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Women of the Third Reich ~Page 5


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Edith Hahn Beer

Edith Hahn Beer 

(January 24, 1914 - March 17, 2009) was an Austrian Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust by hiding her Jewish identity and marrying a Nazi officer.

Early life and education

Hahn was one of three daughters born to Klothilde and Leopold Hahn. Her parents owned and ran a restaurant.(Early into the war, Leopold Hahn died while working at a famous Hotel as the restaurant manager in the Alps.)

Although uncommon for a girl in that time to attend high school, her professor persuaded her father to give in and he sent her to high school. She continued her studies at university and was studying law at the time of the Anschluss, when she was forced to leave school because she was Jewish.

World War II

In 1939, Hahn and her mother were sent to the ghetto in Vienna. They were separated in April 1941, when Hahn was sent to an asparagus plantation in OsterburgGermany and then to a box factory in Aschersleben. Her mother had been deported to Poland two weeks before Hahn was able to return to Vienna in 1942. With duplicate copies of a Christian friend's identity papers, she went to Munich.

In Munich, she met Werner Vetter, a Nazi party member who sought her hand in marriage, and volunteered as a German Red Cross nurse. The couple lived together in Brandenburg and married to legitimize the impending birth of their daughter, Angelika, born in 1944. Vetter was sent to a Siberian labor camp in March 1945.

Later life

Following the war, she used her long-hidden Jewish identity card to reclaim her true identity. The Allies' need for jurists called her law education into use and she was appointed as a judge in Brandenburg. Hahn pleaded with the Soviet occupying force to free Vetter until he was released in 1947, but their marriage ended shortly afterward. Vetter died in 2002.

Pressed by the authorities to work as an informer, she fled with her daughter to London, where her sisters settled after they sought refuge in Israel at the onset of the war. Hahn worked as a housemaid and a corset designer. She married Fred Beer, a Jewish jewellery merchant, in 1957 and remained married until his death in 1984. After his death, she moved to Netanya, Israel.

In December 1997, a collection of Hahn's personal papers sold at auction for $169,250. The collection, known as the Edith Hahn Archive, was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


  • January 24, 1914 - March 17, 2009

"Chez Chanel"

The Smithsonian article was "Chez Chanel", July 2001, p.60. It's fairly brief on the war, including only the following paragraphs.

"Three weeks after Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, starting World War II, Coco abruptly let everybody go, and shut down the House of Chanel.

The irony is that closing her doors became, as her biographer Axel Madsen notes, "Chanel's treason." First her workers, then the government, tried to force her to reopen--for la belle France, just as in the earlier world war. She bridled at such naivete, but she hadn't counted on the worst. Turned against France, Hider's blitzkrieg overran half of the country and the other half became a collaborationist mockery. A dozen Paris houses did collections in 1941 for black marketeers, and the wives and mistresses of German officers. Chanel stayed dosed, but, "I was wrong," she recalled bitterly. 'Whey never stopped selling fashion during the war."

All her chic friends adjusted, with smooth loathing, to the war. The Wertheimers fled, but kept control of Les Parfums Chanel, selling Chanel No. 5 throughout the Reich and, without her knowledge, in the United States. Chanel lived, with German permission, at the Ritz.

Impulsively, she took up with a tall, blond German officer, much younger than herself, who spoke fluent French--Hans Gunther von Dincldage, nicknamed Spatz. A former diplomat, Spatz was always in civilian clothes, like as not an Abwehr counterespionage officer. Which means a spy, though how much of a spy, or even for which side, is unclear, since he mostly investigated the best wine cellars. "He isn't German," Coco claimed. "His mother was English."

After Paris was liberated in 1944, Chanel was taken for three hours of questioning by the Free French about Spatz, long gone, but was released. Why did she never face charges of collaboration? Was her old friend Winston Churchill, who had met her through Westminster, her protector?"

The article goes on to reveal, incidentally, how the Wertheimers totally screwed her.

Christian Dior’s Neo-Nazi Family

There's a bit of charming file footage of Christian Dior's niece Françoise that has been going quietly viral in France. Françoise Dior, you see, is a self-described Nazi. In this 1963 interview for French television, she discusses the importance of defending the Aryan race, the difference between "hating" Jews and merely preferring not to have them around, and why Hitler is her hero.

I took the liberty of editing the interview down to a few key exchanges, and adding these subtitles. (If any Francophones would like to weigh in on the translation, please feel free to email me or drop in the comments.)

Christian Dior had been dead for five years by the time this interview was recorded, and designer Marc Bohan had taken over the creative direction of the house. Although Françoise Dior claims in the full interview to have been a Nazi "for a number of years," it is not known how close Christian Dior was to his niece during his lifetime. She was 27 years his junior, and did not work for the fashion house he founded.

This interview took place on the occasion of Françoise Dior's engagement to Colin Jordan, a prominent Holocaust-denier and member of the British far-right. He led organizations with names like "The White Defence League," co-founded the British National Party (which stillexists, though it has tried in recent years to downplay its extremist roots), and was imprisoned for trying to start up a paramilitary organization modeled on the Brownshirts of Nazi Germany. Jordan is silent throughout the video; Dior explains that he doesn't speak French. Dior, despite her fervor, seems to have little understanding of the beliefs she professes. She struggles to articulate what National Socialism even means, beyond "defending the race," and eventually falls back on the tautological explanation that National Socialism means "fighting for National Socialism." She also describes her and Jordan's planned "Nazi wedding," which will involve "rites" sacred to their "race." Those rites, which are "a little bit difficult to explain," include cutting each other's fingers, and mixing their blood over an open copy of Mein Kampf.

Dior's marriage to Jordan didn't take — she left him for a 19-year-old — but her Nazism did. She spent time in prison in Britain for participating in arson attacks against London synagogues, and in France for posting Swastika stickers on the walls of the British embassy. She eventually died of lung cancer at the age of 60.

Christian Dior — like many who lived through the Vichy government and the Nazi occupation of France — had to make troubling choices of his own during the Second World War. His family, once prominent (Françoise even briefly married a member Monaco's royal family) had already been ruined in the Depression, and so their formerly considerable fortune could offer no insulation from the war's privations. Dior was conscripted into military service, and, starting in 1942, he worked as an assistant designer at the house of Lucien Lelong. (Pierre Balmain was his coworker.)

In occupied Paris in 1942, the very small group of people who possessed both the means to afford and the need to wear new designer clothing would have necessarily included both Nazi officers' wives and girlfriends, and the wives and girlfriends of those wealthy French who had, by dint of their collaboration and their lack of Jewish blood, been permitted to retain control of their businesses. (One is reminded of this essay: In the same way that if Judge Sirica was a professional boxer in the 1920s, he must necessarily have been in contact with organized criminal elements, because professional boxing was then illegal and totally controlled byorganized crime, the marketplace for Christian Dior's designs in Nazi-held Paris could only have included some persons associated with the Nazis.) Nonetheless, it seems likely that Dior was not a major collaborator. Dior's current C.E.O. is Sidney Toledano. Toledano is himself Jewish; his father was expelled from France by the Vichy government, and was very lucky under the circumstances to end up in Morocco. Toledano mentioned in his speech before Friday's Dior show that Christian Dior's sister was deported, for reasons Toledano did not explore, by the Nazis to Buchenwald. A prominent collaborator would have probably been able to save a family member from such a fate.

Whatever Christian Dior could have known of the Nazis' project in 1942 — and it would certainly have been clear by that point, least of all to anyone who'd lost a sibling to such a fate, that French Jews, Communists, homosexuals, and other undesirables were being interned at Drancy and deported en masse to the East — by 1963, the full extent of the Holocaust had been extensively documented.


Sexualized Violence and Forced Prostitution in National Socialism

Prisoner brothel Prisoner brothel, presumably spring 1943 In June 1942, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler ordered the first prisoner brothel in a concentration camp to be opened at Mauthausen. A few months later, a brothel was opened in Gusen. Some ten prisoners from the women's concentration camp Ravensbrück were forced to work as prostitutes and were sexually abused. With a formal ‘granting of privileges’ the SS attempted to provide incentives for male prisoners to work hard. Only selected prisoners were allowed to visit the brothel upon submission of a formal application and payment of a fee. Only prisoners who had received a reward note from the SS for their work in the arms industry were able to raise the fee. The inconsistency between the brothels instituted by the state on the one hand and the prosecution of prostitutes in the Third Reich, on the other, is remarkable: prostitution was punishable by imprisonment in a concentration camp.

We are standing here in front of the former camp brothel of the Mauthausen concentration camp. A particularly perfidious form of exploitation of women took place in this barrack. The SS’s concept was to offer male prisoners, whose work was particularly important, an additional incentive to perform their duties by giving them the possibility to have contact with women. Only a small group of men were afforded this privilege. At the same time, this was seen as a means of putting a stop to homosexuality among the male inmates. The political prisoners additionally considered it an attempt by the SS to intensify the hierarchical organization of the camp society, thereby weakening solidarity among the prisoners. Neither the prisoners, nor (certainly not) the SS, gave much thought to the fate of women compelled to perform forced sexual labor.

The camp brothel remained in operation for nearly three years, from mid 1942 until spring 1945. A prisoner’s brothel also existed in Gusen during approximately the same period. The women brought there to perform forced sexual labor were from Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp. The SS sent many women to perform this work under false promises, namely, that after six months of brothel service they would be released from the concentration camp—there is evidence of only two women being released. For all others, this promise was merely chicanery. For forced sexual labor, the SS primarily recruited women whom they had imprisoned in the concentration camps on the grounds of supposed or actual prostitution: A prime example of the double standards inherent in SS regulations. Also, only “Aryans” were to work in the brothels; however, it has been documented that also a Roma woman from the Austrian province of Burgenland and a Polish woman were forced to work in the brothel at Mauthausen. This is yet another example of how the SS flouted their own regulations. It is also known that the SS were keen on sending lesbian women to the brothels for “re-orientation,” to put them back on the “right path” of heterosexuality through sexual contact with men.  

What do we know about the lives of these women who were forced to provide sex to prisoners in a brothel, such as this one here in barrack 1?—Very, very little. There are almost no statements from these women. For one, they were not asked. For another, the shame surrounding what they had suffered, the fear of humiliation, and the stigmatization even from other survivors led these women to remain silent about their experiences. Apart from very few exceptions, our information sources are limited to a few SS documents and several testimonies from men.  

We know from former male prisoners that the women forced into the brothel received better food, had better clothes, and had sufficient opportunity to wash themselves. Based on a barracks plan of barrack 1, it is possible to deduce that they slept in the back part two to a room, and carried out their activities in the front part in small, single berths. There were always ten women bound to the brothel at a time. During the day they were strictly separated from the male prisoners. They were usually forbidden to leave the barrack, and were under constant surveillance by female SS guards. Forming relationships with the “clients” was strictly forbidden, the men’s short visits to the women—a maximum fifteen minutes—were observed through peepholes in the entry doors. (There are also numerous rumors that the SS men, too, abused the women—which was naturally not permitted, but nonetheless entirely plausible.)   

We know about the further fate of only those women who were sent from the prisoner or SS brothels back to Ravensbrück; many of these women returned with sexually transmitted diseases or were pregnant. They were then frequently used for medical experiments or given abortions. We know that two women who originally wore the political prisoner’s red triangle were degraded by the SS in the camp hierarchy and from then on, had to wear the black “asocial” triangle. Former fellow prisoners in Ravensbrück spoke of the emaciated figures, gaunt bodies, and the dead gazes of the women who returned from the brothels.  

