Ravensbrück: Research Summary

My research this summer on Ravensbrück Concentration Camp will be used to inform my dissertation at the University of St Andrews. All of texts that I was able read throughout these seven weeks puts me in a very good place to continue my research in the fall and begin the writing process. The ability to travel to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the site of the camp provided me with an invaluable amount of information that I would not have be able to rely upon otherwise. And I believe that walking around the former camp site allowed me to better comprehend the experiences of these women and hopefully to do justice to their stories in my final work.

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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.

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Ravensbrück: Week 6

Ravensbrück

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Ravensbrück: Week 5

Last week I continued examining primary sources. Lund University in Sweden houses a large Holocaust archive, including a plethora of information on Ravensbrück. In the final year of the war, the Swedish Red Cross attempted to rescue concentration camp prisoners. Using a database on camps in northern Germany provided by an underground resistance group, the Red Cross was able to secure rescues. Heinrich Himmler, Nazi official and director of the concentration camp system negotiated with Count Folke Bernadotte, Sweden’s representative, and agreed to allow the release of a number of prisoners from various camps across northern Germany. By the last months of the war, Himmler recognized that the Nazis would not be victorious, and he believed that releasing prisoners to the Red Cross would save face and help convince the Allies to negotiate a separate peace. In February, the Red Cross began their rescue of Scandinavian prisoners, driving down through Denmark into Germany and then bringing inmates back to Sweden for medical treatment and convalescence. By March, over 100 buses had transported inmates from various camps to their freedom. In April, Himmler met with Bernadotte again and agreed to extend the rescue program to prisoners of all nationalities. On April 25, a convoy of 20 buses arrived at Ravensbrück and transported over 900 women to safety in Sweden. Multiple Rabbits arrived in Sweden at the end of the war. Professors and researchers at Lund spoke with former prisoners, gathered any materials prisoners brought with them from the camps, and recorded testimonies from those willing to share their experiences. The resulting archive, added to over the years, contains an abundance of information on various concentration camps in Germany.

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Ravensbrück: Week 4

Last week I turned to examining primary sources. I focused on Wanda Symonowicz’s Beyond Human Endurance: The Ravensbrück Women Tell Their Stories, which provides a selection of reminiscences from twenty former prisoners, all of whom were experimented on during their time in the camp. Published in 1970, Symonowicz’s book was the first to relate the experiences of Ravensbrück women to an English-language audience. It begins with an introduction by former inmate Wanda Kiedrzynska, including a brief overview of camp history and a short section focused on the Nazi medical experiments that occurred in concentration camps across the Reich. Twenty chapters follow, each containing the words of a different inmate, reflecting on some aspect of her experience in Ravensbrück.

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