miércoles, 11 de febrero de 2015

Greta Klingsberg, child opera star of the Nazi death camp

Greta Klingsberg (middle row, second from right in pinafore
dress) and the cast of Brundibár at Theresienstadt concentration
camp in Czechoslovakia.

The children’s opera Brundibár is a fairytale with a fairly familiar message: good triumphs over evil. But place the work in the context of Theresienstadt, the Nazi concentration camp in Czechoslovakia where it was performed between 1943 and 1944, and that message is thrown into much sharper relief. The resemblance to Hitler of Brundibár, the evil organ-grinder who claims the town square as his own, was obvious to adult audiences. But not, insists its lead singer, to its cast.

When she was 13, concentration camp prisoner Greta Klingsberg was thrilled to be cast as the lead in an opera – even though her audience were SS guards.  

“The grownups interpreted it as this bad man who bullies everyone,” says Greta Klingsberg, who played lead character Aninka. “But the children never did. To us, Brundibár was the most popular character. He wore a moustache and, when he sang, it went up and down. We found him very funny.”
The opera, by the Jewish-Czech composer Hans Krása who was an inmate at Theresienstadt, tells the story of a brother and sister who try their hand at busking in the square, only to be chased away by the garishly dressed and talentless musician Brundibár (colloquial Czech for a bumblebee). So the siblings hatch a plot to turn him out. “At the end, when he’s thrown out, we welcomed him back on stage with open arms. He was one of us, our lovable Brundibár. It was not for us to see a political message.”
The opera provided a fantasy world for the children of Theresienstadt, even if the camp’s cultural life – due to the high number of prominent artists from central Europe imprisoned there – was cynically promoted by the Nazis for propaganda purposes.
“As a child, you identify with everything you do,” says Klingsberg, who was 13 at the time, with sole responsibility for her younger sister, her parents having escaped from Czechoslovakia to Palestine. “So when I was on stage, I had a school, a cat, and ice cream. All these things we hadn’t seen for years all of a sudden became quite real. It was wonderful. These were the moments of normal childhood for me, and for all of the children who participated in this opera. That’s why it was so special. In the camp, they stopped calling me Greta and called me Aninka.”
Having been chosen for the part because of her perfect pitch, and having already proved herself in other productions in the camp of Verdi’s Requiem, Smetana’s The Bartered Bride and Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Klingsberg performed it more than 50 times. There was a special show in 1944 for gullible representatives of the Red Cross who came to investigate the camp’s living conditions. Theresienstadt was turned into a “Potemkin village” for the visit, the most ailing prisoners having been deported to Auschwitz beforehand to reduce overcrowding. The Red Cross believed everything they were told and, on the back of their visit, a propaganda film was made called The Führer Gives the Jews a City, in which Klingsberg also featured – a tall pensive girl in a pinafore with a mane of dark hair, singing her heart out.
“I only found out I was in the film about 10 years ago,” says Klingsberg. A friend was visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust centre in Jerusalem, “and spotted the bit in which I appear. ‘How do you know it’s me?’ I asked. ‘Big eyes, big nose, now you just have a few more wrinkles,’ he replied. So I went to see it for myself and was really proud I hadn’t faked the singing for the camera.”
She remembers all the children being told to recite the line: “Uncle Rahm, sardines again?!” Rahm was their SS custodian. “I don’t know why – probably to show that we couldn’t have had it that bad if we were complaining about food.” The relish and speed with which the cast downed the sandwiches they had been given for the filming might have been comical were it not such a poignant reminder of how they were being starved. “We ate them so fast that they had to give us more, because they couldn’t film as fast as we ate. It was luxury – bread and margarine – out of the blue”.
Hope for more of the same kind of treatment was short-lived because, immediately after filming, all the cast and crew were loaded on to cattle trains and deported to Auschwitz. Most of the children, the musicians, the composer Krása and his director Kurt Gerron, were gassed. In the random selection process, Klingsberg was chosen for slave labour; her sister Trude, for death in the gas chambers, though she only discovered this much later. Klingsberg spent months in a series of camps before being returned to Theresienstadt, where she was liberated by the Soviet army in May 1945.
Klingsberg is now 85 and living in Jerusalem, where for years she enjoyed a successful operatic career. But Brundibár, she says, has never left her: she has translated the libretto into Hebrew, and is often called on to advise on productions around the world, most recently in Kosovo and Greece. “Once, years later, a woman came up to me when I was visiting Czechoslovakia and said, ‘I was in Theresienstadt with you. I was so happy once when you were sick and I was asked to sing your role. Thank you for that.’ We had a great laugh about it.”
Source: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/feb/09/greta-klingsberg-child-opera-star-of-nazi-death-camp

jueves, 5 de febrero de 2015

“The Three Musketeers” How a 13 Year-Old Survived in a Nazi Concentration Camp

Survivors of Dachau concentration camp

I met a true human being.  A man who once was a boy who has been through experiences that we will never know of living here in Coral Springs, Florida, where we are sheltered from atrocities that are unimaginable, and the only thing we can complain are traffic and the high price of things.


