Introduction

The Women of Ravensbrück - Contents, history, biographies and more

1. Contents of the video archive „The Women of Ravensbrück“

The Protagonists are introduced on the startpage by a quote and a short biographical sketch. Choosing one protagonist, more biographical informations, photos and all available interview-clips can be explored.

The transcript resp. the translation of each video-clip is shown beside the video player’s window.

The video-clips for each protagonist can be sorted thematically by these sections: All / History / Detention / Later life.

Hanka Housková - Interview still, 1994
Hanka Housková - Interview still, 1994

A few keywords are outlining the content of each video-clip, also indicating the respective dates and places named in it.

The search based on selected or individual, self-chosen keywords offers the thematical search of the complete archive of video-clips by all protagonists.

Aat Breur 1946 and during an interview in 1998
Aat Breur 1946 and during an interview in 1998

A project glossary offers informations on names, places, events and special terms, mentioned in the individual interviews.

Interviews on the location of the former concentration camps of Ravensbrueck and Moringen convey the development and changes of these places through the periods of these interviews.

Shooting with Esther Bejarano and Charlotte Kroll on the former camp site of Ravensbrueck
Shooting with Esther Bejarano and Charlotte Kroll on the former camp site of Ravensbrueck

B-roll and cut-in footage from the principal interview-shootings, are showing the homes and hometowns of the interviewees and offer an insight into their environments.

Photos from their private archives are presenting the protagonists in different phases of their lifes and/or their domestic environment.

Personal documents and historical photos shed light onto current affairs at the time.

If available, there are also added photos of those persons and places, mentioned in the interviews.

Erna de Vries in her youth
Erna de Vries in her youth

Drawings from the inmates and artworks created after their liberation can be found among the photo-collections of the resp. artists/protagonists.

In case the interviewees had shown us handicrafts, clothing or other artifacts from their time in the camp, these are also depicted in the photo-collection of the resp. protagonist.

Former concentration camp Moringen
Former concentration camp Moringen

Significant places of the camp, for instance the sick bay („Krankenrevier”), are being documented and extrapolated in their development over time through the different memories and experiences of the various protagonists. They are describing the same place as a scene of terrible suffering, when talking about babies being born there or the “medical” experiments on certain inmates - or as a place of help and care, that could be facilitated by inmates working there as doctors and nurses.

The sick bay, shortly after the liberation
The sick bay, shortly after the liberation

2. The Interview collection

Since 1980, the beginning of the project „Living Resistance - Women’s biographies”, the filmmaker and author Loretta Walz has created one of the biggest german collections of video-interviews with surviving women (plus some of their kids and male prisoners) of the concentration-camps Moringen, Lichtenburg and Ravensbrueck.

In cooperation with the association of former Ravensbrueck-inmates („Lagergemeinschaft”), the Ravensbrueck Memorial and the Institute for History and Biography of the Fernuniversität Hagen more than 200 comprehensive, life-historical videointerviews have been produced in 23 countries of West- and Eastern-Europe. In total more than 1000 hours of footage spread over 2000 videotapes.

The analogue video archive
The analogue video archive

Most of these interviews are life-historical ones, ususally lasting for seveal hours. They are not focusing on the time in the camp-alone, but also deal in depth with the antecedents (childhood and youth) and the protagonist’s life after their liberation, up to the date of the interview. Therefore the interviews are also mirroring a significant part of the women’s and social history of the 20th century.

To honour the expressed wishes of the interviewees, that their memories should be preserved and passed on to the following generations, we are in the process of digitizing the entire tape-collection for it’s usage in this online video archive.

Ceija Stojka interviewed in 2001 and in her youth
Ceija Stojka interviewed in 2001 and in her youth

Loretta Walz:
„From the very first interview I was interested in the entire life. I wanted to know about the family and the domestic background of my interview-partners, how they had grown up, how they experienced their persecution or how they entered a resistance-group, how that resistance really looked like, how they endured imprisonment and: how their later lifes were marked by these experiences.“

Loretta Walz during the interview shoot with Inger Gulbrandsen, Oslo 1988
Loretta Walz during the interview shoot with Inger Gulbrandsen, Oslo 1988

From the wealth of the entire collection, a number of films and publications have been created. For instance the 90 min. documentary „The Women of Ravensbrueck“ („Die Frauen von Ravensbrück“), winner of the prestigious Grimme-Prize 2006, and the book „And than you get there on a beautiful summer’s day“ („Und dann kommst du dahin an einem schönen Sommertag“), Kunstmann Publishing, Munich, 2005.

