Work conditions

Conditions for female forced laborers at the Siemens facility Ravensbrück

The women imprisoned at Ravensbruck almost uniformly described, in various personal accounts, the conditions there as disgusting and degrading, even if they frequently pointed out that the work at the Siemens facility was the easiest to bear compared to the other activities. (Feldenkirchen 2003, 174).

Rita Sprengel, former prisoner at Ravensbruck, reports about the work conditions at Siemens in Ravensbruck:

„When I first set foot into barrack number 2 of the Siemens prisoner facility, it took my breath away. In Ravensbruck I had experienced that the “reason” for our work there was not the work results, but the torture and extermination of the prisoners. And now this! A bright, well-appointed, squeaky-clean factory hall! The work places too represented the then state-of-the-art ergonomic standards: adjustable work chairs with arm- and back rests! This “comfort” was of course not there for the benefit of the prisoners. Without these aids, the work of the spool coilers would have been of a much lower standard and the number of errors much higher. At a room temperature that was too low, the fine wire could not be worked on at all. But, independent of the reasons for all this “comfort”, it did delay our end there.“ (Jacobeit, S. 162).

As Krause-Schmitt (p. 39) notes, the condition of the halls was there for “the protection of the fine materials that were produced here.”

The workers were weakened mentally and physically by harassment, such as the standing to attention for hours, or from being made to do hard physical work instead of having time off (Jacobeit, p. 166). The work at Siemens demanded high levels of concentration and the quality of work was under threat, which is why Siemens managers tried without success to reduce the eleven-hour [sometimes up to twelve] work days demanded by the SS to nine hours, or to prevent an increase. (Krause-Schmitt, p.40)

„ust as importantly, because of the eleven to twelve-hour shifts, the “easy” work there was still a very hard experience for the prisoners. There was also insufficient work safety – the machines lacked safety features – and there were many injuries to hands, fingers and eyes (metal splinters)“ (Strebel, 408).

Until the autumn of 1944, the conditions for workers in the Siemens facility hardly differed from those of the other camp prisoners. Clothing and housing were the same and the protracted roll calls had to be endured (Strebel, 403). Only the provisions differed marginally: Selma van de Perre and Margrit Rustow reported an extra slice of bread per day – for lunch you had to go back to the main camp.

The working conditions improved from October 1944: the lunch rations were transported directly to the Siemens facility from the KZ, so that the hard march back to the main camp was avoided. There were also 13 sleeping barracks built near the production facility in December 1944, which made the back and forth between the main camp and the Siemens facility obsolete (Jacobeit, 168). The early roll calls of the main camp, which often lasted for hours, did not happen at the Siemens facility anymore. Selma van de Perre and Margrit Rustow reported that the barracks became more spacious. While two or even three prisoners had had to share one bed before, now each had their own, and instead of triple bunk beds it was now only doubles. Yvonne Useldinger, also a prisoner, however described the Siemens barracks as “even more primitive than the ones of the big camp” as there was “a much too small washroom and an open latrine for all the barracks.“ (Krause-Schmitt, p. 44)

The construction of the Siemens production facility was owed to the realization that the flow of production was impeded by the arduous walk from the main camp to the Siemens facility and back.