Sholom, who wants his last name and the number tattooed on his arm by the murderous Nazi’s to remain a secret.  The last “0” on the tattoo is hard to read on the inside of his forearm, the soft skin used to belong to a 13 year-old in 1943 living in the Carpathian mountains of what is now the border between the Czech Republic and the Ukraine.  Here Sholom lived in a small town with his family. Today he lives in our town.  
Happy as one would consider for a life of a peasant, Sholom had his parents and his brothers and sisters in hiding from the Nazi Germans who had not as of yet made their way into his neck of the woods, but everyone knew they would. 
In 1943, Sholom’s family, his father, mother and two brothers were captured.  They put his family and thousands of other Jews from his area onto trains fit for cattle and sent them to Auschwitz, the concentration camp in Southern Poland. 


Upon arrival, the German guards slid open the freight car, and started screaming at people to get out. They beat them over their heads with bats and whips and Sholom jumped from the car to the ground. The Germans immediately began segregating the Jews. Pregnant woman, like Sholom’s aunt were sent to the left along with his parents and brothers.  That was the last time Sholom saw his family.  They immediately marched them out and sent to them to the gas chambers where they were murdered and then incinerated in the ovens.
Sholom was sent to the right, to be paraded in front of  Dr. Josef Mengele the “Angel of Death – the title he was given by the people he preyed on.  As he waited his turn in line,  one of the Jewish workers walked by and whispered to him to tell the doctor that he was 15 years old and that he worked as an electrician’s assistant back home.  It came his turn, and he told Mengele exactly what the Jewish worker, who risked his life talking to anyone in line told him.  That saved Sholom’s life, since most of the younger children were immediately sent back to the left, and of course, gassed.  Sholom never knew the workers name, and never saw him again.
The Germans wanted to keep only those Jews that they felt would be useful to them  The children did chores, ate less than adults, and were easily controlled, and the Nazis liked that.  There was plenty of work to do and Sholom never complained, he liked staying alive.  As long as they had work, he would be kept alive.  As long as they had some use of him, his 13 year-old body could survive.  However, even with work, food was scarce. 
You could imagine in Auschwitz, 10,000 human beings, mostly Jews were being exterminated in the gas chambers each day. The Nazi machine never stopped. The Allies never took interest in bombing, as  Roosevelt put it, “There is no reasons to bomb the concentration camps since there were higher priority targets.” 
Sholom in Auschwitz could think of no higher priority targets than trying to stop the senseless killing brought on by intelligent people. He would have welcomed the bombs on top of his head if the madness could end. For a child, how could they comprehend what was going on?  He just wanted go back to his parents and friends and play. That was not going to happen.  Keeping alive was his focus.  Not the bombings by the Allies, or anything else for that matter.  He put out the thoughts of his mother and father, murdered, or his family killed, or anything any 13 year-old living in Coral Springs would imagine to be important. When Sholom was a child of 13 years old,  he was wandering around Auschwitz looking for food so he could live another day, a child struggling to keep alive in a world of chaos.