For her work Loretta Walz has been awarded in 2006 with the „Bundestverdienstkreuz”, one of the highest honors by the german state.

Book- and film covers
Book- and film covers

Our thanks belong to all colleagues who have helped generating this collection and who are participating in the construction of the video archive.

We also thank the Ministry for Youth, Education and Sport of the country of Brandenburg, the Kulturstiftung des Bundes and the Foundation „Großes Waisenhaus zu Potsdam“ for their support, that made this project come to life.

Shooting on the former camp site in 2004
Shooting on the former camp site in 2004

3. The video archive in the educational work

The former inmates and witnesses were an important part in the previous educational work, particularly at the various Memorial-sites. They could pass on their first-hand knowledge with an urgency that can hardly be surpassed. The students could ask their own questions, compare the results and start their personal engagement with history and it’s connections to their own lifes. Today only a few former inmates are still alive and able to spread their knowledge. What remains are their recorded memories.

Students interviewing Charlotte Kroll for a film project of Waidak media e.V., 2008
Students interviewing Charlotte Kroll for a film project of Waidak media e.V., 2008

After their registration, the video archive can be used by schools, educational and academical institutions as well as memorials and privately interested individuals for their research. If requested the Waidak Media e.V. is accompanying groups, that want to make use of the video archive for the development of their own media-projects. In case of interest, please get in touch (see also: site-notice).

Students during a film project of Waidak media e.V. at the youth meeting center Ravensbrueck, 2006
Students during a film project of Waidak media e.V. at the youth meeting center Ravensbrueck, 2006

Annette Pauporté-Eekman (Belgium):
„The experiences we went through have taught us a lot. And we must pass on what we have learned. (…) The aim is: to never forget. And to go on, to keep on fighting, that something like this will never happen again.“

Students resarching in the archive of the Ravensbrueck memorial for the film project \"Das KZ von nebenan\" (\"The camp from next door\") by Wadak media e.V.
Students resarching in the archive of the Ravensbrueck memorial for the film project "Das KZ von nebenan" ("The camp from next door") by Wadak media e.V.

4. Our cooperators

Waidak media e.V.
Waidak media e.V. The Waidak Media e.V. is the lead partner of this project. Karin Redlich, Knut Gerwers, Loretta Walz and others have founded Waidak Media 1990 in Berlin. This registered society is mainly working in the field of youth- and educational work through media-projects. In numerous of these projects the interviews were used as the thematical foundation, and at times as part of the resulting movies or websites. The experiences of more than 20 years in that field of work are also employed in the further development of the video archive. Examples of the work of Waidak Media e.V. can be explored at their website.

Loretta Walz Video Production / Biographical Documentaries
Loretta Walz supplies the collection of the interviews and coordinates the project. She is to be contacted for getting access to the archive and in all continual matters.

Hektor + Rydzewski audio visual productions Ltd The staff of Hektor + Rydzewski is creating the concept of the database and is in charge of programming and designing the video archive. They are handling the system administration, the entire process of digitizing the analogue footage and it’s integration.

Sources

  • The quotes of Loretta Walz and the background-infos on the camps of Moringen, Lichtenburg and Ravensbrueck are taken from her book „And than you get there on a beautiful summer’s day - The Women of Ravensbrueck” („Und dann kommst du dahin an einem schönen Sommertag - Die Frauen von Ravensbrück“), published in 2005, Antje Kunstmann Publishing.
  • Photos from the site of the Ravensbück Memorial and from the projects of Waidak Media e.V.: Knut Gerwers / Waidak Media e.V.
  • Stills from the interviews, from the Memorial sites of Ravensbrueck and Lichtenburg and archival photos of the protagonists: The archive of Loretta Walz.