The existence of camp brothels makes clear how women during national socialism were sexually humiliated and exploited as well as robbed of all self-determination. Women were forced into sex work with male prisoners in a total of ten concentration camps. Following Mauthausen and Gusen, further brothels were constructed in the concentration camps Auschwitz-Stammlager, Auschwitz-Monowitz, Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Neuen-gamme, Dachau, Sachsenhausen, and Mittelbau-Dora. In SS jargon, the camp brothel was also called a “special building,” and was later set up in less prominent places than here in Mauthausen or Gusen: The SS also began attempting to hush up the existence of the facilities whenever possible. 

Sexual exploitation of persecuted and imprisoned women was a permanent feature in the national socialist repression and elimination enterprise. Forced sexual contact with male prisoners and SS soldiers, forced sterilizations, forced abortions, medical experiments, rapes, shaving their hair off—the list of major physical forms of violence is long. Another long list includes forms of sexualized psychological violence, which ranged from degrading looks and insinuating slurs to being under constant threat of sexual attacks by the SS.  

The sexual exploitation of the persecuted and imprisoned women during national socialism represents a zenith of patriarchal gender relations, which were drafted long before, and became established over many generations. Normalized concepts of masculinity and femininity and normalized heterosexuality have been handed-down in images and attributes over the ages.  

Fundamental during the NS era was the connection between sexual policies and reproductive policies: women’s sexuality was seen exclusively in terms of its significance for reproduction and establishing the “Aryan race,” or the “German Volksgemeinschaft.” Parallel to demure, pure “Aryan women” was the construct of “the other woman,” whose “carnality,” and “depravity,” marked her as “socially incapable.” These women were sent to the concentration camps, classified as “asocial.” 

Deviations from the norm, such as relations to forced laborers or to Jewish men, were punished by imprisonment in a concentration camp, as were cases in which a future criminal act was anticipated. Jewish women, as well as Roma and Sinti women, were in particular danger as they were persecuted for being non-Aryan.  

The differentiation of the women according to racist categories was thus fundamental. The task of the “Aryan” German woman was to produce and raise “racially pure” offspring who would aid in realizing the thousand-year German empire. Women unwilling to comply with this demand and women who could not (from the outset, because of the racial laws) were threatened with persecution.  

For many years, the experiences of women in the NS concentration camps, particularly the forced sex workers, remained unacknowledged. “The great silence” was based, for one, on the fear that addressing the camp brothels as such would downplay the horror of a concentration camp and convey a false impression of living conditions at the camp. For this reason, at the memorial sites, in the guided tours through the former camp grounds, as well as in the ground plans of the camp, the existence of a former camp brothel was covered over whenever possible. Also, the (male) survivors were interested in keeping this theme taboo, particularly in terms of their own involvement in brothel activities. On the other hand, this taboo was also closely tied with the women affected by forced prostitution. These women were mainly part of group who were forced to wear the black “asocial” triangle, a persecuted group that lacked respect among the other groups of prisoners, and whose members have been subjected to discrimination until the present day. This is visible, for example, in the claims and entitlements for damage payments in Austria. It was first in 2005 that those who were persecuted based on their sexual orientation as supposed “asocials” were recognized as victims of national socialism in compliance with the Victims Welfare Act (in addition, forced sterilization is now also considered a form of health damage caused by persecution). The belated recognition, however, enables only the very few persons who are still alive to receive a restitution payment.  

The fate of these persecuted groups fell from sight, as opposed to that of the political prisoners. The social stigmatization throughout the decades made it impossible for the women to make their stories public. Also, the (predominantly) male historical research had a difficult time with this theme, and querying this group of persecuted persons occurred only gradually.  

We do not know how many women had to perform forced sex work in the prisoner brothels of the concentration camps, such as here in Mauthausen or Gusen. In all probability, there was also a brothel for the SS guards near the Mauthausen camp.  

Furthermore, we know from interviews that the SS soldiers sexually abused women, unrelated to any specific location and without any regularity, but often—for example, during banquets at the SS dining halls. 

We know very little about all of these women who were the victims of male violence, and there are very few written testimonies.

We can no longer ascertain their memories and pass them on to others as a warning.     

We can—and must—keep alive our memory of the many unknown and nameless victims and thereby grant the women a belated recognition of their suffering.  



Exhibition Reveals Secret History of Nazi Sex slave

By Tony Paterson in Berlin

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

There are no photographs and no names, just scores of faded brown index cards with anonymous prisoner numbers, dates of birth, and the hideously functional term "brothel woman" handwritten in black ink on the bottom right-hand corner of each form.


The files, stacked on desks in a former garage for SS guards at the Ravensbrück women's concentration camp museum in Germany, provide evidence about one of the most sordid but least known aspects of Nazi rule. They recall how hundreds of women, written of as "antisocial elements" by the Hitler regime, were arrested, dispatched to camps and forced to work as prostitutes for slave labourers during the Third Reich.

The plight of the hundreds of women who suffered this fate is the subject of an exhibition which opened last week at the former Ravensbrück camp's museum, north of Berlin. It breaks a taboo on an issue which has remained a virtual secret since the end of the Second World War.

"Hardly any other part of concentration camp history has been so repressed and so tainted with prejudice and distortion," said Insa Eschebach, the museum's director. "The women prisoners who were forced to work as prostitutes remained silent after 1945. Hardly any applied for financial compensation because talking about their experiences was too degrading for them."

Yet with the help of testimonies by former Ravensbrück prisoners, excerpts from Nazi SS files and accounts by camp guards, the exhibition manages to capture the horror and degradation suffered by the Third Reich's sex slaves.

Antonia Bruhn, a former inmate at Ravensbrück, where most of the prostitutes were recruited, recalls in a video interview how the women were lured with promises that they would be set free after six months, fed fresh food and vitamins and tanned with sun lamps to improve their looks. Unlike other women prisoners they were allowed to keep their hair. "After they were primped up, they were all tried out by a group of SS guards in the camp operating theatre. Then they were sent off to the concentration camps to work. Of course none of them were set free as the SS had promised."

The women were forced to work at 10 camps, including Auschwitz, from 1942 until 1945. In special brothels equipped with tiny "copulation cells" the women were obliged to receive eight men a day and up to 40 each at weekends. Sex was only permitted lying down in 20-minute sessions and was controlled by SS guards who watched through spy holes.

Irma Trksak, another inmate, recalled the victims returning from a six-month stint at one camp. "They came back as wrecks. God knows how many men they had had to sleep with. They were ruined, sick and many died afterwards," she said.

The idea was conceived by Heinrich Himmler, the Nazi SS chief, as an incentive for slave labourers. But it was also designed to combat the spread of homosexuality in all-male labour camps. German prisoners were the chief beneficiaries.

The exhibition reveals how the SS delighted in making lesbians work as prostitutes in an attempt to "convert" them. Homosexuals were also forcibly sent to have sex with prostitutes.

On their return many of the prostitutes were subjected to medical experiments and several died as a result.

Women's Camp at Bergen-Belsen

Another part of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was sectioned off in August 1944 and turned into the so-called “women’s camp”. Between August and late November 1944, the SS imprisoned around 9,000 women and girls in this part of the camp. Most of the women and girls who were able to work only stayed in the women's camp for a short time before being transferred to other concentration camps or the three satellite camps of Bergen-Belsen as slave labourers.

During the first few months, the women were provisionally housed in tents in a large open space within the camp. It was not until a storm destroyed the tents in November 1944 that the women were assigned to huts. The first prisoners in the women's camp were Polish women who had been arrested during the Warsaw Uprising and deported, in some cases with their children. Most of the later prisoners were Polish and Hungarian Jews who had been transferred from Auschwitz.

The women who remained in Bergen-Belsen included Margot and Anne Frank, who died there in March 1945.

Malka “Mala” Zimetbaum


 Malka “Mala” Zimetbaum and Edward “Edek” Galinski were executed in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp after a failed escape attempt. Mala was 22 or 24; Edek was 20 or 21.

Mala Zimetbaum.

Mala, a Belgian Jew of Polish descent, had been living in Auschwitz for two years and had a privileged position because of her linguistic skill; she could speak about five languages and worked as an interpreter and courier. The staff trusted her and she had permission to go everywhere in camp. She often used her position to help the inmates.

Mala fell in love with Edek Galinski, a Polish gentile prisoner. He was also a longtime inmate, having been in Auschwitz since 1940. He also had the freedom to go anywhere in the camp in his capacity as a mechanic.

Sometime in the late spring or early summer of 1944, they escaped together. What they planned to do afterward is unclear; there are some stories that Mala carried documents from the camp and planned to tell the world what was happening there. How they were caught is also a bit of a mystery. According to some accounts, only one was arrested and the other went voluntarily so they could die together.

Their subsequent executions have been the subject of legend, and lives large in many memoirs by survivors of the camp. Among those who wrote about it were Primo Levi, Sara Nomberg-Przytyk and Fania Fenelon. A witness, Raya Kagan, also testified about it at Adolf Eichmann‘s 1961 war crimes trial.

All the accounts contradict each other; practically everything about the execution is disputed. Contrary to what the Wikipedia entry says as of this writing, we don’t even know whether it really took place on September 15; other dates have been suggested, including August 22. (Curiously, September 15 is also the date given for Mala’s arrival at Auschwitz in 1942.)

Edek was apparently hung in the men’s camp, possibly alongside several other prisoners; Mala was executed in the women’s camp that same day. Edek supposedly tried to jump into the noose before the SS guard could finish reading his sentence, in defiance of protocol. His last words may have been “Long live Poland.”

Everyone agrees that Mala slit her wrist with a hidden razor blade as she was standing before the crowd of woman prisoners waiting to be hanged. When the SS guards tried to intervene, she slapped one of them. They bound up her arm to keep her from bleeding to death. She may have been trampled to death at the execution site, but most accounts state the guards ordered some prisoners to cart her to the crematorium and throw her in alive. Several reports state that she either died on the way there, or was shot or poisoned by an SS guard who took pity on her.

According to some accounts, Mala’s last words were directed at the guard she hit: “I shall die a heroine, but you shall die like a dog!” Others say she addressed the crowd of prisoners and told them liberation was in sight, or urged them to revolt. We will never know what her final words truly were, but their meaning is clear enough.


  • 1944

Masha Bruskina, Kiril Trus, and Volodia Shcherbatsevich, Partisans


The German occupiers of Minsk conducted an infamous public hanging of partisans — perhaps the first such salutary public execution of resistance members of the war.

Jewish* 17-year-old Maria (Masha) Bruskina was the central figure of the grim tableau, and wore the placard announcing “We are partisans and have shot at German soldiers.” Evidently, she also attracted the most attention** from theonlookers to whom the scene was addressed.

Before noon, I saw the armed German and Lithuanian soldiers appear on the street. From over the bridge they escorted three people with their arms tied behind their backs. In the middle there was a girl with a sign-board on her chest. They were led up to the yeast factory gate. I noticed how calmly these people walked. The girl did not look around … The first one led to the gallows was the girl.

She was hanged with bewhiskered World War I vet Kiril Trus and the 16-year-old Volodia Shcherbatsevich. The men were members of a partisan cell organizing anti-fascist resistance; Masha Bruskina was a nurse who had been caught aiding the partisans by providing civilian clothes and papers for wounded Red Army soldiers under her care to smuggle them back to the resistance.

The scene of their deaths was captured in a series of powerful photographs taken by one of the Lithuanian Wehrmacht collaborators.


Phototextualities: Intersections of Photography and Narrative claims that Bruskina lightened her hair and changed her name to prevent her Jewishness affecting her resistance work; even though she was a Minsk native, her initial identification didn’t happen until 1968. The men who suffered with her were named almost immediately after the war.

** Despite the eye-catching place of the girl, she was officially unidentified for decades even after the name Masha Bruskina surfaced. In “A Historical Injustice: The Case of Masha Bruskina,” (Holocaust Genocide Studies 1997, 11:3) Nechama Tec and Daniel Weiss argued that Soviet authorities, and later Belarusian ones, found her Jewishness problematic and resisted identifying herbecause of it — while an ethnically Russian female partisan like Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya could be more conveniently accepted as a heroine. Maybe, but bureaucratic inertia and simple precedence (since Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was known immediately while Masha Bruskina was not) are also plausible contributing factors.

