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Ravensbrück Concentration Camp

From Women in European History

Ravensbrück Concentration Camp was the largest camp purpose-built for women in the Third Reich. Construction on the site began in 1938 at an area near Ravensbrück, fifty miles north of Berlin, by 500 male prisoners transferred from Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. From 1938 to 1945 over 132,000 women passed through its gates – of these, only 40,000 survived their experiences.

Inmates came from over thirty countries. The majority of prisoners came from Poland (30%), with significant numbers arriving from the Soviet Union (21%), Germany (18%), Hungary (8%) and France (6%).[1] By 1942, its prisoner population had grown to roughly 10,000, as inmates were transferred from around the Reich and its conquered territories.

Inmates originated from varied social and political backgrounds, ranging from Jews, political inmates, ‘asocials’, Jehova’s Witnesses, criminals and the ‘work shy’. Significant numbers of children accompanied their mothers (mostly Jews and Roma Gypsies) to the camp, though almost all perished of starvation. The composition of these different groups varied wildly through the camp’s existence. In its early years, the majority of inmates were politicals and criminals, while in 1945 – when occupancy had swelled to 50,000 – Jews and asocials accounted for the bulk of the camp’s population. Famous inmates included Margarete Buber-Neumann, Wanda Poltawska, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Corrie ten Boom and Maria Skobtsova.

Camp life was very similar to most other concentration camps in the Third Reich. Inmates were routinely cramped into small shacks, starved to the point of famine and forced to perform physical labor under appalling conditions. Those too weak or chosen for other reasons were executed by gassing chambers and euthanasia programs, while doctors performed horrific human experiments on living subjects. While the camp administrators were largely men, the guards responsible for overseeing the inmates were almost exclusively female, and were no less sadistic and inhumane than their male counterparts at other camps.

As the Soviet Army approached in 1945, the SS released 7,000 prisoners - mostly political - to the Danish and Swedish Red Cross. Subsequently, the remaining 20,000 prisoners still fit enough to walk WERE FORCED TO TAKE a death march towards Mecklenburg, where many more were killed. Only a few thousand inmates who were far too weak for physical exercise were left behind in the camp. The camp was finally liberated on April 30th, 1945. Those who survived the death march were discovered by a Russian scout unit several hours after.


  1. United States Holocaust Museum (2010). “Ravensbruck”. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005180.

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