Dr. Josef Mengele

He along with 400 other children were put into what used to be a barn that housed horses.  This  was now his home.  A long and narrow building with very little light where the children were held captive would sit on a water trough what used to hold water where the horse would dip their heads to take a drink while they comfortably rested in their stalls.  No water was there now. Instead, they were filled with concrete to make long benches where the children sat and ate, that is, when they had food.  Where the horses once rested in the stalls, now were wooden bunks made of wooden slates and straw for bedding and a burlap bag for a blanket to keep the children from freezing to death.  This was where Mengele, the Doctor of Death, would see them standing at attention when he walked into the barracks looking for his next experiment, or the next sick child he could send to the ovens and gas chambers. 
Mengele was often called in to look at the health of the children. Sick and weak children were of no use to the Nazis. The kids were not stupid, when they saw the ambulance pull up,  they knew.  If they got sick Mengele would send them to the ambulance waiting in the back of the barn which was supposed to take them to the hospital to heal.  Instead, they knew it would take them to the gas chambers.  Called out to go to the ambulance was a death sentence.   Mengele would walk in at precisely 8 a.m. in the morning, with his white doctor’s lab coat and a German soldier at his side who had a pistol.  The soldiers would call the children to attention. 
They would stand either in their low bunks crouching over or at the concrete trough waiting to be examined by Mengele – and waiting to be told if they would live or die.   
On one particular day when Scarlet Fever spread around the bunk and the children were under quarantine,  Mengele came in late at 11 a.m., to examine the children who may have had blemishes or spots.  That day, Sholom was sleeping on a burlap blanket that left imprinted red dots on his face. When Mengele approached him, stopping in front of him examining his face, he felt his heart jumping out of his body.  Mengele called him out of the bunk and sat him on the concrete trough.  He put a thermometer under his little armpit.   Sholom thought to himself, ” I am finished”.  Sholom saw the ambulance waiting and instead of squeezing tightly the thermometer in his armpit by pressing his arm close to his body, he left it loose. For every child knew that keeping it tight, if you did have a fever would make the thermometer read the correct temperature, the deadly one. 
Mengele approached Sholom and pulled the thermometer out from his armpit.  The temperature was less than a regular body temperature. 
Mengele shouted at him in German, “You think you can fool me?”   
He grabbed Sholom and sat down on the concrete trough bench. He then placed him on his lap, put the thermometer in his armpit and wrapped his hands around the boy squeezing his arm to his body so this time the right temperature would be read. 
Sholom could smell the aftershave lotion, and hear his own heartbeat in his ears!  “This is it,”  he said to himself,  “I am dead!”
After a few minutes, Mengele pulled the thermometer out of the armpit of the boy, stood up and looked at the reading.  He then looked at Sholom who was shaking  and with a pause the Doctor of Death shouted,“Get out from my sight before I change my mind!” 
Sholom’s temperature was normal and he quickly ran back to his bunk and prayed Mengele would go away. Other children as we know were not so lucky.  Sholom was able to live another day in Auschwitz. 

The Three Musketeers

To survive in a concentration camp is almost impossible.  It depends on whether there is work for you so the captures will feed you. Work is the reason for the Nazis to keep you alive, and while this reason was there,  you have food that keeps you alive so you can work.  The Nazis would send the able-bodied children and other victims to work at the local refinery, road details, building, farm work,  or wherever they needed.  There was no kitchen, instead they would throw them food and watch all the people grab for it, like animals tearing at meat.  The stronger would remain strong as they grabbed the food from the weak, and the weak would get weaker because they could not fight for the food that would make them strong.  All this time, the Nazis would laugh at how they turned human beings into animals. They believed themselves to be Gods.  They were the animals. 
Sholom found a way to survive.  He formed an alliance with two older boys. All three made a pact that saved their lives in the concentration camp.  They became the Three Musketeers. One Jewish boy was in Auschwitz because he happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.  He came to Poland a few days before the Germans launched the invasion of Poland.  He was in London, England with his parents at the time traveling to a wedding.  His parents were dead.  The other boy came from the town of Lodz, Poland.  He was captured and sent to the concentration camp in 1939.  It was now 1943 and he had survived four years in hell.  Lodz used to have 150,000 Jews representing a fourth of the population of that city.  Almost every Jew was either starved to death living in the Lodz Ghetto, or were sent to Auschwitz where they were exterminated.  This one Jewish boy survived.  He did not know how long he was there. He did not want to know.
The pact formed by the Three Musketeers was quite simple: They would split whatever food they found into thirds, one third for each of them.  As well, they would fight for each other and found strength in numbers making sure no one would take away the food they found. 
Working at different areas of Auschwitz or sent on different work details, the Three Musketeers  would perform their tasks, and hopefully find a slice of bread, an apple, something to try to keep their energy up so they could live another day and work to keep alive. They would cut the food into thirds, save it for when they would meet up in the horse barn, and each one had their third portion.  One for all and all for one!  Not one of them would think of holding out on the other, since trust was all they had and without the three, they would be defeated. Other children tried to form similar groups based on their success. However, all of them failed, because they couldn’t resist eating the whole portion to keep themselves alive. They were after all, children. They didn’t know what they were doing and didn’t survive.  The Three Musketeers survived.
Sholom often was given the opportunity to work in town where he would do cleaning, or other labor.  The Poles would walk by seeing the children in a pathetic state with very little meat on their bones and would throw food to them when the Nazi guards were not looking; an apple, a sandwich. They knew the children were starving.  Sholom would grab the food and put it into his pocket for later distribution to the other Musketeers. 
During late 1944, several months after Sholom and the other two made the pact,  both the Allied forces to the west and the Russians to the east were closing in on the retreating Germans.  The Germans started to panic.  In January 1945, the Germans started the closing of Auschwitz as the Russians were at the doorstep. For some reason they were actually concerned about how it would look after the war that they killed and murdered so many woman and children. They woke up.  In an effort to try to hide their atrocities, they started killing many of the people in Auschwitz. When they ran out of bullets and realized they could not kill everyone, they decided to move the labor force out of the camp to other concentration camps closer to Germany. 