A plaque unveiled at the Minsk yeast factory in 2009 finally called her Maria Bruskina.

  • 1941

Nazi Guards

Ewa Paradies

(17 December 1920 - 4 July 1946)

Nazi concentration camp overseer. Paradies was born in Lauenburg, Pomerania (now L?bork, Poland), Neuendorferstrasse 100. She was a Protestant Christian and not married. In 1935 she left school and worked various jobs in Wuppertal, Erfurt and Lauenburg.

In August 1944 she went to Stutthof SK-III camp for training as an Aufseherin. She soon finished training and became a wardress. In October 1944 she was reassigned to the Bromberg-Ost subcamp of Stutthof, and in January 1945, back to Stutthof main camp. In April 1945 she accompanied one of the last transports of women prisoners to the Lauenburg subcamp and fled.
In May 1945 she was found and arrested by Polish officers in L?bork. At the Sztutowo trial, several witnesses told of Paradies abuse. One told the court: "She forced a group of women prisoners, in the dead of winter to undress. Then she poured icy water over them. If they moved then she [Paradies] would beat them." During the Stutthof Trial, Paradies cried and pleaded for her life. Paradies was subsequently found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.

Above: on one end of the gallows row, the truck has just pulled away from Jenny Wanda Barkmann — a modish Hamburg lass in her mid-20′s known to Stutthof prisoners as “the Beautiful Specter” for her cruelty. Down the row, one can see that some of the prisoners are already swinging, while others have not yet been dropped.

Jenny-Wanda Barkmann

(c.1922 – July 4, 1946)

Nazi concentration camp guard. She is believed to have spent her childhood in Hamburg, Germany. In 1944, she became an Aufseherin in the Stutthof SK-III women's camp, where she brutalized prisoners, some to death. She also selected women and children for the gas chambers. She was so severe the women prisoners nicknamed her the Beautiful Specter.
Barkmann fled Stutthof as the Soviets approached. She was arrested in May 1945 while trying to leave a train station in Gda?sk, incarcerated and became a defendant in the Stutthof Trial. She is said to have flirted with her prison guards and was apparently seen arranging her hair while hearing testimony. She was found guilty, after which she declared, "Life is indeed a pleasure, and pleasures are usually short."

Elisabeth Becker

(20 July 1923 – 4 July 1946)

Was a concentration camp guard in World War II. In 1944, the SS needed more guards at the nearby concentration camp at Stutthof, and Becker was called up for service. She arrived at Stutthof on September 5, 1944 to begin training as an SS Aufseherin. She later worked in the Stutthof women's camp at SK-III. There, she personally selected women and children for the gas chamber.
Becker fled the camp on January 15, 1945 and went back home to Neuteich. On April 13 Polish police arrested and placed her in prison to await trial. The Stutthof Trial began in Danzig on May 31, 1946 with five former SS women and several kapos as defendants. Becker was sentenced to death.
She sent several letters to Polish president Boles?aw Bierut asking for a pardon, claiming her actions had not been as severe as Gerda Steinhoff's or Jenny-Wanda Barkmann's. No pardon was issued and she was publicly hanged on 4 July 1946 at Biskupia Gorka Hill along with several other SS supervisors and kapos.

Wanda Klaff

(March 6, 1922 – July 4, 1946)

Nazi camp overseer.
Klaff was born in Danzig to German parents as Wanda Kalacinski. She finished school in 1938 and began working in a jam factory. This lasted until 1942 when she married Willy Gapes and became a housewife.
In 1944 Klaff joined the camp staff at the Stutthof's subcamp at Praust (Pruszcz). There, she abused many of the prisoners. On October 5, 1944, she arrived at the Russoschin subcamp of Stutthof (today northern Poland). There she continued to sadistically abuse prisoners. She fled the camp in early 1945. On June 11, 1945, she was arrested by Polish officials and soon after was laid up in prison with typhoid fever. She stood trial with the other former female guards. It is said, that she stated at the trial, "I am very intelligent and very devoted to my work in the camps. I struck at least two prisoners every day." Klaff was found guilty and received a sentence of death for her abuse. She was publicly hanged on July 4, 1946, on Biskupia Górka hill near Gda?sk.

Gerda Steinhoff

(January 29, 1922 – July 4, 1946)

Born in Danzig-Langfuhr (Polish: Wrzeszcz),

Nazi concentration camp overseer following the 1939 German invasion of Poland.
In 1939, Steinhoff became a cook, married and had one child. In 1944, because of the Nazi call for new guards, she joined the camp staff at Stutthof. On October 1, 1944, she became a Blockleiterin in Stutthof women's camp SK-III. There, she took part in selections of prisoners to be sent to the gas chambers. On October 31, 1944, she was promoted to SS-Oberaufseherin and was assigned to the Danzig-Holm subcamp. On December 1, 1944 she was reassigned to Bromberg-Ost female subcamp of Stutthof located in Bydgoszcz not far from Gda?sk. There on January 25, 1945, she received a medal for her loyalty and service to the Third Reich. She was devoted to her job in the camps and was known as a very ruthless overseer. Soon before the end of World War II, she fled the camp and went back home.

On May 25, 1945, she was arrested by Polish officials and sent to prison. She stood trial with the other SS women and kapos and was convicted and condemned to death for her involvement in the selections and what was called her sadistic abuse of prisoners. She was publicly hanged on July 4, 1946, on Biskupia Gorka Hill, near Gda?sk.

  • 17 December 1920 - 4 July 1946

Elfriede Huth Rinkel

Elfriede Lina Rinkel (née Huth, born July 14, 1922, LeipzigGermany) was a guard at the Ravensbrück concentration camp from June 1944 until April 1945 handling an SS-trained guard dog. She claims that she did not use her dog as a weapon against prisoners, and that she did not join the Nazi party.

She left Germany for the United States and was admitted as an immigrant on or around September 21, 1959 in San Francisco, California. At a German-American club in San Francisco she met Fred William Rinkel and they married about 1962. He died in 2004. Rinkel stated she never told her husband of her past.

On September 1, 2006, Elfriede Rinkel was deported to Germany under a settlement agreement signed in June 2006 after being charged by a federal law requiring removal of aliens who took part in acts of Nazi-sponsored persecution filed by the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations (OSI) and the United States Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

"Sweet lady" surprise: Nazi prison-guard past

By Richard A. Serrano

Los Angeles Times


A photo of Elfriede Rinkel, who hid her past as a Nazi concentration-camp guard from her husband, a Jew.

WASHINGTON — Elfriede Rinkel lived alone in a tiny, top-floor apartment in one of the tougher sections of San Francisco. At 84, she was short and a bit stout. Diabetes took the sight in one eye; arthritis left her leaning heavily on a cane.

Her husband, Fred, died. He was the love of her life, a short, dapper man who had worked as a bartender and waiter at some of the city's larger hotels and was active in Jewish activities. He was buried in a Jewish cemetery outside the city.

He had been gone just a short while when two officials from the Justice Department in Washington knocked on her door. They confronted her with a terrible secret that she had managed to keep from Fred all these years.

In Germany during World War II, before she married, Rinkel had worked as a guard at Ravensbrück, a Nazi concentration camp. During the year she worked at the slave-labor prison for women, more than 10,000 women died.

Some succumbed to starvation and disease. Others were gassed. More died after cruel medical experiments. Some died from sheer exhaustion.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced that the woman with the pleasant smile and the German accent had been deported to Germany. She admitted she had lied on her U.S. visa application.

Her lawyer, Allison Dixon, said Rinkel never told her husband. Always, she kept quiet.

"He did not know," the lawyer said, "because all these years she was totally embarrassed."

Washington officials, however, said she offered no expression of remorse about her past and did not fight deportation.

"An affront" to survivors

The government caught up with a woman who expected, perhaps, soon to join her husband in the Eternal Home Cemetery in Colma, south of San Francisco. The double gravestone was there, with the Star of David above their names.

Instead, Rinkel will be remembered as the only woman to be caught and deported in more than 100 completed cases of Nazi persecutors who lied their way into the United States.

Matching Ravensbrück guard rosters with U.S. immigration documents — about 70,000 names have been studied since the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) opened in 1979 — they lit on Elfriede Huth, her maiden name.

She had been born in 1922 in Leipzig, Germany. She went to Ravensbrück in 1944 and left a year later as the war ended, the site abandoned by fleeing Nazis. She married Fred William Rinkel, a German Jewish refugee from the war. In 1959, she applied for a U.S. visa but failed to include on the form her time at Ravensbrück.

Eventually, the Justice Department traced her to the five-story apartment building in lower Nob Hill near the Tenderloin.

Despite Rinkel's age, "her presence in the United States nevertheless was an affront to surviving Holocaust victims who have made new homes in this country," said OSI Director Eli Rosenbaum.

According to Rosenbaum, Rinkel said she volunteered to be a dog handler at the camp because it paid better than her factory job.

But she insisted she never used her dog as a weapon against the prisoners and claimed she never joined the Nazi Party. And she said she never applied for U.S. citizenship because she feared U.S. immigration authorities would learn of her time at Ravensbrück.

"Trying to atone"?

Dixon, her San Francisco lawyer, said her client had tried to remake her life and never thought she would be tripped up so late in her years.

"She was trying to atone for actions in the past," Dixon said. "She married a Jewish man, and she gave to Jewish charities.

"And she always believed there was a certain coercion involved in what she did at the camp. She insisted that she had zero contact with the actual prisoners, that she just walked the camp perimeter."

Knowing her fate, six months ago Rinkel quietly set about putting her affairs in order.

One task was to return once more to the mortuary, and to inform the staff that she would soon be "leaving the area." She wanted to sell back her burial plot next to her husband.

"So we took it back," said Gene Kaufman, director of the Sinai Memorial Chapel. "She was just such a pleasant-looking lady and very small. Such a nice sweet lady who seemed to have a very loving relationship with her husband."

Sometimes, Kaufman said, he would bump into the childless couple at Jewish events. Everyone seemed to know, though, that she was not Jewish, and had no other religious faith. The distinction never seemed to rise as a problem between the couple.

Yet, "sometimes it did seem like their life together was from someplace else," said Kathryn Allen-Katz, who also chatted with her at the funeral chapel. "They lived in their own little island in a not-too-good part of town and they kept to themselves."

At the apartment building on Bush Street, Gunvant Shah, who met the Rinkels in 1976, described a couple that sang German songs late at night, danced together, and sometimes fought loudly, prompting complaints from neighbors.

They lived "a modest life," Shah said, with no car, but often strolled together in the evenings, dressed elegantly. "Mr. Rinkel would hold her by the arm. They would walk together, proud and joyful."

She was given until Sept. 30 to leave the United States. She left Sept. 1. Some distant relations took her in, and she reported to the U.S. Consulate office in Frankfurt, Germany, that she was back home.


Elfriede Lina Rinkel ~ Continued

Elfriede Lina Rinkel, a German national, served at the Ravensbrück camp north of Berlin from June 1944 until it was abandoned in spring 1945 as World War II ended, the US Department of Justice said.


US prosecutors charged that Rinkel, who lived in San Francisco, used a trained attack dog to carry out guard duty at Ravensbrück and concealed her concentration camp duty when she came to the US from Germany in 1959.


Prisoners lined up at Auschwitz, in Poland. Ravensbrück was north of Berlin

At Ravensbrück, female Nazi SS guards forced inmates to march to and from slave labor sites each day, guarding them while they performed grueling manual work. The Nazis opened the concentration camp for women in 1939, but about 20,000 men were also sent there.