Infos on the concentration camps of Ravensbrueck, Moringen and Lichtenburg

From June 1933 on, women taken into "preventive custody" ("Schutzhaft") on the territory of the German Reich, were detained in the former "Werkhaus" of the small town of Moringen, nearby Göttingen. The imates of this first women’s-only concentration camp consisted mostly of political prisoners and Jehova’s Witnesses. The living conditions were not at all comparable to those in other concentration camps in later years.

Former concentration camp Moringen
Former concentration camp Moringen
Former concentration camp Lichtenburg
Former concentration camp Lichtenburg

In March 1938, when the women’s concentration camp Moringen became too small, the inmates were deported to the concentration camp Lichtenburg at the river Elbe. The conditions in the old fortress worsened considerably: roll calls for hours, arrest cells and numerous harassments by the SS-guards. At least 1.400 women were detained in the camp Lichtenburg until May 1939.

When the camp Lichtenburg became too small as well for the evergrowing number of female detainees, they were deported to the newly erected women’s concentration camp Ravensbrueck, 80 km north of Berlin. Ravensbrueck was originally built as a "preventive detention camp" ("Schutzhaftlager") for 10.000 female prisoners.

Ehemaliges Kommandanturgebäude des Frauen-KZ Ravensbrück
Commandant's office of Ravensbrueck
Blick von der Kommandantur über das KZ Ravensbrück (Aufnahme aus dem Propaganda-Album der SS)
View from the commandant's office over the camp Ravensbrück
(Photo from the propaganda-album of the SS)

Women from all over Germany and from those countries invaded by German troops were imprisoned in Ravensbrueck. Some of them were simply accused of, or actively resisted the Nazi-Regime. Others were imprisoned because their beliefs, their descent or their political views did not fit within the Nazi-ideal of the "people’s community" ("Volksgemeinschaft").

As in all concentration camps, the different groups of inmates were marked with a "Winkel", a coloured triangle of fabric, fixed on their striped inmates uniforms. Political prisoners were tagged with a red one, "Antisocials": black, "Criminals": green, Jehova’s Witnesses ("Bibellforscher"): purple. Jewish inmates were marked separately, foreign inmates were usually tagged as political prisoners, Sinti and Roma as "Antisocials".

Detainee's sign ("Winkel") and number
Detainee's sign ("Winkel") and number
Photo wall at the Ravensbrück memorial, depicting numerous former inmates of the concentration camp Ravensbrück
Photo wall at the Ravensbrück memorial, depicting numerous former inmates of the concentration camp Ravensbrück

From 1939 until 1945 ca. 123.000 women, girls and children were imprisoned in Ravensbrueck. In those six years the proportions of the various groups of inmates were constantly shifting.
In the beginning most inmates were Germans. With the start of the war more and more women from the invaded countries arrived in the camp.
By and large the biggest groups of inmates constituted of Polish and Russian women. Up until 1942 only around 10 percent of the Ravensbrueck inmates were Jewish.

In Oct. 1942, Heinrich Himmlers instruction to eliminate all Jews from the camps on German territory, lead to the deportation of almost all Jewish inmates to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. Only in the summer of 1944, upon the arrival of Hungarian, Polish and Slovakian Jews and after the massive evacuation transports from Auschwitz, the number of Jewish inmates in Ravensbrueck rose again.

Der Reichsführer SS, Heinrich Himmler, besucht das KZ Ravensbrück (Aufnahme aus dem Propaganda-Album der SS)
The "Reichsführer SS", Heinrich Himmler visiting the concentration camp Ravensbrück
(Photo from the propaganda-album of the SS)
View of the Ravensbrück memorial site
View of the Ravensbrück memorial site

Due to the enclosing front lines, at the end of April 1945 most of the inmates were evacuated from the camp and forced onto the so-called "death march". The more than 2000 inmates left behind in the camp, most of them being very sick, were liberated by the Red Army on the 30th of April. The number of inmates who didn’t survive the camp could never be exactly determined, since there were dischargements as well as several transports into the extermination camps and the numerous smaller camps attached to the arms industry.

Websites of the memorials