transports to relieve the daily problem, to enable to hide those in Ravensbruck, who could no longer walk.
[In March / April 1945, they succeeded apparently to send some of the "rabbit"women under the auspices of "Action Bernadotte" to Sweden, another woman, concentration camp commandant Suhren took with him during his escape as a hostage. Still others were freed on the death march. How many of them survived the war is not known. Dunja Martin writes of 51 women who were invited in the fifties to the United States there, to receive medical attention. sic]
|Drawing by France Andoul "Your Hour Has Come"|
DEATH TRANSPORTS AND MASS MURDER
"In the winter of 1941/42", Margarete Buber Neumann writes, "appeared in Ravensbrück a medical commission. Even before they arrived we had listed all seriously ill in different barracks, the mentally inferior, crippled and those that were unable to work. The prisoners on these lists were called up and unless they were bedridden had to march past the medical commission, which held its office in the bathroom of the camp. Officially it was stated that they would be transported to a rest camp. In fact, however, these were the first selections from Ravensbrück within the frame work of the Murder Action code name "14 f 13 that took place. Dr. Fritz[Friedrich,sic] Mennecke, head of the psychiatric hospital of Eichberg, travelled on the 19 November 1941 to Ravensbrück in order to select approximately 1600 women and 300 male inmates that were on his lists, but not only mentally and physically disabled inmates, he also sent about 800 Jewish women prisoners and others suffering from tuberculosis, venereal diseases and asthmatics all with black triangles into the gas chamber".[Dr. Menneke died during his Trial in 1947, sic]
[These "medical reviews" are described in an excerpt from existing letters from Dr. Friedrich Mennecke. During a selection at Buchenwald, Mennecke wrote to his wife the following, which is almost beyond anyone's comprehension that these Doctors considered to send thousands to their deaths by gassing as a routine task.sic]
Weimar, Nov. 25, '41 8:58 a.m.
Elephant Hotel. First there were 40 forms to finish filling out from a 1st portion Aryan, on which my two other colleagues had already worked yesterday. Of these 40, I worked on about 15. Then came the "examination" of the pat.[ients], in other words, an introduction to the particulars & comparison with the notations in the files. We were not yet finished with these by noon because both my colleagues only worked in theory yesterday, so that I "post-examined" the ones who Schmalenbach (& I myself, this morning) had prepared & Müller, his. At 12:00 we first took a lunch break. [...] Then we examined some more until around 4:00 p.m., in fact, I had 105 pat[ients], Müller 78 pat[ients], so that at the end, as 1st instalment, 183 forms were done. As 2nd portion, now came a total of 1200 Jews, who will be entirely not first "examined", but rather with them, it's sufficient to pull from the files the reasons for arrest (often very extensive!) and transfer them to the forms. So, it's a purely theoretical job that takes us to Monday, certainly including benefit, perhaps even longer. Of this 2nd portion (Jews), today we did: I, 17; Müller 15. 5:00 sharp, we called it a day and went to dinner.[ ... ]The next few days will also go Just as I have described today, above – with exactly the same routine and the same work. After the Jews come about 300 Aryans as 3rd portion, who again will have to be "examined"...
They had all sworn the Hippocratic Oath: I will apply dietic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgement; I will keep them from harm and injustice. sic]
Hermann Göring's letter dated 13.7. 1941 to Heydrich outlining the Order for the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, which initiated the Wannsee Conference code named "14f13"
According to statements of prisoners, the first transport left the camp on February 3, 1942. On the following day a truck returned with the clothes of the women that had been on that transport with prison numbers and tri-angles still attached. Bags(Beutel) with meagre belongings, crutches, prostheses and dentures were unloaded and sorted. "The ambulance therefore took them to their deaths". This terrible news ran through the camp to the hundreds who now expected the same fate. In February and March another ten so called"black" transports took prisoners into the Healing and Nursing Home at Bernberg. The exact destination of the transports became known to the remaining prisoner only through Olga Benario-Prestes, who was sent away with one of the last transports and had concealed a message in the hem of her dress. After the cessation of the murder-action "14 f 13" the sick and weak prisoners in the camp were killed with phenol and morphine injections.
Germaine Tillion reports of about 60 "black" transports with 50 to 70 female prisoners from Ravensbrück in 1943/44 that went and were killed at the Austrian Euthanasia Facilities at Hartheim near Linz. She based this figure on information provided by paramedics and doctors at the camp's Hospital Blocks. In the Day Books (Tagebücher) of Ravensbruck only one transport of 120 women in November 1944 is reported as taken to Hartheim. At the same time another group of sick and weak prisoners were deported to the concentration camps of Majdanek and Auschwitz. When the Red Army was advancing on these camps in the east which had been gradually evacuated, the SS sent the incapacitated men and women from Ravensbrück to Mauthausen and Bergen-Belsen.
After the World War Two, the building was converted into apartments. The gas chamber was open to visitors, beginning in 1969. Hartheim Castle is now a Memorial Site dedicated to the thousands of physically and mentally handicapped persons who were murdered here. But there is another group of victims: in Schloss Hartheim over 8,000 prisoners of the Dachau and Mauthausen concentration camps were sent here to be gassed.