Admitting the past


Up to 50,000 inmates died at Ravensbrück, many from hunger and disease. Others died in grisly Nazi medical experiments, the camp's gas chambers or forced evacuation marches at the end of the war.


In a settlement with US authorities, Rinkel admitted that she served as a guard at Ravensbrück, the Justice Department said.


She was born on July 14, 1922, in Leipzig, Germany, according to Nazi-era documents that listed her under her maiden name, Elfriede Huth.


Camp survior Jewgenija Romanowa from Ukraine, visiting the Ravensbrück memorial

US federal law requires the removal of anyone who aided in Nazi-sponsored persecution. Rinkel was given a Sept. 30 deadline to leave the US and has already returned to Germany, justice officials said.


"Unwavering committment"

"Concentration camp guards such as Elfriede Rinkel played a vital role in the Nazi regime's horrific mistreatment of innocent victims,” said Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher in a statement to the press. "This case reflects the government's unwavering commitment to remove Nazi persecutors from this country."

Eli M. Rosenbaum, director of the Office of Special Investigations at the Justice Department, said: “Thousands of innocent women were brutalized and murdered at Ravensbrück through the active participation of Elfriede Rinkel and other guards whose principal function was to prevent prisoners from escaping the abominable conditions inside the camp. Her presence in the United States was an affront to surviving Holocaust victims who have made new homes in this country."

Women’s Role in Holocaust May Exceed Old Notions

JERUSALEM — Amid the horrors of the Holocaust, the atrocities perpetrated by a few brutal women have always stood out, like aberrations of nature.

There were notorious camp guards likeIlse Koch and Irma Grese. And lesser known killers like Erna Petri, the wife of an SS officer and a mother who was convicted of shooting to death six Jewish children in Nazi-occupied Poland; or Johanna Altvater Zelle, a German secretary accused of child murder in the Volodymyr-Volynskyy ghetto in Nazi-occupied Ukraine.

The Nazi killing machine was undoubtedly a male-dominated affair. But according to new research, the participation of German women in the genocide, as perpetrators, accomplices or passive witnesses, was far greater than previously thought.

The researcher, Wendy Lower, an American historian now living in Munich, has drawn attention to the number of seemingly ordinary German women who willingly went out to the Nazi-occupied eastern territories as part of the war effort, to areas where genocide was openly occurring.

“Thousands would be a conservative estimate,” Ms. Lower said in an interview in Jerusalem last week.

While most did not bloody their own hands, the acts of those who did seemed all the more perverse because they operated outside the concentration camp system, on their own initiative.

Ms. Lower’s findings shed new light on the Holocaust from a gender perspective, according to experts, and have further underlined the importance of the role of the lower echelons in the Nazi killing apparatus.

“In the dominant literature on perpetrators, you won’t find women mentioned,” said Dan Michman, the chief historian at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem.

Ms. Lower, 45, presented her work for the first time at this summer’s workshop at Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research. She has been trying to decipher what motivated these women to commit such crimes.

“They challenge so deeply our notion” of what constitutes normal female behavior, she said. But the Nazi system, she added, “turned everything on its head.”

Ms. Lower said she worked for many years at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and is now teaching and researching at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat in Munich.

She began traveling to Ukraine in the early 1990s, as the Soviet archives opened up. She started in Zhytomyr, about 75 miles west of Kiev, where the SS leader Heinrich Himmler had his Ukrainian headquarters, and where she found original German files, some burned at the edges, in the local archive. She noticed the frequency with which women were mentioned at the scenes of genocide. Women also kept cropping up as witnesses in West and East German investigations after the war.

In an anomalous twist on Christopher R. Browning’s groundbreaking 1992 book, “Ordinary Men,” it appears that thousands of German women went to the eastern territories to help Germanize them, and to provide services to the local ethnic German populations there.

They included nurses, teachers and welfare workers. Women ran the storehouses of belongings taken from Jews. Local Germans were recruited to work as interpreters. Then there were the wives of regional officials, and their secretaries, some from their staffs back home.

For women from working-class families or farms in Germany, the occupied zones offered an attractive opportunity to advance themselves, Ms. Lower said.

There were up to 5,000 female guards in the concentration camps, making up about 10 percent of the personnel. Ms. Grese was hanged at the age of 21 for war crimes committed in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen; Ms. Koch was convicted of participating in murders at Buchenwald.

Mr. Browning’s book chronicled the role of the German Reserve Police Battalion 101, which helped provide the manpower for the elimination of most Polish Jewry within a year. The book mentions one woman, the young, pregnant bride of one of the captains of the police battalion. She had gone to Poland for a kind of honeymoon and went along with her husband to observe the clearing of a ghetto.

Only 1 or 2 percent of the perpetrators were women, according to Ms. Lower. But in many cases where genocide was taking place, German women were very close by. Several witnesses have described festive banquets near mass shooting sites in the Ukrainian forests, with German women providing refreshments for the shooting squads whose work often went on for days.

Ms. Petri was married to an SS officer who ran an agricultural estate, complete with a colonial-style manor house and slave laborers, in Galicia, in occupied Poland. She later confessed to having murdered six Jewish children, aged 6 to 12. She came across them while out riding in her carriage. She was the mother of two young children, and was 25 at the time. Near naked, the Jewish children had apparently escaped from a railroad car bound for the Sobibor camp. She took them home, fed them, then led them into the woods and shot them one by one.

She told her interrogators that she had done so, in part, because she wanted to prove herself to the men.

She was tried in East Germany and served a life sentence.

Ms. Altvater Zelle went to Ukraine as a 22-year-old single woman and became the secretary of a district commissar, Wilhelm Westerheide. Survivors remembered her as the notorious Fräulein Hanna, and accused her, among other things, of smashing a toddler’s head against a ghetto wall and of throwing children to their deaths from the window of a makeshift hospital.

Back in Germany, Ms. Altvater Zelle married, became a welfare case worker for youth in her hometown, Minden, and adopted a son.

In Commissar Westerheide’s region, about 20,000 Jews were wiped out. He and his loyal secretary were tried twice in West Germany, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They wereacquitted both times because of contradictions that arose in the testimonies of witnesses gathered over 20 years, the former chief prosecutor in the case told Ms. Lower.

One survivor, Moses Messer, said he saw the woman he knew as Fräulein Hanna smashing the toddler to death against the wall. He told lawyers in Haifa, Israel, in the early 1960s: “Such sadism from a woman I have never seen. I will never forget this scene.”

Mothers, Sisters, Resisters: Oral Histories of Women Who Survived the Holocaust.

The accounts of the women below are taken from the book edited byBrana Gurewitsch called Mothers, Sisters, Resisters: Oral Histories of Women Who Survived the Holocaust. The book contains the oral histories of over a twenty-five women who experienced the Holocaust. The women chosen for this project represent the deferent ways women resisted in the Jewish ghettos and concentration camps.

One woman resisted the intolerable cruelty and oppression faced in the ghetto by devoting herself entirely to goodness and humanity. Dr. Anna Braude-Hellerowa was the director of the children’s hospital in the Warsaw ghetto, and she completely devoted her energy to the children, even the ones with no hope of recovery. On many occasions she put the life of her patients before herself. For example, when friends of hers outside the ghetto arranged a hiding place for her, she refused to go. Later, Dr. Braude-Hellerowa was given roughly twenty-five "life-passes" to give to members of her staff so that they would be exempt from the next selection. This was a difficult decision seeing that she had a staff of over two hundred people. She did not give a single pass to any of her family or friends or close colleagues. Instead she gave them to the youngest members of her staff. Bronislawa Feinesser, who received one of these life passes, said of Dr. Braude-Hellerowa: "She was an absolutely unusual woman." During a period that experienced a collapse of humanity, the ability of this incredible woman to maintain a sense of absolute selflessness and humanity demonstrated her role as a resister.

Others saw dignity in death as a type of direct opposition to the Nazis. Dr. Adina Blady Szwajger also worked as a doctor in the Warsaw ghetto. Knowing that everyone sent to Treblinka died, she made the decision to administer morphine to her young patients so that they could die peacefully in their sleep. The Germans may have still in a sense taken their lives, but they were not allowed to strip these children of their human dignity.

Acts of resistance in the ghettos were not always actions of individuals alone. In some cases there were complex groups working to help the Jews. 

Bronislawa Feinesser, who later took the alias Marysia from genuine identity papers, worked for one of these groups known as the Bundorganization. However her history of resistance begins before that. Marysia was born in Warsaw of a middle-class Jewish family. Her family spoke Polish in their home, not Yiddish, and she attended Polish primary school. She was very assimilated into Polish culture and society, and did not have the most striking characteristics that people of the time determined as Jewish. While in the ghetto, her first act of defiance was attending an underground medical school. She did not allow her education and personal growth to be stopped by an outside force. Marysia also worked as a nurse in the hospital and was frequently given a pass out of the ghetto to do hospital administration work. While in the Aryan part of Warsaw, she would smuggle food and weapons in and out of the ghetto, and establish hiding places for escapees. While being interviewed about these dangerous missions Marysia claimed, "Today I would be very scared. At that time when I was twenty something; I wasn’t scared. I wanted to do it. I wanted to be active, to help people, and I had my group that needed me to do this." Marysia showed absolute bravery, knowing that the consequences of smuggling weapons into the ghetto would be severe, even mortal. As the situation in the ghetto intensified and more and more trains departed for concentration camps, she decided to break out of the ghetto and live permanently in the Aryan portion of the city. She was able to do this because she was fearless and she did not have distinctly Jewish characteristics. Her sister, who also broke out, struggled more because even though she looked more Aryan, she had a fearful look in her eyes which gave her away. During this time Marysia became actively engaged in the Bund organization. Her duties included finding hiding places, organizing false documents, distributing money and paying rent to land lords. The room that she lived in was also the headquarters for the Bund group, and she and her roommate disguised themselves as prostitutes to legitimize having many different men come to their room.

Marysia did many risky and dangerous feats in order to help strangers and she did it without any personal gain. Others did help others but also profited greatly from it. Can they too be considered resisters? She describes just such a time when she was placed in such a conflict of conscience. She came into contact with the wife of a Polish officer whose husband was living in a faraway camp. The woman took in and hid a lot of Jews, but she also took a lot of money for each person she hid. After the war, this woman came to Marysia asking for a certification saying that she rescued Jews. Marysia says, "That was true, but the other part was that she took a lot of money. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to have this on my conscience because I realized that that somehow she did this for money." In the end, she made someone else make the decision and they decided to give the Polish woman the certification. Though this woman was definitely helping herself first, she prevented the Gestapo from taking the Jews she hid. It is just another example of how far the spectrum of resistance reached.

Even though the situation of the people in the ghetto was bleak and miserable, it was not as hopeless as imprisonment in the concentration camps. However, even in the most dehumanizing and desperate environment, people did. 

Anna Heilman and her sister Estusia were among the last deportees out of the Warsaw ghetto when they were sent to Auschwitz in September 1943.

There they were assigned to work in a munitions factory in the room called the pulverraum, the only place in the camp where prisoners handled gunpowder. Their resistance began as a small group of girls who grew to trust each other and gathered strength from one another by talking about things outside the camps. They knew of rumors of a plan for a mass escape and decided to contribute their resources.

Rose Meth also worked with the Heilman sisters in the pulverraum, and when asked if she would help she recalls, "I agreed right away because it gave me a way to fight back. I felt very good about it, and I didn’t care about the danger." This way of thinking mirrors what most resisters in the concentration camps thought. If they were going to die anyway, they should die fighting. Not everyone in the camp felt the same way. Another girl, when asked if she would ever do anything that would aid in escaping if given the chance, refused. Later she admitted to Rose Meth, "I was afraid that I would not be strong enough under duress, if they would catch me, whether I could withstand pain." Fear and intimidation were powerful and effective weapons against rising up against the Nazis.

