Inside Ravensbrück – Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women

Moorehead_02_15Caroline Moorehead at Literary Review:

Ravensbrück was never intended as a death camp. The only concentration camp built entirely for women, it was planned by Himmler as a place of labour and re-education for prostitutes, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses and vagrants – all the 'undesirables' of the new Nazi Germany. But as Sarah Helm documents with meticulous thoroughness, such was the level of brutality that the women died, first in their tens, then in their hundreds and finally in their thousands. Of the 130,000 women estimated to have entered the camp during the six years of its existence, as many as half, and possibly three-quarters, did not survive. The French ethnologist Germaine Tillion, who was sent there in 1943, described it as a place of 'slow extermination'.

Ravensbrück took its name from a village fifty miles north of Berlin, which stood on the edge of a lake surrounded by forests and flat marshy land. Locals called it the 'little Siberian Mecklenburg' on account of the glacial winds coming from the Baltic. The first 867 women arrived on 15 May 1939. They were stripped, washed, checked for lice and handed blue and white striped dresses and jackets, socks, wooden clogs and a white headscarf. Each was given a number and a coloured triangle made of felt to be sewn onto their clothes: black for prostitute, beggar or petty criminal, green for habitual criminals, lilac for Jehovah's Witnesses.

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