Death March

January 1945 started the death march. They marched the children and hundreds of others out of Auschwitz towards the Bavarian border.  Many died from starvation in the muddy, icy roadway. The Three Musketeers stayed together.  Along the way Sholom  noticed a large grey winter German officer’s coat at the brim of the roadway as they were walking. He ran to the coat picked it up and  rolled it up into a bundle.  The other two Musketeers told him to drop it, it was too heavy.  If the Germans saw them with a jacket maybe they would be shot.  Something inside  Sholom told him this jacket would save their lives. Countless days into the march they arrived at a train station where the Germans began loading their prisoners onto an awaiting train.  They ran out of the closed cattle cars that offered some shelter to the cold wintery weather.  When it came to the turn of the  three musketeers, they were loaded onto open train cars, that offered no shelter from the weather. It was the middle of winter, and in Poland the temperature was several degrees below zero.  The wind started to pick up as the train began to accelerate and Sholom unrolled the thick wool jacket.  The Three Musketeers huddled inside hugging each other.  The coat kept them from freezing to death.  Most of the people on the open box car were not so lucky and died.  What made Sholom pick up the coat in the first place? That was not the children’s concern, only that they lived another day. 

Bergen Belsen Camp

The train brought the children past Berlin, to Bergen Belsen death camp. The children were unloaded and Sholom with his other two friends immediately knew this place was no Auschwitz. They saw the condition of the people and the children.  No food. Only suffering. They knew in a couple of weeks they surely would die. They were placed into a barracks with other children. One morning a Gestapo member came into the barracks.
“Who wants to work for Food?” He shouted. 
Sholom and his two friends quickly answered the call since they were stronger than the children that were in Bergen Belsen longer.  Off they went marching one mile to a building, not unlike the barn they slept in at Auschwitz.  However, this barn was different.  The doors where opened, and there they saw piles of what used to be people: men, women and children,  stacked one on top of each other dead and decomposing, liquidated  by the Nazis.   
Along side the barn was a ditch  already dug deep and long.  They were ordered to take the bodies and pull them into the ditch.  Sholom and the other two Musketeers  complied.  It was horrible. One would pull on a hand only to find the hand was no longer attached to what once was a the human being.  They were given no masks. No gloves. The stench of the rotting bodies made the children vomit. But, with no food in his stomach, all that could be heard was a retching sound and then nothing. 
Sholom, 14 years old, had to become a man very quickly. But these were children. How could they have not wanted to end their own suffering and simply kill themselves at the horrors they saw?  The Gestapo never gave them food.  They were lied to. Why not? They were only looked upon as animals to the Germans. 
Almost starving to death, the children were moved to another concentration camp where there was work and little food, but something to keep them alive. The Three Musketeers would have spent time in five or six different death camps and they always found a way to survive, together.  Or they would have died together, which was another pact that they made with each other.  Live or die, these three would have the same conclusion in this insane world they were living in. 
As the Russians were continuing to advance, the children were loaded onto cattle wagons and their caravan headed southwest toward Frankfurt and then toward the Austria, away from the advancing American forces lead by Patton.  At night they would sleep inside a building, and their Nazi captures would go into buildings where it was warm, while they stayed locked up in the wagons at night.  The Three Musketeers huddled for warmth, the coat long gone or taken by some other children who were hopefully using it to survive. 
The Allies were close.  They could hear the planes flying overhead as the bombs were being dropped.  Several would hit the buildings of some of their captures. Others would hit one of the wagons holding their Jewish prisoners. None of the wagons were marked on the roof with anything. “How would the planes know it was them?” The three Musketeers told themselves.  They thought maybe one bomb would hit their wagon and end their suffering once and for all.  Night after night they traveled along a road to wherever their captures would take them …a long way from the Carpathian mountains. 