The girls slowly smuggled gunpowder to the men who worked, the crematoria, who would then make homemade grenades with shoe polish tins. Since three girls working together could only collect two spoonfuls a day of gunpowder, it took eight months for the bombing of the crematoria to take place. The uprising occurred on October 7, 1944. While it successfully blew up a crematorium and slowed the death machine, no one escaped. Estusia and Rose were beaten and interrogated by the S.S. because they worked with the gunpowder. However they would not give up any names of their conspirators, resisting even under extreme physical pain.

Rose Meth practiced resistance in another form as well. Her father wanted her to "remember what was happening, to be able to tell the world, so the world would know of the heinous crimes the Germans committed." Rose would exchange food for paper in order to write notes while in Auschwitz. This written account and the oral accounts of so many survivors acted as agents of resistance then and even still today against hate and atrocities.

These women took very different actions in order to resist according to their abilities. However, they share the most important quality; they all consciously decided to fight against the fate the Third Reich attempted to force upon them. Some lived with honor, and others died maintaining it.

Camp Sisters: Women and the Holocaust

By Joyce Parkey

When Nazi concentration camp survivors address why or how they survived their imprisonment, they state luck or chance as the primary or only possible reason. However, in the next sentence, the same individual tells of a friend or relative without whose companionship, aid, and support they would have died. The Nazis aimed at isolating Jews, segregating them from loved ones, as part of the process for their ‘Final Solution,’ but they failed to take into account that human beings are at heart social creatures and will create substitute relationships or strengthen and redefine existing ones to fill the void left by separation and death. The newly formed surrogate families were not only coping mechanisms for dealing with the brutality encountered in the camps, but actually increased an inmate’s chances for survival. While current research shows evidence of  bonding occurring between men as well as between women, this paper will examine only those relationships experienced by women, often referred to as ‘camp sisters’ or ‘camp mothers,’ specifically how and why they were formed, what needs they met, and how they contributed to survival in the camps.

When prisoners first arrived at the camps, they were immediately segregated by sex, followed by an initial selection. Those to live went to the left, and the others marked for death, to the right. In a matter of moments, most, if not all, of their closest relatives were beyond their reach. From there they were stripped of any remaining belongings, their hair, and their names. The inmates were suddenly reduced to a number, naked alongside other women and among male guards and prisoners, being searched in every crevice of their bodies. When they were finally given clothes to wear, the dresses were ill fitting and didn’t belong to them. They ended up in an overcrowded barracks without any personal space, a bucket for a toilet shared among hundreds of women, if they were lucky enough to have access to any facilities at all, and given what was called food but lacked any real nourishment. They were even denied a source of potable water for drinking purposes much less to use to clean themselves up. Standing at roll calls, hard labor, and minimal sleep followed. All this was meant to humiliate and dehumanize, shock the prisoners into submission, and lead them willing to death. Yet, many still maintained their will to live, and were determined to “survive at any price, and (they) clung to life with all (their) might.” (Birenbaum, 100) When confronted with the number of dead upon awakening her first morning in Ravensbruck, Sara Tuvel Bernstein writes she “decided then. I would not die.  Somehow, in whatever way I could, I would remain alive; Esther (her sister), Ellen, and Lily, as well. As long as I had the strength, we would live.  I would see to it.” (Bernstein, 206) She extended her desire to live to the other three members of her camp family, linking their survival with hers. 

The will to live is an animal instinct for self preservation, but “cooperation for survival among members of the same species is a basic law of life” as well (Davidson, 122). One can lead to the other because there is “strength in cooperation and mutual aid,” and the harsher the environment, when extreme levels of degradation, cruelty, and deprivation are the norm, the greater the need for reciprocal, helping relationships (Tec, 344). Forming these cooperative associations is therefore adaptive behavior under traumatic circumstances which improves quality of life for the individuals involved, and these relationships were as important to survival as following base instincts. Survivor accounts agree that it was almost impossible to remain alive on your own, certainly not and maintain any semblance of humanity at the same time. (Gelissen, 149 & Goldenberg, 337 & Tec, 183)

Human beings have a strong need for affiliation, what Goldenberg refers to as a “need for connectedness. (Goldenberg, 329) Even though people seek out other groups later in life, the primary way they satisfy this need for others is through the family they are born into.  Deprived of these connections, people quite naturally form new ones. It is no wonder that prisoners in concentration camps sought out relationships with other inmates because they satisfied this basic requirement for belonging. Additionally, camp families came together through shared misfortune and suffering, “motivated not by trivialities, but rather by a genuine sense of solidarity among people who shared each other’s grisly fate.” (Adelsberger, 99) Identifying with a group in this manner generates “feelings of connection that are often intense,” (Staub, 14) to the point that Liana Millu notes “most of the sisters in camp loved each other with an almost morbid attachment.” (Millu, 151) 

Often the women were bound by familial relationship or friendship prior to deportation, and from the start, the elder of the group took it upon herself to look after and protect the younger one(s). Sara Tuvel Bernstein reminds us that the old European school of thought came into play in that you listened to the oldest even if she was a fool. (Bernstein, 210) She was deported alongside her younger sister, Esther, and two young friends, coming to think of them as sisters, too, and it was Sara who determined the best course of action to keep them all alive. Rena Gelissen arrived at Auschwitz before her sister, Danka, but took care of both her and Dina, a friend from their hometown of Tycliz, after their subsequent arrivals. Judy Weiszenberg Cohen ended up at Auschwitz not only with her oldest sister Erzsebet, but with two other sisters as well. She remembers Erzsebet making the rules for them to follow, too. Halina Birenbaum was separated from her mother during the initial selection at Majdanek, but Hela, her 20 year old sister-in-law, immediately stepped in and told her “from now on, I’m your mother.” (Birenbaum, 78) Judith Pinczovsky Jaegermann and her mother were interned together, and she attributes her survival to her mother. She also mentions that her mother sheltered all the young girls who were alone. In a less traditional family group, Dr. Lucie Adelsberger was adopted by two teenage girls who became her “camp mother” and “camp grandmother” even though she herself was in her forties at the time.   

While there was usually one ‘sister’ who took charge of the group, the relationships formed were by necessity fluid and reciprocal, changing when one or another became ill or perhaps died. This reciprocity was an important characteristic of these families because the brutal conditions in the camps made it next to impossible for any one person to be strong all the time, either in mind or body. When one family member was depressed, ill, or injured, it was up to the other to take charge. While initially Hela stepped in as Halina Birenbaum’s mother, eventually she became ill, and Halina had to nurse her. Because Hela and subsequent camp sisters died, Halina ended up creating multiple camp families in succession who provided her with needed protection, warmth, and affection. Frequently, camp families were separated because of transfers between camps, leaving the members to realign themselves with other groups. Judy Weiszenberg Cohen was sent to Bergen-Belsen while her three sisters remained in Auschwitz. There she asked two friends, Sari and Edith Feig, if she could become their camp sister so she wouldn’t have to be alone. 

One very important function of camp families was to physically care for one another, especially in the sharing of any extra food organized and in nursing any member who fell ill. Survivors speak of the care that went into dividing food absolutely equally among their groups because “these are hungry people; everyone must receive exactly the same portions.” (Gelissen, 216) Not that there was much to divide, but an occasional piece of meat or vegetable discovered in the soup, extra bread acquired in a bartered transaction, or a gift from a prisoner in a better work detail could provide much needed nourishment.  By banding together, the odds increased that one of these extra sources of food materialized. There was also a special need for protection when a woman became ill or injured. To begin with, any evidence of illness or injury, such as fecal matter or blood, needed to be cleaned up because if the kapo, a prisoner in charge, suspected someone was sick she would send the woman to the infirmary, and the infirmary meant almost certain death. Also, any weakness or disease shown before the SS meant selection and subsequent death. Something as trivial as scabies was now a life threatening illness and must be covered up or salve bartered for to heal it. Someone too ill to keep up with the work demands placed upon the prisoners must be compensated for and protected, including being propped up at roll call if unable to stand. Irene Csillag speaks of even engaging in a form of physical therapy with her sister who had fallen so ill she was unable to walk. Irene would take her out of their bunk twice a day and put one foot in front of the other until she could manage on her own again. Sara Bernstein’s camp sister Lily lost her glasses during a beating by a kapo. She was unable to see without them; so from then on one or more of her camp family stayed by her side. More than one prisoner recounts feeling unable to keep going, especially on the death marches away from the camps and the advancing Allies, and only the other members of her lager family urging her on, physically pulling her each step of the way, or making her promise to keep trying kept her from dying. Rena Gelissen, became gravely ill on the march out of Auschwitz, extremely weak and ready to die, but her sister Danka and their friend Janka wouldn’t let her give up so they each took one of her elbows until she was able to walk again on her own. Had these women not had camp sisters by their sides to physically provide for them, they could not have survived. 

More importantly, though, than physical care was the psychological, spiritual, and emotional support these surrogate families gave to one another and which took on many forms. Each woman experienced high levels of stress and anxiety brought on by the uncertainty of the camps. Unable to determine their own fates, they were subject to the whims of the SS guards and the prisoners they placed in charge. Groups provided relief from the stress by conveying a sense of security, real or imagined, to the women. Just knowing she was not alone but part of a group eased an individual’s mind and gave her strength to continue. Also, by being able to take part in group decisions, an individual regained a sense of control over her life. (Davidson, 135) When Gelissen’s camp family was deciding whether to find a way to remain at Auschwitz during the evacuation or leave as ordered, Janka spoke up and said “All I know is that I don’t want to die here.  Let me die anywhere but Auschwitz.” (Gelissen, 244) She understood the Nazis were bent on murdering her, but in her mind she was determining the where. They left with the others. 

Spiritual comfort between and among women only rarely took on a religious expression.  Birenbaum mentions a “makeshift service with candles” (Birenbaum, 133) held by the women in her block, and Millu recalls a similar Hanukkah ceremony that became a time to mourn the dead. Rena Gelisen and her sister Danka fasted together their first year in Auschwitz but refused to give up a day’s ration of food the following year. More often than not, if women tried to assert their belief in a just and helping God as a source of consolation, it was met with scorn. Liana Millu comments after one such occasion that she “felt like asking them why God would help us in particular and allow last year’s unfortunate souls to freeze to death.” (Millu, 150) Differing views of God actually came between two sisters. While Gustine continued to believe that “God can’t allow injustice to triumph,” her sister Lotti could only see that “meanwhile the crematorium just keeps puffing away and ashes are dropping on (her) head.” (Millu, 172) Although Gelissen believed luck or perhaps a mistaken fate kept her and her sister alive, she was unable to completely disavow God. She also acknowledged burying the dead at Neustadt Glewe as very important to her personally, but even more significant, she and her camp family found saying a prayer over their grave “makes (them) feel good, and there is not much that does that.” (Gelissen, 260) Prayer provided a connection to their past lives and community as well as spiritual comfort for their group.             

