Skip to main content

Für was bin ich herausgekommen?

Für was bin ich herausgekommen?

Memories of Austrian survivors of the women's concentration camp

Ways to Ravensbrück an exhibition of a special kind

March 2000, Michaela Schoissengeier

"and whoever sees us sees the furrows that suffering has written on our faces, sees traces of physical and mental torment that have left us with a lasting mark. And whoever sees us sees the anger that flashes brightly in our eyes, sees the exultant joy of freedom that possesses all our hearts. And then we join the last great column, then it's time to march forward for the last time! And now the path leads to the light and the sun."

The poem "To my brothers" by KÄTHE LEICHTER was memorized by Viktoria Fila in Ravensbrück and was thus preserved. The socialist politician and journalist Käthe Leichter was sent to the Ravensbrück camp in 1940. Because she was Jewish, she was murdered by poison gas in 1942.

On May 15, 1939, the first transport of 800 female prisoners arrived at Ravensbrück concentration camp. The camp was built north of Berlin in 1938 in the immediate vicinity of the popular climatic health resort of Fürstenberg. During the National Socialist regime, there were a total of ten camps in which women were imprisoned in separate sections. However, Ravensbrück was the only concentration camp designated for women in the Nazi German Reich during its almost six-year existence.

132,000 women from over 40 nations were deported to Ravensbrück and its subcamps between May 1939 and April 1945. After arriving at the camp, the women were divided into prisoner categories by the SS administration, which were also ranked hierarchically by the SS. Jewish women as well as Roma and Sinti women were considered "racially" persecuted and were more exposed to the arbitrariness and extermination intentions of the SS than all other prisoner groups. The accommodation and food for the prisoners was inadequate from the outset and deteriorated continuously. in 1944, the barracks were three times overcrowded and the daily camp rations consisted of a cup of ersatz coffee in the morning, _ liter of salt- and fat-free soup with half-rotten turnips and 200g of bread for lunch and dinner. The prisoners were assigned to work detachments and had to perform forced labor for SS companies and German enterprises. Siemens, the Heinkel aircraft factory, the German equipment factories and small private companies in the vicinity of the camp were among those who profited from this. The camp's infirmary was a place of torture and death. The SS medical staff carried out sterilizations and abortions on prisoners, abused many women for medical experiments and selected sick and weakened prisoners. The SS also forced prisoners into prostitution in SS, Wehrmacht and concentration camp prisoner brothels.

In 1941, a men's camp was set up in a separate area. 20.000 prisoners were held there until April 1945. Shortly before the end of the war, the Swedish Red Cross managed to negotiate the release of prisoners from German concentration camps with Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler. In April 1945, 7,500 Ravensbrück prisoners - mainly from Scandinavia, the Benelux countries, France and Poland - were rescued. The first harbingers of the Red Army reached the camp on April 30, followed by regular units on May 1, 1945, which finally liberated the Ravensbrück women's concentration camp. For many women, however, even the immediate help came too late; they did not survive the consequences of their imprisonment in the concentration camp. Tens of thousands were murdered in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. The exact number of women, children and men who died in Ravensbrück can no longer be determined. Most of the evidence was burned by the SS. Some of the murderers at Ravensbrück stood trial at the Nuremberg Doctors' Trial in 1946/47 and in Hamburg in 1948. The leading SS personnel at Ravensbrück were sentenced to death, while the lower SS ranks were sentenced to several years in prison, although most of them were released early.

The Ravensbrück National Memorial has existed since 1959. The former concentration camp site was converted by the Soviet military and used as barracks until 1994. (Text from the exhibition catalog - ways to ravensbrück memories of austrian survivors of the women's concentration camp)

In 1947, Austrian women who had survived the Ravensbrück women's concentration camp founded the Austrian Ravensbrück Camp Community. In addition to mutual help and support, their political and social engagement in the rebuilding of the Second Republic was a priority. In order to prevent National Socialism and fascism from ever arising again, they visited Austrian schools and universities as contemporary witnesses, kept the memory of the victims of National Socialism alive and campaigned against fascism, war, violence, anti-Semitism and racism. The idea of the camp community for an exhibition was realized by a group of young women who developed a concept that took the life story interviews of the living Austrian women as a starting point to convey the Austrian past and present through biographies. Eleven women's lives are presented visually, acoustically and visually in an extremely successful way in "Wege nach Ravensbrück". These eleven women were persecuted and tortured by the National Socialists for various reasons; two of them did not survive.

The exhibition showed the lives of nine surviving women: a Romni, a Carinthian Slovenian, a woman from the Leoben resistance, a Sintezza, a Jehovah's Witness, a Viennese communist, a woman of Jewish origin, a lesbian and a woman who was deported to Ravensbrück because of her love affair with a Polish forced laborer. Using personal documents and photos, but also audio and video sequences in which these women tell their stories themselves and we can listen to them, their life stories are traced, thus highlighting that part of Austrian women's history which has mostly been forgotten. The exhibition does not let their life stories begin with their persecution, nor does it end with their liberation from the concentration camp. They also tell us about their youth in the interwar period, which was characterized by political and economic crises, about persecution and imprisonment in concentration camps, liberation and their continued life in the Second Republic, a continued life that for some brought renewed exclusion and discrimination.

After visiting the "Paths to Ravensbrück" exhibition, I was very affected and touched - touched by so much suffering and humiliation, but also by so much strength and courage to stand by one's convictions and way of life. I was particularly impressed by the sensitive way in which a piece of our Austrian past was dealt with and the courage of the women concerned for their openness and willingness to share their stories so closely with other people. According to the Austrian Ravensbrück Camp Community, the exhibition "Paths to Ravensbrück" is coming to Upper Austria this year -2000 (exact dates have not yet been fixed). I would like to call on everyone to make their own personal contribution to "not forgetting" National Socialism. A first step can be to inform oneself, to deal with it and thus never again allow inhuman tendencies to arise or to counteract them. Visiting this exhibition can be a first step in this direction.