On April 27th 1945, on the way to Dachau concentration camp the Germans stopped near a village known as  MickHausen. The children were placed in a barn and were guarded by Nazis.  Earlier in the  morning of the 28th of April,  The Three Musketeers woke up to deafening silence. They could hear birds and the rustling of the wind. They did not hear any Nazis. They were no where to be found. 
“They are gone,”  one of the Musketeers said, and immediately headed for the kitchen wagon to see if he could get some food to share with the other two.  Sholom grabbed him and told him to stay put.
“The Nazis could be outside in the forest with guns waiting for us to run so they can shoot us,”  he said. 
This was well-known to the children, as the ruthlessness of the Nazis were often brought from camp to camp as bad news travels fast. They waited.  The Three Musketeers heard tanks approaching the building.  Through the doorway you could see a tank with a white star on it.  All the children popped their heads out of the doorways and windows to see what the commotion was about. They could see a tank commander on top of the turret with his hands on a machine gun. Several tanks approached and Sholom noticed that the soldiers must have been in the sun too long, they all had bad suntans! They had never seen a black man let alone an American black man.  The liberation force was only one of two tank battalions that were made up entirely of African Americans. The 741st Tank Battalion liberated him and the other Musketeers. Their pact, the one in which they said live or die together, was concluded.  They lived.  Sholom was 15 years old. 
Sholom doesn’t know where the other Musketeers are today.  He was sure the London native went back home. The boy from Lodz went to Israel or at least so he was told. 
Sholom was a child of 13 when the Nazis came and changed his life forever. Today, he is a Coral Springs resident.  He survived because he used to be a Musketeer.
Source: http://coralspringstalk.com/the-three-musketeers-how-a-13-year-old-survived-in-a-nazi-concentration-camp-10415

martes, 20 de enero de 2015

The Auschwitz survivor who adopted the camp chief’s grandson

Hitler's Children Discussion Eva Mozes Kor and Rainer Höß 

Since meeting in 2013, Mengele survivor Eva Mozes Kor and Rainer Höss have formed a close bond. Together they preach understanding and tolerance.

For a Holocaust survivor, meeting the offspring of one’s tormenters would be difficult enough. The prospect of developing a close friendship with them, even familial warmth, would seem utterly impossible.

Yet this is just the sort of unlikely relationship struck between a woman who was subjected to horrific Nazi medical experiments at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, and the very grandson of that camp’s notorious commander, according to the Vice news website.

In 1944, at the age of ten, Romanian-born Eva Mozes Kor was captured by the Nazis and — along with her twin sister — was subjected to savage medical experiments at Auschwitz carried out by Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele. Mengele, who had a particular interest in twins in his work, is believed to have victimized approximately 1,500 pairs throughout the war. Only around 200 of those pairs survived.

“Throughout the week, the doctors would be giving me a minimum of five injections into my arm. I became very ill,” Kor recently recounted to high school students at a lecture in Casper, Wyoming, according to Oil City.
At one point Mengele told her, laughing, that she had only two weeks to live. Her sister, too, was very sick, but both knew that if one died, the other would likely be killed as well.
“I remember going back to the camp where I remember crawling and fading in and out of consciousness, crawling to get to a water fountain, telling myself, ‘I must survive, I must survive,'” she said.
And, miraculously, they did.
In 1995, Kor founded the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, a small city in western Indiana where she has lived since the 1950s, with the aim of sharing her story with her neighbors. But instead of speaking in anger of her captors, Kor has preached forgiveness.
“I had the power to forgive. No one could give me the power, or take it away from me,” Kor, now 80, told Vice last week. “I refused to be a victim, and now I am free.”
In 2013, Kor first met Rainer Höss, whose grandfather Rudolf Höss commanded Auschwitz for much of the war and is identified with the decision to use pesticide Zyklon B to kill prisoners in the camp’s gas chambers.
Many families of former Nazi war criminals have avoided their past. Some have attempted to bury it, while others deny that any evil was perpetrated at all. But not Rainer Höss. Since finding out the truth of his grandfather’s actions, he has become a fierce and vocal critic of his forebear and has sought to learn all that he could of his dark roots.
When his family criticized his choices, Höss cut his ties with them. He has devoted recent years to educating schoolchildren about the dangers of right-wing extremism. What began when his children’s teachers asked him to share his story with pupils at their school has now become a full-time job that saw him visit more than 70 schools in Germany in 2013 alone.
After hearing of Kor’s story, Höss, 49, contacted her and asked to meet her. He also asked her if she would agree to become his adoptive grandmother. After meeting him, Kor consented.
“I’m proud to be his grandmother,” she told Vice. “I admire and love him. He had the need of love from a family he never had.”
One million Jews were killed at Auschwitz from 1940 to 1945 along with more than 100,000 non-Jewish Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals and anti-Nazi partisans before the camp was liberated on January 27, 1945.
Rudolf Höss went into hiding after World War II but was captured by the Allies in 1946 and hanged the year after near the infamous Auschwitz crematorium.
Rainer has said in the past that if he knew where his grandfather was buried, he would go to his grave in order to urinate or spit on it. Kor says she has urged him to forgive his grandfather as well as the rest of his family. Only by forgiving your worst enemies can you be truly free, she contends.
“I do argue with him, as I don’t always agree with everything he does. But I definitely love him,” she said. “There is a real camaraderie and emotional understanding. People from different places who call each other grandma and grandson can give a sign of hope.”
Source: http://www.timesofisrael.com/the-mengele-survivor-who-adopted-rudolf-hosss-grandson/