Camp Sisters ~ Continued

Fear was constant in the camps, and is referred to by Adelsberger as “the antechamber to hell.” (Adelsberger, 10) The greatest perceived danger was in being alone, whether because as Delbo states, “no one believes she’ll return when she’s alone,” (Delbo, 99) and thoughts of giving up pervaded her consciousness in those situations, or because of the uncertainty surrounding the loved one’s fate drove her to distraction. Gelissen describes poignantly the mental torture that separation from a camp sister brings: “All morning I work, wondering if my sister is dead yet. I can barely finish my soup at lunch.  And my stomach is so tied up in knots of worry that I don’t appreciate the extra broth. I simply miss my sister and wish she were here to share it with me; I know she won’t each lunch today. Through the afternoon I try not to think about whether I will ever see Danka’s smile or beautiful eyes again. I cannot stand the time it takes for the sun to cross the sky. Finally, Emma orders, “Halt!” …Weak from hunger, mad with worry, I believe my sister has died a hundred times over. Then I really see her.” (Gelissen, 118) Rena vows after that experience, to never let “[Danka] out of my sight for another day of outside work; my nerves couldn’t stand it.” (Gelissen, 120)

Because this fear of being alone was so prevalent, camp families would do almost anything to stay together, taking extraordinary risks. Gerda Klein tells us that when she was on the verge of suicide, Ilse gave up her spot on a transport out of Marzdorf to Gerda. Ilse then cried out “My sister, my sister!” appealing to the director of the camp to prevent their separation. This could have placed them both in peril because he could just have easily decided they would remain at Marzdorf unloading flax by day and coal by night until they died from exhaustion. Birenbaum relates a similar story. Hela, her sister-in-law, was selected for death. Halina, “knew (she) had to be with Hela no matter what happened,” so she ran after Hossler and cried “she is my mother, my sister, my family, I cannot live without her.” (Birenbaum, 109) Amazingly, he let both of them live rather than sending Halina along with Hela to the gas chambers. The fear of being left alone was greater than the fear of dying together proven in stories related by both Gelissen and Irene Csillag who tell us of two separate occasions where one sister followed the other to the trucks that would take them both to the gas chambers. Gelissen and her sister even took an oath that if one sister was selected, they would go together.

Fear of being alone could also produce feelings of anger such as when Liana Millu became “enraged at being separated from Stella and Jeannette” (Millu, 51) because she was deprived of the buffer her two camp sisters provided against the daily brutalities she as a prisoner had to endure. Millu compensated for this loss of camp family by partnering with a pregnant woman in her new barracks. Another reaction to being alone, stemming from repeated loss or even disgust with what an individual had been reduced, was to resist what in the end would alleviate their fears, namely bonding with another. When Halina Birenbaum worked in Canada sorting thru victim’s belongings, she felt that “while working in the pit of hell, I could not be friends with anyone. I could not endure myself, so how could I get along with others?” (Birenbaum, 143)  However, in the end, knowledge that “’lone wolf’ behavior could almost guarantee death,” (Goldenberg, 337) would draw an individual into forming new relationships. In Halina’s case, she sought out Celina, a friend of her brother’s, and Mrs. Prajsowa and her daughter, two camp friends, in order to ultimately survive by making life more bearable thru the company of others.

How did camp families function to alleviate fear, other than thru the knowledge of shared misery? Klein put it very succinctly, “when we bring comfort to others, we reassure ourselves, and when we dispel fear [in others], we assuage our own fear as well.” (Klein, 260) Women would nurture and comfort one another through the suffering camps like Auschwitz brought to their lives, give one another emotional support, and encourage each other to keep going. “Having a sister, a cousin, or a friend in the camp with you was sometimes the only thing that gave you the courage to go on.” (Bernstein, 243) Women who were alone with no one to care for or receive comfort from in return, gave up, and this led to death from emotional exhaustion. Research supports this claim that death can result from “social isolation and the absence of meaningful contact.” (Bordens, 292) 

Camp families were also a source of hope for prisoners because “when hope is verbalized in the group interaction it becomes more powerful through suggestion and mutual validation.” (Davidson, 133) Birenbaum’s memoir testifies to this potency as well when she states hope is “the real value of life and human feeling – their (prisoners) power even in the worst circumstances, in hell.” (Birenbaum, vi) They were surrounded by illness and death, treated as slaves. If they couldn’t muster enough hope to believe that their situation was only temporary, many would give up and die, and solitary prisoners were more likely to do just that. Gelissen stated: “We are surviving because we have a hope for living, but admitting this hope is insane. In my heart I want to believe I will be free again someday because I don’t have the strength to stand up and live without that hope. But death is too imminent; the crematoriums are too oppressive. Hope is only there because we cannot survive without it.”  (Gelissen, 220)

Camp sisters boosted each others morale and functioned to maintain that hope, motivating the women to continue living when all around them seemed hopeless. In addition, camp families served as “a link that joined the prisoners’ lost past to the hope for a future.” (Tec, 351) 

Human beings have not only a need for affiliation, but a need for intimacy as well.  Intimacy is a close relationship characterized by sharing innermost feelings and concerns and exhibiting affectionate behaviors towards one another. Klein speaks of the act of talking about personal worries with friends contributing to a better sense of well-being.  The night before Ruth Elias and her newborn daughter were to be sent to the gas chamber, she confided in Maca Steinberg about her plight and started feeling better just by having someone to talk to. Maca devised a plan that saved Elias’ life, at the expense of her child, and in the process became Ruth’s camp mother. Later, as Elias grieved for her daughter, her camp sister Berta supported her by silently keeping her company. Birenbaum talks of a relationship she developed with a kapo, Alvira, who had a child the same age as Halina at home. Alvira’s unexpected but genuine gift of friendship and her spontaneous gestures of affection deeply impacted her. Millu speaks of her tendency to become attached to people who extended her the hand of friendship, and that even in the lager, she continued this trend. These relationships were a source of strength, spiritual and emotional nourishment, as well as affection and love. Klein speaks of love as a weapon and as a “deep well of truth and strength” (Klein, 86) since it could change one’s outlook on life from despair to hope in a future. Rena Gelissen tells the story of a group of older women that made it into camp rather than immediately being sent to the gas chambers. She relates “as hard as we (the prisoners) have all become, these women have touched our hearts and made us feel again.” (Gelissen, 171)  Prisoners would also pass the time telling stories of their past lives, exchanging recipes, and singing songs. These were life-affirming behaviors that provided a link between the past and the future. On rare occasions the women even made each other laugh which in turn eased their psychic pain and provided a momentary sense of relief.   

Human beings thrive on physical contact. Because of this, touch held special meaning for camp sisters, and it is a symbol of all that these relationships represented. Rena Gelissen speaks of how at roll call she would reach out to her sister “and touch her hand, reassuringly. Her fingers touch mine. This is our check-in. Every morning, if it’s possible, we send this silent message to each other – I’m okay.” (Gelissen, 134) She speaks frequently of squeezing hands whenever possible to comfort the other with their presence, and Birenbaum speaks of leaving Majdanek with Hela hand in hand. In other words, holding hands serves to remind them they are not alone, their greatest fear. To Bernstein, clasped hands were the link between her and her camp sisters. It represented the strength they had collectively, but lacked individually. 

Leitner asks if “staying alive not only for yourself, but also because someone else expects you to, double the life force?” (Goldenberg, “Testimony, Narrative, and Nightmare”)  Often women valued the lives of their camp sisters more than their own, and they felt it necessary to stay alive to guarantee their sisters continued to live. This became their reason for living. Birenbaum’s sister-in-law, Hela, told Helina “I am no longer alive. I only live through you, Halina, with your breath.” (Birenbaum, 117) When she would have otherwise given up, she continued to struggle on because of Halina.  Myrna Goldberg tells of a similar situation that existed between Cecilie Klein and her sister Mina. After Mina learned of the death of their mother and her own newborn child in the gas chambers, she wanted to give up and die, but Cecilie was able to convince her to continue on, one day at a time. “[Mina] held herself out, out of love for [Cecilie’s] life, not hers.” (Goldenberg, 331) By caring for another, you could bring meaning to your own life and find a purpose to continue on because as Terrence Des Pres notes “the need to help is as basic as the need for help” (Davidson, 125) because when you help others, you end up feeling better about your own situation as well.

Central to the relationships was the responsibility these women felt for the survival of their camp families and how intertwined their own survival was with their sisters. Millu mentions a time when she was ill and depressed. Lying beside Zina in the infirmary, she remembers: I could never quite make up my mind on the eternal question of whether to get passionately involved in life or simply give up and watch from the “sidelines. Still, Zina was younger, and I felt it was my duty to talk sense to her again.” (Millu, 120) Millu was on the verge of quitting, but instead, out of a sense of obligation to Zina, she pulled herself together and carried on. Ruth Elias also felt this same accountability for Berta after they had given birth in Auschwitz. Despondent over the death of her own child and about to be transferred to a labor camp, she describes “a need to concentrate on something outside myself,” in this case Berta, as instrumental in restoring her will to live. (Elias, 153) Klein considered the life of Ilse, her camp sister, to be “as dear as her own,” and therefore would take no risks that involved both of their lives without considering Ilse’s wishes. This would seem like a given in any relationship, but under the circumstances, many people acted in their own best interests, and the fact that some could think of another’s welfare in addition to their own is no small feat. Even on her death bed, Ilse made Gerda promise to keep trying for another week afraid that without her, Gerda would just give up. Bernstein states she “felt completely responsible for these three young girls [Esther, Ellen, Lily]; to me we were all sisters. I had to do everything in my power to enable us to remain alive.” (Bernstein, 210) She felt accountable for all their lives, not just her own. Rena Gelissen also writes of how her survival is contingent on the survival of her sister, and how she “must be with my sister. I know that I must make sure she lives; without her I cannot survive. I do not admit that to myself, but I know she is a part of my truth, my being. We cannot be separated; there is danger in separation.” (Gelissen, 99) Her sister, Danka, also realized how interconnected their lives were, and did all she could to help ensure Rena’s survival as well.

Many survivors speak of the struggle to remain human in a place that was specifically designed to strip you of your humanity, but how was that possible? In many cases, it wasn’t. Gelissen looked around her at the apathy and selfishness of some of the prisoners and wondered what the Nazis done to them that they should sink so low. She emphasized not lowering yourself to others vile behavior, sharing with your friends, and doing whatever was necessary to keep your mind and spirit intact, even at risk to your body. At one point, she and her sister were assigned to the Canada work detail sorting clothes, relatively easy work physically, but the close proximity to the gas chambers was too much for her to bear. Gellisen’s camp family was an integral part of how she managed to maintain her dignity amid impossible surroundings, and Birenbaum agrees keeping your dignity in the midst of chaos was an absolute must. Millu, though, recognized the necessity to look on a fellow prisoner not as “a selfish monster, but a warm, good trusting human being” instead (Millu, 59), and treat her with the empathy and sympathy she deserves as such. In other words, in order to keep your own humanity, you must acknowledge it in others. Ettinger confirms groups “promoted the psychosocial survival of the victims by preserving human awareness and a sense of self despite the dehumanization and amorality,” (Davidson, 121) and also helped an individual to “retain part of his personality and self-respect.” (Davidson, 124)   

The Nazis set out to annihilate European Jewry, intent on destroying their humanity piece by piece before taking their lives. Anything prisoners were able to do to prevent this was an act of resistance, from washing their faces so they looked human to bonding with other prisoners for their emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being because forming relationships is a human thing to do that fulfills human needs. Joining together for mutual support and nurturance was not enough in itself to prevent death by starvation and disease, but it could help provide some of the essential elements necessary for survival including, but not limited to, keeping the will to live alive, alleviating stress, anxiety, and fear, providing spiritual comfort, satisfying human needs for affiliation, intimacy, and affection, providing physical care, engendering a sense of responsibility for each other’s well being, fostering hope, and keeping them in touch with their intrinsic humaneness.  

German Women vs. Adolph Hitler

In the 1930s German women who opposed Nazi fascism mostly came from left parties. When Hitler came to power all women's organizations were ordered to accept Nazi leadership or disband. Many prominent German feminists went into exile or were sent to concentration camps. The following appeal to women was issued in 1932, on the eve of Hitler's rise to power, by a women's committee closely associated with the German Communist Party.

Wives, mothers girls of the Working Class!
We appeal to you at this critical time to
join together in anti-fascist action!

The Nazis tell you that they want to save the family. In Braunschweig where a Nazi, Klagges, governs, all regulations concerning the indigent are brutally enforced against working people. Klagges has canceled all plans for mothers' homes and nurseries. He gave an order to evict a tubercular unemployed worker, his pregnant wife, and their two small children. The mother was forced to deliver her baby in a windowless room six meters square with the rain pouring through the roof.

