The women’s KZ Ravensbruck
The rising number of female prisoners prompted the review body of the KZ to look for a location for a new specialist, women only camp. They found it in the village of Ravensbruck in Mecklenburg near the town of Furstenberg. The general decree of the interior ministry of the Third Reich for the „preventive fight against crime“ in late 194 had inflated the numbers of politically persecuted people noticeably and now anybody could be imprisoned just for showing „asocial“ behaviour and therefore endangering the public. It was also unclear what the definition of „asocial“ behaviour was. In 1938 there were already 40% of female prisoners in the KZ Lichtenburg categorized as „asocial preventive prisoners”.
Construction of the women’s KZ Ravensbruck – 1939
For the construction of the KZ Ravensbruck, beginning from January 1939, male prisoners from the KZ Sachsenhausen and numerous local firms were used. Twelve living barracks as well as six other ones with varying functions were built in this first phase of construction. At the same time the construction of an estate building with kitchen and baths, the camp wall, the command center and the first houses for the guards were built.
For about half a year, the 350 to 500 male prisoners from Sachsenhausen were put up in two barracks at the edge of the camp. From May 1939, women were also used for the camp construction, and while the camp was initially designed for 1,500 prisoners, that number was increased to 3,000 by July 1939 already.
A prison section was initially not planned but was built on the initiative of the camp commander in order to be able to dole out more punitive measures.
Further extensions 1940-1941
More and more women were taken to the concentration camp as the war progressed. The SS had the camp extended with new facilities and constructed work halls for an SS-owned textile and leather company (“Gesellschaft für Textil- und Lederverwertung mbH” TN). Here the female prisoners had to make uniforms and prisoner’s clothing or weaved fabrics and repaired shoes. Secretly, the tailor’s shop was a place of resistance. Here prisoners collected names and noted down numbers of transports, which is how some of these transport lists were preserved.
All prisoners were obliged to work and an inability to work could mean death. At the end of 1943, there were the first „selections“ for the extermination measure „14f13“. The selected prisoners were subsequently murdered in care and nursing facilities during the next year.
In April 1941 prisoners were used for the further extension of the camp.
Economic exploitation 1942-1943
The further expansion of the genocide and the war economy had an impact on Ravensbruck. From March to July 1942, the KZ review body was in charge of the women’s section in Auschwitz and and the first inmates were 1,000 prisoners brought on a transport from Ravensbruck, mostly „asocial preventive prisoners“. In October 1942 SS-Reichsführer Himmler ordered all KZ within the German Reich to be „cleaned of Jews“. Shortly after the SS deported nearly all the Jewish women from Ravensbruck to the KZ Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In order to procure more labor for the growing war economy, the KZ Ravensbruck started to erect numerous external camps at locations of arms factories from December 1942. The company Siemens & Halske built work halls directly adjacent to the camp from 1942.
The police opened a „Jugendschutzlager“ (youth protection camp, TN) for the imprisonment of girls stigmatised as „asocial“ near the KZ Ravensbruck in June 1942.
Degradation and extermination 1944-1945
The number of prisoners increased drastically in 1944. With the Red Army advancing, camps in eastern Europe were dissolved and prisoners transported west. After the Warsaw uprising about 12,000 Polish women and girls were brought to Ravensbruck and the camp management had a tent erected in the new camp. By the end of 1944 there were about 45,000 prisoners in the overcrowded KZ and its external camps. The SS started systematic killings. In early 1945 they they turned the “youth protection camp” in Uckermark into a hellhole where thousands of prisoners were subjected to a planned system of starvation and deprivation which killed countless victims. The SS had a gas chamber constructed in Ravensbruck, and 5,000 to 6,000 people were gassed to death here.
Approximately 1320,000 women and children, 20,000 men and 1,000 adolescent female prisoners were registered in Ravensbruck from 1939 to 1945. People deported to this KZ came from more than 40 nations, many Jewish, Sinti or Roma. Tens of thousands were murdered, died from starvation, disease or from medical experiments.
Shortly before the end of the war, 7,700 women were liberated thanks to the activities of the Swedish and Danish Red Cross. During the last days of April 1945, all prisoners able to walk were marched out of the camp. On 30 April 1945 Soviet troops liberated the camp in which about 2,000, mostly very ill prisoners had been left to die.