domingo, 11 de enero de 2015

Inside the Nazi death camp for WOMEN: Injected with petrol, infected with syphilis and raped by their liberators, the shocking fate of prisoners at Ravensbrück

  • 50,000 women murdered at German camp; 2,500 gassed in one weekend

  • 'Undesirables'at the camp included gipsies, political prisoners, Resistance fighters and petty criminals
  • Women 'rabbits' were injected with STI in heinous medical experiments 
  • Red Army soldiers raped many survivors who saw the camp's liberation 
  • Sarah Helm's new book features testimonies from prisoners

  • Katharina Waitz stared at the 15ft wall topped by barbed wire, took a deep breath and, undaunted, began to climb the last leg to freedom. 
    She was one of the handful of inmates of Ravensbruck, the Nazi concentration camp exclusively for women, ever to break out, and it took the ultimate in daring high-wire acts for her to get away.
    A trapeze artist by profession, the crime that consigned her to this grimmest of places was simply that she was a gipsy and therefore classified by Hitler’s Third Reich as a degenerate whose very existence polluted the pure Aryan gene pool.
    Twice this brave young woman tried to escape and was caught, spending months of torture in the camp’s punishment block. 
    Undeterred, she tried again. Under cover of darkness, she somehow slipped past the SS guards and their vicious Alsatian dogs and up on to the roof of the staff canteen.
    From there, she used all her circus skills to climb the electric fence, wrapping a blanket round the live wires. Then she clambered over five rows of barbed wire and a 15ft wall before fleeing into the forest.

  • She was free for three days and nights, during which time all the other women in the punishment block were forced to stand at attention, without moving a muscle and without food. On the fourth morning she dragged back, covered in blood and dog bites.
    She was thrown back inside the punishment block, where her fellow prisoners were told: ‘Do what you want with her.’ 
    Crazed with starvation and fatigue, they picked up chair legs and clubbed her to death for what she had put them through — doing the guards’ dirty work for them.
    Many thousands of women suffered similarly gruesome fates in the six years that Ravensbruck existed. They were worked to death, starved, beaten, hanged, shot, gassed, poisoned, even burnt alive in the crematorium.
    Such barbaric treatment, systematic and on an industrial scale, is hard to comprehend. It plumbs the absolute depths of savagery, even for Nazi Germany.

  • And yet after the war ended, what took place passed so quickly into history that it was virtually forgotten. Seventy-five years on, the horrific crimes enacted there are largely unknown.
    In all, 130,000 passed through its gates, of whom 50,000 were slaughtered, though so few SS documents on the camp survive no one will ever know precise numbers. In its final days, every prisoner’s file was burned, along with the bodies, and the ashes thrown in a lake.
    But what really drew a veil over what went on in the camp is that those who survived its horrors found them literally unspeakable. 
    One told me how it was impossible to explain what it had been like: ‘So I said nothing.’ 
    Another started to tell her family and friends about all she’d endured, ‘but my sister took me aside and told me not to talk like that again as people would think I’d gone mad’.

