Ravensbrück: Week 2

This week I traveled to DC to conduct research at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Throughout my time in the archives, I examined administrative documents recovered from Ravensbrück after liberation, records from post-war trials, and various personal collections. Because I had a limited amount of time in the archives, I scanned some of the collections onto a USB drive so that I can examine the sources throughout the remainder of the summer.

During my research this week, I made the decision to narrow the focus of my dissertation. I originally planned on examining multiple groups of women in the camp, but due to the vast number of available primary sources, I realized that my initial idea would be overwhelming for an undergraduate dissertation. Going forward, I will be focusing on a group of 75 Polish women, known colloquially as the “Rabbits.” SS doctors at Ravensbrück performed unconsented medical experiments on the legs of these women in 1942 and 1943 which left them permanently crippled. My advisor at the University of St Andrews supported my decision to alter the focus of my research.

While some of the sources that I viewed at USHMM offered information on the camp in general, during the latter portion of my trip I looked at sources which focus specifically on the Rabbits. I found two collections to be particularly useful. First, the records and transcripts from the 1946-1947 Doctor’s Trial at Nuremberg provide information on the doctors involved in the experimentation program on the Rabbits. During the trial, four victims of the experiments testified to the torture they endured at the camp in the hands of Dr. Karl Gebhardt, Dr. Fritz Fischer, and Dr. Herta Oberheuser. Second, I found the Caroline Ferriday collection to be extremely useful in gaining more information on these Polish women. Ms. Ferriday, an American philanthropist, learned of the Rabbits after the war and eventually arranged for 35 of the survivors to travel to the United States for medical care. Her collection at USHMM contains the Rabbits’ applications for monetary restitution, medical records and photos of the women, correspondence between Ferriday and many of the victims, and new reports concerning the experiments.