The Nazis demand the death sentence for abortion.
They want to turn you into compliant birth-machines.
You are to be servants and maids for men.
Your human dignity is to be trampled underfoot.
Your families will be driven to
desperation from ever greater hunger
The Nazis are the deadly enemies of liberation
and equal rights of women.
You must refuse to deal with them!
Whatever party or world-view you favor -
come and join together in
anti-fascist action...
Form united committees for the joint battle against
hunger, fascism, and war!

Holocaust Plight of La Guardia's Sister

Among the millions of Jews who were detained at concentration camps during WWII, it is little known that Gemma LaGuardia Gluck, the sister of New York's illustrious MayorFiorello LaGaurdia was among them. 

It was that illustrious name, though, that helped survive.

Dr. Rochelle Saidel spoke about Gluck LaGuardia's time in the camps at a recent presentation at the Holocaust Museum and Study Center. Founde of the Remember the Women Institute, Dr. Saidel recently published Fiorello's Sister: Gemma LaGuardia Gluck's Story a newly edited version of  My Story by LaGuardia Gluck. Originally edited by S.L. Shneiderman and first published in 1961, the book detailed the LaGuardia family history, LaGuardia Gluck's Jewish roots, and life during the Holocaust in Hungary, and as a political prisoner in Ravensbruck, a notorious women's concentration.

The newly edited version of the story has had "no major changes," according to Dr. Saidel, but includes new photographs and documents, including one of LaGuardia Gluck's arrest by the Nazis that accused her of being both a Jew and the sister of a mayor who was staunchly anti-Hitler.

Dr. Saidel, who lives in Jerusalem most of the time, says she stumbled upon LaGuardia Gluck's story while working on her prior publication The Jewish Women of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. Dr.Saidel first visited the Ravensbruck Memorial in 1980 and worked for more than 20 years to find information on the camp's Jewish victims. She was at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum when she discovered the document of LaGuardia Gluck's arrest, and was struck by the story of a prisoner whose brother at the time of internment was none other than mayor of New York City. 

When asked by a member of the audience why she chose to focus her next book on the story LaGuardia Gluck, she responded, "I just fell in love with La Guardia Gluck".
LaGuardia Gluck was "strong, very independent, almost feminist," said Dr. Saidel. Born in New York City to Italian immigrants, LaGuardia Gluck emigrated to Budapest, Hungary with her aristocratic Italian-Jewish mother, and her U.S. army bandleader father because of her father's job.

LaGuardia Gluck met her Hungarian-Jewish husband, Herman Gluck, while teaching English lessons in Budapest ( he was one of her students. When Gluck proposed, LaGuardia Gluck told him: "I have no wealth, I have no dowry. What I need to take into my marriage is my piano, my sewing machine, and my mother." 

The two married and were living in Budapest when the Nazis overtook the city and ordered her arrest. Originally deported to Mauthausen with her husband, LaGuardia Gluck was later sent to the women's camp Ravensbruck. But because she was a political hostage, she was not made to do forced slave labor, and used her position to help other women in the camp, embroidering gifts for them and raising their spirits. Although La Guardia Gluck was treated slightly better than the other prisoners due to her position, she still faced many hardships. La Guardia Gluck's daughter and her grandchild were held in Ravensbruck for a year unbeknownst to La Guardia Gluck, who assumed that they had perished until an S.S. auxiliary guard informed her of their whereabouts.

During the time of La Guardia Gluck's internment, her brother Fiorello was back in New York hosting anti-Hitler rallies and speaking out against the atrocities of the Nazis. He had assumed that his sister was dead, until a war correspondent hooked the two up via radio. He was, however, unable to rescue his sister at that time as she had lost her citizenship by marrying a foreign man. A year after their radio reunion, however, LaGuardiawas able to get his sister to Copenhagen. La Guardia Gluck came to the United States in the spring of 1947, where she lived in housing projects in Queens until her death in 1961, around the time that the original version of her story was published.

Helga Weiss

On an Auschwitz station platform in 1944, Helga Weiss and her mother fooled one of the most reviled men in modern history, Josef Mengele, and managed to save their lives. Not long into her teens, Weiss lied about her age, claiming she was old enough to work for her keep. Her mother persuaded the Nazis under Mengele's command that Helga was in fact her daughter's older sister, and she was sent to the forced labour barracks and not the gas chamber.

The story is one of many recorded in a concentration camp diary that was sold to publishers around the world at the Frankfurt book fair. The private journals of Helga Weiss are to be published in the UK for the first time next year by Viking Press, while foreign rights have been snapped up by publishing houses across the world.

Weiss, an artist in her early 80s who lives in Prague and is also known by her married name of Weissova-Hoskova, mentioned her journal during occasional public appearances, but until now public interest in her written story has always been overshadowed by her success as a postwar painter. The British publisher Venetia Butterfield heard of the diary's existence last summer when Weiss visited London for a concert at the Wigmore Hall commemorating fellow inmates at the Terezín camp in former Czechoslovakia.

"I heard about the event and called someone in north London who knew Helga. They told me she was just about to get on a plane back to Prague, but that she was coming round for a coffee first," said Butterfield. "I raced up to see her and we talked for no more than 10 or 15 minutes. She is an amazing woman with a great, feisty attitude."

Butterfield, who also publishes Anne Frank's diary, asked to see a sample of the writing in one of Weiss's surviving exercise books. "We had an academic report done, and once it was clear what the diaries were I went to Prague to see her. Accounts of the past are often shaped by the knowledge of what was to happen next. What is so important about the diary is that it is Helga's reality. You are there with her. It is a very different thing from a memoir."

Before Weiss was sent to the Nazi-controlled ghetto of Terezín as a child, she witnessed the insidious progress of the Holocaust in Prague. "One thing after another was forbidden: employees lost their jobs, we were banned from the parks, swimming pools, sports clubs. I was banned from going to school when I was 10," Weiss told the Observer at the time of the London concert. "I was always asking my parents, 'What's happening?', and became angry at them if I thought they were trying to hide something, to protect me."

The Weiss apartment was handed over to Germans and the family were transported to Terezín by rail. Known as Theresienstadt in German, the city on the north-west perimeter of Prague had become a transit hub where Czech Jews were put to work before being sent on to extermination camps. Her diary, which begins in 1939, records noises that still haunt her; the "thunderous steps, the roar of the ghetto guards, the banging of doors and hysterical weeping always sound – and foretell – the same".

"She was obviously very clever and quite mature," said Butterfield. "She was obsessed with school at first, like any child of that age. Then there are terrible goodbyes as her friends begin to be taken off to Terezín. At each point Helga thinks the worst thing has happened to her so you see how people become used to bad things. Eventually, when the family are sent to the camp they take some cake and eat a little every day."

Butterfield points out that memories of Terezín are not all painful. Weiss grew up there, fell in love for the first time, and spent time with both her parents, before her father was killed at Auschwitz. "My father told me that, whatever happens, we must remain human, so that we do not die like cattle," Weiss has said. "And I think that the will to create was an expression of the will to live, and survive, as human beings."

On 4 October 1944, Weiss and her mother were also transported to Auschwitz, where they faced Mengele, who was directing children and older women towards the gas chambers and fit adults towards the forced labour camp. Thanks to her subterfuge, she was one of only 150 to 1,500 children believed to have survived of the 15,000 sent to Terezín.

She was then transferred from Auschwitz to a labour camp at Flossenbürg where she escaped death a second time when she was forced to join a 16-day "death march" to the camp at Mauthausen. She remained there until the end of the war. "I asked Helga whether it had felt wonderful to be liberated," said Butterfield. "She said, no, it was not that special because by that point she was so ill and had seen so many terrible things it was hard to feel anything."


Journalist with the Offenbacher Zeitung in Frankfurt. Because of her Jewish faith she was dismissed from her job in the mid 1930s. Taking up social work she became director of the Centre of German Jewish Children at the Frankfurt Jewish Congregation office. In this capacity she helped thousands of Jewish children to escape to England and other European countries during the Kindertransport period of 1938-39.

Martha accompanied many of these transports to England. Back in Frankfurt she helped operate a soup kitchen and eight old peoples homes which cared for 570 elderly Jews. On June 10/11, 1942, a total of 1,042 Jews of Frankfurt and 450 from Wiesbaden were assembled in the Frankfurt Grossmarkthalle prior to boarding trains for deportation to the east. Martha Wertheimer was assigned by the Gestapo to take charge of this transport. 

A few weeks later, a postcard sent to a friend already in the Lodz ghetto, was the last the Jewish community ever heard of this courageous woman or of the victims on the train.

HILDE MONTE (MEISEL) (1914-1945)

Jewish poet and writer for the Berlin paper 'Der Funke representing the Socialist International. Born in Vienna she grew up in Berlin.

Living In England when Hitler became Chancellor, she joined the campaign of resistance against the Nazis (ISK: Internationalen Sozialistischen Kampfbundes, led by Willi Eichler) To carry on the struggle against Hitler she decided to return to her homeland and in 1944 had reached Switzerland via Lisbon. In Vienna, she established a secret intelligence chain with a group of anti-Nazis.

In attempting to cross the border into Germany she stumbled into an SS patrol near Feldkirch. A shot was fired that shattered both her legs. As the SS rushed to arrest her, Hilde Monte (Meisel) code-named 'Crocus,' bit hard into her suicide pill. She died instantly. (The ISK was dissolved on December 10, 1945. A memorial plaque to Hilde Meisel can be seen at Landhausstrasse 3, Berlin Charlottenburg, where she lived for a time)

  • 1914-1945



Trained in Britain, along with fellow member Hilde Meisel, as a secret agent for ISK, she travelled to Switzerland to serve as a courier for her husband Jupp Kappius, a German national who worked for the American O.S.S and who was the first OSS agent to be parachuted into Germany.

Anne travelled twice from Switzerland deep into the heart of the Reich, disguised as a Red Cross nurse to bring back valuable intelligence collected by her husband in Bochum, his hometown. In mid January, 1945, she brought back a thirteen-page account of the growing cells of resistance building up in the Ruhr. One startling statistic brought back by Frau Kappius was that in a bombing raid on the Gottingen railway station one in three of the 300 five-thousand-pound bombs dropped failed to explode. Anne and her husband survived the war and returned to Germany after the war to settle.


Andrée de Jongh at a RAF presentation ceremony.

Born in Schaerbeek, a suburb of Brussels, Belgium, in 1916, where her father was a schoolmaster. In 1940, twenty-four year old Andree decided to hit back at Nazi Germany after the invasion of her country. Together with her father, Frederic de Jongh, they formed theComète Line, a 1,000 mile route for escaped Allied soldiers and shot down airmen, through France to the British consulate in Madrid, Spain, and then on to Gibralter.

She personally accompanied 118 of them over the Pyrenees mountains to Spain. Hundreds of Allied fighting men, particularly shot down airmen, were able to get back home. In Brussels, the airmen were hidden in attics and cellars before being passed through a network of hundreds of people who guided them through France and into Spain and Gibraltar from whence they made the final journey back to England. 

During the war over 800 Allied airmen and soldiers were helped this way. Over one hundred of these helpers were arrested and executed including Andree's father, Frederick, who was arrested by the Gestapo in Paris in June 1943. In January 1944, Andree was arrested and sent to Fresnes prison near Paris.

She spent the rest of the war in the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp north-east of Berlin where she survived until liberation by the Red Army in April, 1945. After the war, Andree moved to the Ethiopia where she worked in a leper hospital in Addas Ababa. (She was awarded the British George Cross and the American Medal of Freedom. In 1985 she was created a Countess by King Baudouin of Belgium.) Countess Andree De Jongh died unmarried in Brussels on October 13, 2007, aged 94.