  • One survivor I spoke to tried to put me off writing about it altogether. ‘It is just too horrible,’ she said.
    Certainly, as I researched the camp’s history, met survivors and read personal accounts in distant archives, the brutality and degradation I unearthed were so extreme I was often reduced to tears.
    But I ploughed on. These were voices that had to be heard.
    Oddly, when the first prisoners arrived at Ravensbruck, 55 miles north of Berlin, in May 1939, they broke into unexpected smiles.
    Political opponents, prostitutes, down-and-outs and ‘undesirables’, they were brought there from dungeons, dark cells and grim workhouses all over Germany, where they had been locked up for not conforming to the ‘Kinder, Kuche, Kirche’ (Children, kitchen, church) Nazi ideal of womanhood.
    As they climbed down from blacked-out buses, they looked out on the shimmering blue water of a lake. The scent of a pine forest filled their lungs. ‘Our hearts leapt for joy,’ recalled Lisa Ullrich, a Communist.
    There were no watchtowers. Inside the barbed wire they caught a glimpse of beds of bright flowers and an aviary with peacocks and a parrot.
    The illusion of tranquility was instantly shattered as ‘hordes of women guards with yelping dogs came rushing at us issuing non-stop orders and calling us hags, bitches and whores’.
    Several prisoners collapsed under the onslaught. Friends who stooped to help them up were themselves knocked flat and whipped. 
    It was a camp rule that helping another inmate was an offence. Commands echoed through the trees as stragglers were kicked by jackboots.
    Stiff with terror, all eyes fixed on the sandy ground, the women did their utmost not to be noticed. Some were whimpering. 
    Another crack of a whip and there was silence before they were marched inside to be stripped, deloused and their hair shorn.

  • From then on, every minute of the days that stretched ahead of them was regimented by blaring sirens and rules. Inside the barrack blocks, they were tightly packed together in conditions so inhumane that one inmate described it as like ‘stepping naked into a cage of wild animals’.
    Discipline was maintained not only by guards , but also by collaborators among the prisoners, kapos and blockovas (block leaders) recruited for their vicious natures and willingness to obey orders.
     Encouraged to ‘vent their evil’ on their fellow prisoners, they were often worse than the guards as they doled out beatings and kept order.
    From these over-crowded, disease-ridden blocks the women were roused each morning as early as 3am for roll call on the parade ground and made to stand for hours in their thin striped dresses even in the iciest winter. 

    A fat SS man on a bicycle circled round them, lashing out with a whip. He was the slave labour chief and this was his cattle market where he selected prisoners for work details.
    Then they were herded off and set to work — heaving rocks and road-building, sewing military uniforms and making electrical equipment for the Siemens company, which had a factory there.
    Ravensbruck’s first inhabitants were mainly German and had been arrested for petty crimes or voicing opposition to the Nazis.
    As well as prostitutes, they included doctors, opera singers and politicians. Later the camp took in women captured in countries occupied by the Nazis, many of them members of the Resistance and enemy agents, including a handful from Britain.
    On entering the gates, these new arrivals would stare in horror and disbelief at the corpse carts, the emaciated forms squatting around the kitchen block and the crematorium furnaces billowing smoke.
    The conditions took a terrifying toll. Broken by slave labour, weakened by disease and starvation, beaten to a pulp for no reason, the women succumbed in droves — as was intended. 
    Ravensbruck had been built as nothing short of an enormous death machine where everything was designed to kill.Those who became too ill or exhausted to work were ‘selected’ for extermination. 
    Volleys of gunshots from the woods behind the camp signified a new round of killings. Trucks regularly arrived — known as Himmelfahrt (‘heaven-bound’) or black transports — to take away batches of women for unknown destinations from which they would never return.
    Later these turned out to be the gas chambers of secret Nazi killing centres in Germany or Austria or — more often — the death camps of Auschwitz or Belsen.
    The inspiration behind this facsimile of hell was Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, who supervised the network of concentration camps. He was a frequent visitor.

  • His mistress — he called her ‘Bunny’ — lived in a love-nest nearby and he took to dropping in when on his way from Berlin.
    It was he who sanctioned the use of the Pruegelstrafe, in which a prisoner was strapped over a wooden horse and given 25 lashes on the buttocks with an ox-whip. It had long been used on men. 
    Now women were similarly thrashed within an inch of their lives. But worse perhaps even than these were the spine-chilling medical experiments carried out on the inmates. These began with the camp’s doctor, Walter Sonntag.
    Encouraged by Himmler he began by testing ways of killing off prisoners. Injecting petrol or phenol into their veins was his favoured method.
    Sonntag was a sadistic brute. Each morning, dressed in his immaculate, black SS uniform, he passed along the line of women waiting outside the camp hospital who were suffering from dog bites, gashes from beatings or frostbite and kicked them with his jackboots or lashed out with his bamboo stick, smiling as he did so.
    He particularly enjoyed extracting healthy teeth without anaesthetic.
    One of Himmler’s obsessions was his belief that regular sex made for better soldiers, and he instructed Sonntag to find a way for them to have intercourse in brothels without contracting venereal disease. 
    The doctor experimented on prostitutes in Ravensbruck in search of a cure for syphilis and gonorrhoea.

