Established: 15 May, 1939
Location: Near Fürstenberg
As far back as November, 1938, a column composed of 500 men was detached from Sachsenhausen with the task of erecting a camp to house the prisoners of the dissolved camp of Lichtenburg. It was to be erected at a distance of circa 80 kilometers north of Berlin, in the Macklenburg Plain. Initially, it was intended to house German political prisons and to serve as a “reeducation” camp. It later became a prevalently female camp.
The first contingent of 867 women arrived at Ravensbrück as far back as May, 1939. They were for the most part German Communists, Social Democrats and Jehovah’s Witnesses. In September of the same year, a transport of gypsies with their children arrived at the camp. It was soon followed by other transports of women from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, France and Italy: in other words, from every country invaded and occupied by Hitler’s troops. In a short space of time, the camp housed 2,500 deportees, the number of which was simply destined to augment to 7,500, arriving at the end of the war to the monstrous sum of 45,000 persons present. Taking count of the deceased and of the transfers, it seems certain that at Ravensbrück 125,000 women had been registered, of which 95,000 lost their lives. Approximately 1,000 were Italians (of which 919 have been given an identity). 870 infants were born at Ravensbruck, but only a very few had the fate to survive. Other children, who had entered the concentration camp with their mothers, were unable to resist the privations, the undernourishment, the rigid climate.
The surveillance personnel at Ravensbrück was composed of special divisions of the SS composed of women who were chosen for their extreme brutality. They did whatever they could to render the lives of the deportees impossible. The ferocity of these jailers overwhelms even the worst imagination and made the already wretched existence that the victims lived even more intolerable and sorrowful.
Life in the camp was regulated by the work necessities of the factories contiguous to the camps and even some inserted within the compound. They were mainly producers of war materials, or in any case of products destined for military use. The fatigue, result of inhumane work rhythms, undernourishment and the rigorous climate, contributed in large part to wipe out the lives of the older, weaker and most debilitated women. In contrast, a movement of solidarity and clandestine resistance soon developed among the deportees, and most tried in every way possible to help those who were the most exposed. From that clandestine movement, instructions seeped out with ways to sabotage the production, and to organize the necessary actions for the protection of children, women who were singled out as targets of the violence of the Kapo and the SS auxiliaries, or whoever was particularly in danger. This solidarity, that knew no distinctions of nationality, religion, political militancy, or social order, was the only lifeboat upon which it was possible to grasp for, to avoid drowning in that sea of violence and terror in which the Nazis attempted to submerge their victims.
Given the availability of human material, also at Ravensbrück , every kind of experimentation of a pseudo-scientific nature was conducted on a vast scale. Sterilization, abortion, infection and other misdeeds were the order of the day. There exists a vast documentation of this infamous activity, carried out with zeal and sadism. The documentation is comprised not exclusively of frightful testimonies, but also upon irrefutable evidence and proof.
The 49th Unit of the Soviet Army of the Bielorussian front liberated Ravensbrück on the 30th of April, 1945. The camp had been in large part evacuated several days before. Around 3,000 women, a few children and several sick men, all considered non-transportable, were left to wait for the arrival of their liberators. All of these prisoners were in pitiful condition.
To learn more about the history of the camp and to find information regarding the Memorial (visiting hours, accessible areas, etc.) consult the site of the Ravensbrück Foundation (texts in Italian, English, French, German and Polish).