In the last phase of total congestion (Überfüllung) in Ravensbrück the SS set up themselves facilities for anticipated deaths in the camp which did eventually and deliberately or naturally occur . Sick and the old women had been given a few weeks earlier pink cards which were supposed to relieve them from hard work. In January 1945, the SS provided the barracks 27 to 32 for these affected people, which had been separated by barbed wire from the rest of the camp. From there, the women had to line up daily on the parade ground in columns and march on foot about a Kilometre away to Uckermark, which had until then served as a "youth camp"(Jugendschutzlager) for maladjusted(unangepasste) girls. One part of this camp was sealed off with barbed wire and at the beginning of 1945 was turned into a selection unit for an extermination camp(Vernichtungslager). There, disastrous conditions prevailed. The women received only half rations. The guards took away blankets, jackets and stockings, and they had to stand at attention on roll call almost all day. The Austrian Communist Irma Trksak who had been demoted as a room senior and sent there as punishment, said: "Then the women realised what they had actually in mind for them, to kill them in more than one way, if at all possible, by starving, they should freeze to death, they should become sick, so that they would have died of "natural"causes. Before she was able to return to the main camp, Irma Trksak could observe that women in the Uckermark camp infirmary were given a white powder that was administered after which they died in agony. Apparently, the camp administration had received instructions regarding a pending evacuation of the camp to kill all non-labour and those not capable of marching prisoners as quickly as possible. The original of this order, it is claimed that apparently had been seen by an inmate clerk in October 1944 on the desk of the protective custody camp leader, has not been found until now. [Stanislav Zamecnik was able to reconstruct, however, the existence of a corresponding command from Himmler for Flossenbürg and Dachau: "No prisoner must fall live into the hands of the enemy". [On the existence of this Himmler command, 14/18 April 1945, see Dachauer Hefte, pages 219-231, sic] However, there is no doubt that murder has been systematically committed in Ravensbrück since the beginning of 1945. Simone Erpel contradicts this analysis during her investigations of the last phase of the war in Ravensbrück, the claims by Bernd Weisbrod and Bernhard Strebel, suggesting that the women's concentration camp during this time took the character of an extermination camp. She argues that the last war year, certainly represented a turning point in the history of the camp but that it could not be spoken of a change in its basic functions. Ravensbrück did, in spite of gas chambers and other forms of mass killings, not become an extermination camp, the dominant character as a place of forced labour was preserved.
PS.:Otto Moll was an SS-Hauptscharführer and part of the staff at Auschwitz. Born in Hohenschonberg, Germany on March 4, 1915 and was executed on May 28, 1946 in Landsberg am Lech. There is some doubt in my mind, that he actually was in Ravensbrück, as he was captured by American Troops in the vicinity of Dachau shortly after the liberation of that camp accompanying a death march.sic
Johann Schwarzhuber SS First Lieutenant. Even before the war was over Schwarzhuber was arrested by the British Army and during the first Ravensbrück Trial in the Hamburg Curio house on 3 February 1947 was sentenced to death. In spite of a request by him for a pardon the death sentence by hanging on 3 May 1947 was enforced.sic
THE PLANNED GAS CHAMBER "NEUE WÄSCHEREI" (NEW LAUNDRY)
The "Neue Wäscherei" Just outside of the northern camp wall is the site of the todays memorial. Near the former "Revier" there is a building that was most probably erected to serve as gas chamber (with two rooms). It is the socalled "Neue Wäscherei". The construction works started in October 1944 but were delayed, probably because of a lack of material. Because of the situation at the front in late January/early February 1945 the camp authorities had to find a temporary solution for gassing purposes. It is also possible that the prisoners who had to build the "Neue Wäscherei" gas chambers delayed the works intentionally so that this killing facility never went into operation. One can assume that the former Auschwitz commander, Rudolf Höß (in his capacity as chief of the WVHA office DI), together with his superior Oswald Pohl and camp commander Fritz Suhren; inspected the construction works between end of February and mid March 1945. This was witnessed by Walter Jahn who had been imprisoned in the men’s camp since 1941. As an electrician he had to install cables in the "Neue Wäscherei", and testified against Pohl in Nürnberg. In addition he drew a sketch of the gas chambers for the court.
There are also testimonies from usually reliable witnesses about the use of mobile gas chambers or the installation of a gas chamber in an adapted Dutch railway wagon that was parked in a pine wood behind the so called "Siemenslager". However these statements are questioned by some researchers. It is notable that defendants of the Ravensbrück trials (altogether seven trials) freely mentioned a gas chamber in the "former barrack" but never mentioned another gas chamber (in the "Neue Wäscherei").
|location of gas-chambeer|
THE GAS CHAMBER IN THE BARRACK
For the Gas Chamber Barrack no plans or remnants of the building are available. Therefore all facts about this real gas chamber of Ravensbrück are based on the testimonies from witnesses (SS men and former prisoners) who all agreed about the type and location of the gas chamber. This provides firm evidence to support the existence of the gas chamber. It was installed in the warehouse barrack of the Malerkommando (painter’s command) that was located directly beside the crematorium. The barrack was emptied and then sealed. The gas (Zyklon B) was poured into the gas chamber through an opening in the ceiling. Some witnesses stated that this has been done by prisoners but this can be doubted because the SS usually did it itself. According to witnesses one side of the gas chamber could be turned down to facilitate the removal of the corpses and the ventilation. Others talked about double doors. To hide the crime a two metre high fence was built around the barrack. A few metres away from the barrack a small shed was located. Here the victims had to undress before the SS drove them to the gas chamber. It is not clear if SS doctors were present at the gassings.
|Crematory and Gas Chamber Barrack|
In the night of the 23 April 1945 the barrack was blown up by the SS, according to some witnesses. Therefore no important traces remained after a few days when the camp was liberated by the Red Army. In contrary other witnesses stated that they still had seen the barrack shortly after the end of the war.
We don't know if the foundations of the barrack are still there: The site where the barrack was located, was converted into a DDR (East Germany) memorial after the war. It became a part of the graves field at the camp wall. An archaeological inspection to locate the exact site of the gas chamber would disrupt the today’s graves. A positive result would not be predictable anyway.
continued under part 6