    No records remain of how he carried out his trials, though everyone was aware they were happening. A camp survivor heard of ‘syphilis being injected into the spinal cord’.
    But firm evidence does exist of a series of macabre medical trials that began in the summer of 1942, when 75 of the youngest and fittest women — all Poles — were summoned to the parade ground, where SS surgeon Karl Gebhardt lifted their skirts and inspected their legs.
    Six of them were selected and sent to the hospital block.
    There they were bathed and put in beds with crisp, clean sheets. Then a nurse shaved their legs before wheeling them into the operating theatre. ‘Be brave,’ she told them.
    As she sank under the anaesthetic, one of them repeated over and over: ‘We are not guinea pigs ... we are not guinea pigs.’ But that’s precisely what they were, though the camp name for them would be Kaninchen — ‘rabbits’. 
    When that first ‘rabbit’ woke, her legs were in plaster. Within hours she and the others were screaming in agony as their legs began to swell.
    They were being used in vivisection experiments to discover the best drugs for treating the war wounds of Germany’s soldiers. The women’s legs had been cut open and dosed with bacteria, with added dirt, glass and splinters to ensure that infection spread further.
    Days later, the plaster was removed and their wounds agonisingly scraped out before being treated with different experimental drugs. ‘Rabbits’ who fought against what was being done to them, or screamed too loudly because of the pain or were no longer of any use, were put out of their misery with lethal injections or simply taken out into the forest and shot.
    The medical experiments were supposed to be top secret. But the whole camp was aware of them, and was horrified. ‘We were terrified the same might happen to us,’ recalled Maria Bielicka, ‘and everyone went out of their way to help the “rabbits”.’
    Inmates brought them titbits of food. The Poles in the camp set up an aid committee and assigned a Polish ‘mother’ to each ‘rabbit’ to try and look after her welfare.
    But the tests worsened as ever more fanciful medical theories were explored and right to the very end, the ‘rabbits’ lived in fear of extermination, knowing that, alive, they were proof of the atrocity.
    To aid the wholesale slaughter, Himmler now decreed that Ravensbruck should have its own gas chamber, which was built in January 1945. The camp had become overcrowded to breaking point and he needed to make space for even more prisoners, especially with the camps in the East forced to close.

    Shooting and poisoning took too long. Gassing was quicker. It would double the numbers killed. A temporary gas chamber was fashioned out of an old tool shed close to the crematorium, just outside the camp wall. 
    Measuring 12ft by 18ft, it resembled a car garage. Gaps and holes in the walls were covered with mastic and a special airtight cover fixed over the roof with a small hatch.
    The women were pushed inside, 150 at a time, and the door shut. Then a canister of gas was thrown in from the roof. According to a witness, there was moaning and crying for two to three minutes, then silence.
    Prisoners in the closest blocks would hear the lorries pull up and wondered why the engines were left running for so long. Then someone said it was to cover the screams from the gas chamber.
    The air was thick with smoke from the crematorium. Its three furnaces could barely keep pace.
    The gassing at Ravensbruck went on almost right to the end, even during air raids and when Russian guns could be heard in the distance. Over one weekend alone, 2,500 women were gassed.
    The aim was to destroy evidence of what had happened there before the Allies arrived.
    But there were still thousands left on site on April 30, 1945, when the surviving women awoke to the roar of Russian artillery, the gunfire so close that the sky above the perimeter wall lit up.
    The SS guards had fled, and the women prepared a red banner to hang across the camp gates.
    But their Red Army ‘liberators’ brought a fresh horror — rape.
    Ever since it had crossed the German border, the advancing Red Army had engaged in sexual rampage and now it even raped these starved concentration camp women — many of them fellow Russians.
    Nadia Vasilyeva, a nurse, remembered how the troops ‘at first greeted us as sisters but then they turned into animals’.
    ‘I was little more than a corpse,’ recalled Ilse Heinrich, ‘and then I had to undergo that!’ Pregnant women and those with newborn babies were also raped.
    Another woman complained that the soldiers were demanding payment for liberation. ‘The Germans never raped us because we were Russian swine, but our own soldiers did. Stalin had said that no soldiers should be taken prisoner, so they felt they could treat us like dirt.’
    Given all that the brave women of Ravensbruck had been through and managed to survive against the odds, this violation by their own side was the final humiliation.

    Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2903887/Nazi-death-camp-WOMEN-s-shocking-medical-experiments-injected-prisoners-petrol-syphilis.html#ixzz3OYXqHJbo