In the Second World War’s concentration camps, men and women were often separated. Ravensbrück was no exception. Through the camp gates, 132,000 women passed through.
Main camp for forced labor women
Ravensbrück was built in 1938 when the need to detain women increased sharply. The nearby camp Lichtenburg was long time overcrowded. It took about a year for convicted prisoners from Sachsenhausen to complete the area.
In 1939, the first female prisoners had arrived. The camp expanded rapidly and the need for (cheap) labor to the German armor industry was high. The first manufacturing industry in the camp was textile factories, entirely under the auspices of the SS.
The company Siemens, which at that time was called Siemens & Halske, built a factory in 1942 in the area.
In the end, Ravensbrück was the hub of a network of 40 concentration camps. In the external camps, there were often other industries and prisoners that were transported between them as needed.
What prisoners were in Ravensbrück?
As mentioned earlier, the prisoners were mainly women. There was a small department for men who had to perform the most physically laborious work. During the six years, the camp was active, 132,000 women and children and 20,000 men were registered.
The majority of women came from Poland, which in numbers means 40,000. The rest, 25,000 from the Soviet Union, 25,000 from Germany, 9,000 Hungarian Jews and, finally, 8,000 women from France.
The women received different classifications such as “political, criminal, social, gypsy, and Jews.” The vast majority of prisoners belonged to the “Bible scholar” classification, equivalent to belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the male part of the camp, there was also detention of gay men.
From work camp to death camp
In 1942 the war began to deteriorate for Germany. The war industry needed enormous amounts of material for the soldiers. The conditions became noticeably worse in the camp. They increased the number of detainees, and Ravensbrück became a training camp for SS female guards.
Thousands of new women arrived regularly and the barracks became overcrowded. Sometimes parts of the prisoners were rented to various projects or private companies, all within the arms industry.
Hard work in construction and brothels
Many women marched daily through the camp gate. Work was to be carried out in the area around the camp and often consisted of various construction projects. The number of women that died in the hard work was regarded as “wastefulness”. The construction projects were later carried out by men from Ravensbrück.
The women received very demanding quotas that would be achieved in the textile industry in the workshop. Work hours of 12 hours and pranking for those who did not reach the daily goals, tells former prisoners.
At the turn of the year 1942/43, SS established camps in several concentration camps. On these brothels, female prisoners served. These would act as a motivation and reward among the male prisoners. A regular visit cost 2 Reichsmark. Many women were promised to be released if they registered for the brothel business.
Ravensbrück was in operation until the end of the war. They tried to evacuate the camp with a so-called “death march”, to escape the Red Army. When the Red Army came to the scene, 2,000 detainees remained in exceptionally poor condition.
Some of the detainees were taken to Sweden in the white buses and were accommodated at the Malmö Art Museum, which was temporarily transferred to dorms.
Ravensbrück today – 90 kilometers north of Berlin
Ravensbrück ended up after World War II in the Soviet sector. The Soviet tank model T-34, which stands as a monument at the entrance of the camp, testifies to this.
Today, Ravensbrück is Museum and Memorial. Some of the buildings are preserved with permanent exhibitions.