  • 1916- October 13, 2007



Born in Berlin on June 23, 1909, she studied chemistry and biology at the Berlin University and In 1928 she joined the Communist Youth Association. Because of this she was expelled from the university in 1933.

Working as a nanny in Berlin she kept close contact with the German Communist Party. In May, 1934, she gave birth to her son Walter and went to Stuttgart to work as a typist in her father's engineering office.

Receiving secret information from the illegal Communist Party in Wurttemberg about the rearmament program in the Dornier plant in Friedrechshafen and the construction of secret underground ammunition factory near Celle, she passed the information on to the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Switzerland.

Arrested on December 7, 1935, she spent the next nineteen months in prison awaiting trial. During this time her son was being taken care of by her grandparents. On June 12, 1937, she was sentenced to death by the People's Court for treason. Twelve months later she was brought to the death cell in Plötzensee Prison, Berlin, and there executed on June 20, 1938.

  • June 23, 19090-June 20, 1938



Writer and daughter of Thomas Mann the novelist. Born in Munich, she fled from Germany to Switzerland in 1933 in a car given to her by the Ford Motor Company after she won a 6,000 mile race through Europe.

In 1935 she married the English poet W. H. Auden. This marriage of convenience was arranged to give her British nationality. She returned to Europe and continued to attack the Nazi regime in her writings.

Her 1938 book 'School for Barbarians' described to the world the true nature of the Nazi educational system. This was followed by a series of lectures in America titled 'The Other Germany'.

In 1950 she returned to Switzerland where she died in Kilchberg, near Zurich, on August 27, 1969, after surgery for a brain tumour. One of her brothers, Klaus Mann, also opposed to the Nazi regime, emigrated from Germany in 1933. He continued his critical writings on Adolf Hitler when he moved to the USA and took American citizenship. 


  • 1905-1969)


ELIZABETH von THADDEN (1890-1944)

Teacher and activist in the anti-Hitler movement. Born in Mohrungen, East Prussia now Morag, Poland, she taught in a Protestant boarding school at Wieblingen Castle near Heidelberg which she founded in 1927. Forced to resign in 1941 by new state regulations, she started working for the Red Cross. She was reported to the Gestapo for things she said during a discussion on the regime at her home on September 10, 1943.

She was arrested, charged with defeatism and attempted treason and sentenced to death by the Peoples Court. On September 8, 1944, she was executed. Her half brother, Adolf von Thadden, survived the war and became a member of the Bundestag and later chairman of the National Democratic Party (NPD) formed in the early 1960s.


  • 1890-1944


Daughter of diplomat Dr. Wilhelm Solf, ex Ambassador to Japan. In 1940, she married Count Hubert Ballestrem, an officer in the German military. At her mother's house a group of anti-Nazi intellectuals met regularly to discuss ways to help Jews and political enemies of the regime. Many Jews were found hiding places by the Countess and her mother, Frau Solf. Documents and forged passports were obtained to help them emigrate to safety. At a birthday party given by their friend, Elizabeth von Thadden, a new member was introduced to the circle. It later turned out that the new member, Dr. Reckzeh, was a Gestapo agent and all members of the Solf Circle had to flee for their lives.

The Countess and her mother went to Bavaria but the Gestapo soon caught up with them. Incarcerated in the Ravensbruckconcentration camp the Countess only saw her husband once when he came on leave from the Russian front.

`In December, 1944, they were sent to the Moabit Remand Prison to await their trial before the People's Court. On February 3, 1945, Berlin was subjected to one of the heaviest air raids of the war. Next morning the word got around that the notorious Judge Freisler was killed in his own court-room by a falling beam during the raid. The trial was postponed to April 27 but a few days before, all prisoners were discharged as Judges and SS guards fled the city as the Soviet Army approached. Frau Solf went to England after the war and her daughter was reunited with her husband and lived in Berlin.

All told, seventy-six friends and acquaintances of the Countess and her mother were killed during the last few months of the war. Countess Ballestrem-Solf died while in her mid forties through trauma caused by her husband's imprisonment by the Soviet authorities.


LILO GLOEDEN (1903-1944)

Elizabeth Charlotte Lilo Gloeden was a Berlin housewife, who, with her mother and her architect husband, helped shelter those who were persecuted by the Nazis, by sheltering them for weeks at a time in their flat. Among those sheltered was Dr. Carl Goerdeler, resistance leader, Jurist and Lord Mayor of Leipzig until 1936. Lilo Gloeden, her mother and husband Erich, were all arrested by the Gestapo, and Lilo and her mother subjected to torture under interrogation. On November 30, 1944, all three were beheaded by guillotine, at two minute intervals, in Plötzensee Prison, Berlin.

Elisabeth “Lilo” Gloeden photographed standing before her judges

Elisabeth, along with her husband and mother, was convicted of hiding a fugitive from the July 20 Plot to assassinate Hitler and the three were executed by beheading in Plotzensee Prison on November 30th, 1944.

  • 1903-1944



Resident of Hamburg, married Captain Julius Wohlauf on June 29, 1942. Captain Wohlauf was the commanding officer of First Company, Police Battalion 101, at that time conducting mass executions of Jews in eastern Poland. After the first major killing action in the town of Józefów, Frau Wohlauf joined her husband for a delayed honeymoon. During the next few weeks, Vera Wohlauf, now pregnant, witnessed several killing operations at her husband's side. Accompanied by Frau Lucia Brandt, wife of Lieutenant Paul Brandt, also of Police Battalion 101, they were witnesses to the day-long massacre and deportation of the Jews in Miedzyrec on August 25. Other wives of officers were party to all this as were a group of Red Cross nurses.

After the killings, the wives and their husbands sat outdoors at their billets, drinking, singing and laughing and discussing the day's activities. This was how Frau Vera Wohlauf spent her honeymoon.



Born in Manchester, England, and at age 26 married William Joyce, the leader of the British National Socialist League and became the League's assistant secretary. In August, 1939, she accompanied her husband to Germany and made her first broadcast from Berlin on November 10, 1940 under the name Lady Haw Haw (her husband was already well known as Lord Haw Haw) In 1942 she appeared under her real name with weekly talks about women's economic problems. Both were arrested on May 28, 1945 and taken to London for trial on charges of treason. William Joyce was found guilty and hanged in 1946. Margaret Joyce was spared a trial on the basis that she was a German citizen (her husband having become a naturalized German citizen in 1940). She was deported to Germany and interned as a security suspect for a short while. After her release she returned to London where she died in 1972.

  • 1972

VERA CHALBURG ~ ‘The Beautiful Spy’.


One of the most outstanding female German secret agents of the war and the only female agent captured in Britain.  Born Vera Staritzka in 1912 in Kiev, the daughter of a Danish merchant. As an infant she was adopted and after the Bolshevik Revolution her adopted family settled in Copenhagen, Denmark. She trained as a dancer and later took up night club work in Paris. We next hear of Vera in Hamburg, as the mistress of Major Hilmar Dierks, the naval intelligence expert of the Hamburg Abwehr (the counter-intelligence department of the German High Command) Her elder brother, Christian Frederik Schalburg, became a prominent member of the Danish Nazi party but was later killed on the Eastern Front in 1942 while a member of a Waffen SS unit. (An  uncle of theirs, Ernest Schalburg, had lived in London for thirty years and became  a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force). Recruited by Dierks into the Abwehr, Vera soon made a name for herself as Germany's top female spy.

In September, 1940, she and two other agents were landed on the north-east coast of Scotland. Under her code-name Vera Erikson, she soon caught the attention of the Scottish police and she and her two companions were arrested at Portgordon near Elgin as they tried to buy a train ticket to London. Her two companions, Karl Druegge and Werner Walti, were both hanged as spies in Wandsworth Prison on August 6, 1941. Vera was never brought to trial, but while in prison she had a miscarriage, the suspected father being Druegge. After the war she was repatriated to Germany where all trace of her was lost, she simply disappeared. Her family in Denmark never heard from her again.

It is assumed that she 'turned' and worked for British Intelligence until the end of the war. Parts of the Military Intelligence (MI5) files (now the UK National Archives) on Vera Chalburg, have still to be released.

Vera Schalburg in February 1942

Portgordon Station - where Vera and Theodor Drucke, her lover and accomplice were arrested on the morning of 30 September 1940.  The picture was taken in the 1970s long after the station was closed.


  • 19120-

Ilse Braun

A picture of Ilse (left) and her sister, Eva (right), in 1913

Ilse Braun (1909–1979) was one of the two sisters of Eva Braun. She became the sister-in-law of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler following his marriage to Eva in the early morning of 29 April 1945; less than 48 hours before they committed suicide together on 30 April 1945. Born in Munich Ilse was the oldest daughter of school teacher Friedrich "Fritz" Braun and Franziska "Fanny" Kronberger.

Ilse Braun had worked as an assistant for a Jewish otolaryngologist and surgeon Dr. Martin Levy Marx for 8 years until he emigrated to the USA in 1938. According to Dr. Marx she was in love with him, and their relationship was not just professional.

Eva Braun overdosed Phanodorm (sleeping pills) on 28 May 1935 and tried to commit suicide.Next day in the early morning Ilse came back home after a dancing competition and found Eva unconscious. She called Dr. Marx and they saved Eva. Dr. Marx diagnosed "excessive fatigue" and did not mention suicide attempt in his report. Ilse removed some pages from Eva's diary (which was opened when Ilse found Eva) to protect her relationship with Hitler.

She had no involvement in politics and unlike Eva and her youngest sister Gretl she was not a member of Hitler's inner circle at the Berghof inBavaria. She lived in the distant city of Breslau in Silesia and did not meet Hitler until 1939.[6] As Soviet forces approached the city in January 1945 Ilse fled by train to Berlin where she was collected by car and driven to the Hotel Adlon where Eva was staying. Over dinner she told Eva about the refugees fleeing from the east and warned her that Hitler was dragging the country into an abyss, but her sister apparently did not appreciate that disaster was imminent.

Ilse loved to dance and even became one of the European amateur champions in ballroom dancing. She had many dancing partners and always tried to involve Eva in dancing. Ilse married Mr. Hofstätter, a lawyer in 1938. They were divorced in 1941. Sometime later Ilse married another lawyer; both her husbands were much older than herself. She lived with her second husband in Heidelberg until they divorced. Ilse Braun died of cancer in Munich in 1979. She is buried in Munich, next to her niece Eva Fegelein (daughter of Gretl Braun). She had no children.


  • 1909–1979)




She sat by her husband in the front seat of the lorry that led a convoy of killers to the town, and stood in the market square brandishing a whip as nearly a thousand who resisted the round-up or collapsed in the summer heat were beaten to death or shot.

Accompanied by Mrs. Lucia Brandt, wife of Lieutenant Paul Brandt also a member of the Police Battalion 101, they were the witnesses of 08.25.1942 all-day massacre and deportation of Jews in Miedzyrec.
Other wives of officers were allegedly also involved, all these were like a group of Red Cross nurses dressed.
After the killings, the women and their husbands were sitting outdoors in front of their quarters, drinking, singing and laughing and discuss the day's activities.
This was, as Mrs Vera Wohlauf honeymoon they spent.

She was pregnant at the time, a further incongruity.

  • Poland
  • 1942

Irmgard Huber

Irmgard Huber

At the beginning of the war, Irmgard Huber was head nurse at the psychiatric hospital in her hometown in Germany.

In 1940 the hospital became a T4 killing centre. T4 was the codename given to the Nazi operation in which around 70,000 German and Austrian adults with mental or physical disabilities were murdered. At least 14,000 people were killed at her hospital. Huber was responsible for the drugs which were used in the lethal injections. She also had a role in falsifying death certificates which were sent to families of the victims.

Doctors, nurses and administrators worked in six killing centres across Germany and Austria. They were the testing ground for the death camps in Eastern Europe.

Contributor: bgill
Created: October 17, 2011 · Modified: August 23, 2015

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