Ravensbrück: Week 3

The majority of my work this week focused on secondary sources. I read and took notes on Jack Morrison’s Ravensbrück: Everyday Life in a Women’s Concentration Camp, 1939-1945. Published in 2000, this is the first comprehensive book on the camp written in English. It is similar in content to Helm’s text which I read in my first week of research. Although Morrison references the Rabbits only sparsely through his piece, he does focus quite a bit on relationships and friendships between prisoners in the camp which I found particularly useful. One of his central arguments is that companionship among inmates could increase the chance of survival. Another asset of Morrison’s book that I found interesting was the contrast between images he provides throughout the book. The images can be separated into two categories: photos of the camp taken by Nazi officials to be used as propaganda, and drawings completed by prisoners. Images in the former group depict healthy women working in a pleasant environment and were displayed to visiting delegations to underscore the camp’s decent conditions. The whole of Morrison’s study emphasizes that the depictions in these photos were far from the reality in Ravensbrück. The latter group of images provide a valuable visual glimpse into a handful of prisoner’s thoughts and impressions.

I also examined a few other secondary sources on Ravensbrück. I had already identified and read parts of four books related to the camp for a history paper last year. I organized and condensed my notes and the key takeaways from each book and dove into parts of the texts that I had not examined previously. These sources differ significantly from Helm and Morrison’s books, as each author selected a specific group of prisoners to focus on. Rochelle Saidel, Judith Buber-Agassi, and Irene Dublon-Knebel all concentrated on the experiences of Jewish prisoners, while Germaine Tillion looked primarily at the French women held at Ravensbrück. While the Rabbits did not fall into either of these groups, I believe it is useful to gain an understanding of the different experiences of various groups of prisoners to use as a comparison.

Through my research this week, the research question I will address in my dissertation became clearer: ‘Did some SS members’ and fellow inmates’ sympathy for and help extended to the “Rabbits” improve the latter’s chances of survival?’ In the future I will conduct research with this angle in mind. Morrison and other historians point to the strong ties between communities of prisoners in Ravensbrück, particularly among women from the same nationality. They also suggest that the SS personnel that women interacted with impacted the nature of their experiences in the camp, especially the intensity of punishments and working conditions. I believe that the camaraderie between the victims of medical experimentation, and the sympathy that other prisoners and certain SS personnel had for these women may have contributed to the ability of many to survive until liberation.