Ravensbrück (German pronunciation: [?a?v?ns?b??k]) was a notorious women'sconcentration camp during World War II, located in northern Germany, 90 km north of Berlin at a site near the village of Ravensbrück (part of Fürstenberg/Havel).
Construction of the camp began in November 1938 by SS leader Heinrich Himmlerand was unusual in that it was a camp primarily for women. The camp opened in May 1939. In the spring of 1941, the SS authorities established a small men's camp adjacent to the main camp.
Between 1939 and 1945, over 130,000 female prisoners passed through the Ravensbrück camp system, around 26,000 were Jewish. Between 15,000 and 32,000 of the total survived. Although the inmates came from every country in German-occupied Europe, the largest single national group incarcerated in the camp consisted of Polish women.
The first prisoners at Ravensbrück were approximately 900 women. The SS had transferred these prisoners from the Lichtenburg women's concentration camp in Saxony in May 1939. By the end of 1942, the inmate population of Ravensbrück had grown to about 10,000. In January 1945, the camp had more than 45,000 women prisoners.
Hundreds of children were incarcerated in Ravensbrück. The cruelty and the sadism of the Nazis against the children had no limits, and the fate of those little victims was absolutely awful. Children and babies were in fact sentenced to death before they were born. Newborn babies were immediately separated from their mother and drowned or thrown into a sealed room until they died. Most of the time, this was done in front of the mother. There are dozen of testimonies about children thrown alive into the crematory, buried alive, poisoned, strangled, or drowned in Ravensbrück. Several children were also used for sadistic "medical" experiments. Hundreds of little girls, sometimes only 8, were sterilized by direct exposure of genitals to X-rays. In the early months of Ravensbrück, children were immediately killed. The SS doctor Rosenthal and his girlfriend Gerda Quernheim aborted by force pregnant women, and this was often done using bestial methods. Later, newborn children were sometimes allowed to survive, but due to the lack of food and the awful sanitary conditions, these babies died very soon.
Only the strongest children could survive. Those children had to work day and night with the women in the workshop and help them with the heaviest labor. Only very few of these children survived the war.There were OTHER children in the camp as well. At first, they arrived with mothers who were Gypsies orJews incarcerated in the camp or were born to imprisoned women. There were few of them at the time. There were a few Czech children from Lidice in July 1942. Later the children in the camp represented almost all nations of Europe occupied by Germany. Between April and October 1944 their number increased considerably, consisting of two groups. One group comprised Roma children with their mothers or sisters brought into the camp after the Roma camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau was closed. The other group included mostly children who were brought with Polish mothers sent to Ravensbrück after the collapse of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. With a few exceptions all these children died of starvation. Ravensbrück had 70 sub-camps used for slave labour that were spread across an area from the Baltic Sea to Bavaria.
Among the thousands executed by the Germans at Ravensbrück were four female members of the British World War II organization Special Operations Executive: Denise Bloch, Cecily Lefort, Lilian Rolfe and Violette Szabo. Other victims included the Roman Catholic nun Élise Rivet, Elisabeth de Rothschild (the only member of the Rothschild family to die in the Holocaust), Russian Orthodox nun St. Maria Skobtsova, the 25-year-old French Princess Anne de Bauffremont-Courtenay andOlga Benário, wife of the Brazilian Communist leader Luís Carlos Prestes. The largest group of executed women at the Ravensbrück camp was composed of 200 young Polish patriots who were members of the Home Army.
Among the survivors of the Ravensbrück camp was Christian author and speaker Corrie ten Boom. Corrie ten Boom and her family were arrested by the Nazis for harbouring Jews in their home in Haarlem, the Netherlands. The ordeal of Corrie and her sister Betsie ten Boom in the camp is documented in her book The Hiding Place which was eventually produced as a motion picture. Countess Karolina Lanckoronska, a Polish art historian and author of Michelangelo in Ravensbruck also was imprisoned in the camp from 1943–1945. Eileen Nearne, a member of the Special Operations Executive was a prisoner in 1944 before being transferred to another work camp and escaping.
In 1945, just prior to liberation, the poet, playwright and author of "The Green Goose", Konstanty Ildefons Galczynski, managed to save one of the Ravensbruck inmates from certain death. Her name was Lucyna Wolanowska. They began living together, and in January 1946 their son was born, also named Konstanty Ildefons Ga?czy?ski. Later that same year Lucyana Wolanowska and her son emigrated to Australia.
Will Lammert, Memorial Tragende (Woman with Burden) for the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp memorial site, 1959