Ravensbrück: Week 7

The majority of my research at Ravensbrück involved working in the archives. From conversations with the archivists, I was able to fully comprehend the lack of original information on the camp. They explained that primary source documents on Ravensbrück are extremely few and far between. Because the Nazis burned almost all of their records, only a select number of documents that were smuggled out of the camp by prisoners exist today. All secondary sources on Ravensbrück are informed mainly by testimonies from prisoners and interrogation reports and documents from the post-war trials. Therefore, while I had initially envisioned being able to review sources from the period, my work there ended up focusing much more on testimonies and books written after the end of the war. I had already read much of the English-language books and articles on the camp, however, the archivists were able to pull a few texts that were inaccessible in the United States. Studies and Monographs: Experimental Operations on Prisoners of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, a 1960 book written by a group of Rabbits, offered the most information useful for my dissertation, particularly on the camp doctors. Knowledge about the SS personnel and doctors is sparse and comes mainly from memories of prisoners. Through this text, I was able to learn more about the roles of each doctor in the experiments and their interactions with the Rabbits. My research question focuses on the interactions between the Rabbits and their doctors, and Rabbits and other prisoners, therefore, the other aspect of these books that was useful were mentions of other prisoners who supported the Rabbits. For example, one Rabbit details a protest against further operations that was supported by a total of 500 prisoners. As punishment for this action, all of the women were forced to stay in their barracks for three days and nights without food. Another Rabbit explains that “each [Rabbit] has her own ‘Fairy-Godmother,’ usually one of the prisoners working in the staff kitchen. A guardian of this kind watches over our needs and provides us with some nourishing bites, often risking her life in the process.” These reminiscences provide a deeper look into the relationships between groups of prisoners.

For the second part of my archival research, I focused on German-language sources relating to Ravensbrück and the Rabbits. In total, the number of German, French, and Polish sources on the camp far exceed that which has been written in English. Reading through these books understandably took much longer. And, as there are so many more books available in German, I scanned some of them onto USB drives to read in the future. Again, the information that I found most valuable in these texts detailed the relationships the Rabbits had with others working and living in the camp. One book had a chapter dedicated to examining the trio of doctors responsible for conducting the operations. Various Rabbits reported that Dr. Gebhardt came into the ward on various occasions when he was drunk and inspected the patients, and that the only female doctor, Herta Oberheuser, often flirted with her male colleagues. Another explained that Dr. Oberheuser was concerned only with advancing her career and impressing her supervisors, not with the status of her suffering patients; she is described as “ein Teufel mit Engelsgesicht” (a devil with an angel face). One text reprinted an excerpt from Dr. Gebhardt’s report on the experiments which he supposedly sent up the Nazi chain of command. The tone suggests a lack of sympathy for the patients, and no guilt for butchering the limbs of scores of women. Finally, I was given access to two websites that house video interviews of Ravensbrück inmates. I identified five interviews of Rabbits who talk further about their experiences.

After completing my research at Ravensbrück, I traveled south to Berlin and visited a couple of sites related to the Nazis. I found a museum called Topography of Terror to be most useful for my work. Located at the site of one of the former Nazi command centers, the exhibit details the Nazis reign of terror from 1933 to 1945 and focuses on the Nazi treatment of various nationalities and groups both within Germany and across Europe. The museum also includes a plethora of information on Heinrich Himmler, one of the highest-ranking Nazis who was put in charge of the SS and concentration camp system, which provided further background for my research.

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