Homicidal gas chamber at KL Ravensbrueck

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Homicidal gas chamber at KL Ravensbrueck

Post by David Thompson » 18 Sep 2004 07:47

Here is what Eugen Kogon, Hermann Langbein and Adalbert Rueckerl (editors) had to say about the gas chamber at KL Ravensbrueck, in their book Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas, Yale University Press, New Haven (CT): 1993, pp. 186-90:
The Women's Camp at Ravensbrück

The Ravensbrück concentration camp, located about ninety kilometers north of Berlin, was mainly for women. There was, however, a small camp for men annexed to it.

As in most other concentration camps, many women from Ravensbrück were classified as "invalids" and were murdered in the "euthanasia" facilities (see chapter 3). A gas chamber was not installed at Ravensbrück itself until the final phase.[49a] The male prisoners who had been forced to labor in the crematorium, and who therefore knew enough about how this gas chamber worked to be able to talk about it later, were killed just before the camp was liberated on 25 April 1945.[50] Two women prisoners, however, were later able to provide some information about the gas chambers.

Suzanne Hugounencq, a Frenchwoman, worked as a painter. She remembers that one day—she cannot recall the exact date—she and two other prisoners, German women, were ordered to empty the hut where the painting crew left their equipment. This hut stood a few meters from the crematorium wall.
"The building was made of boards and was about four meters wide by six deep. It was closed by a wide double door."
When the three prisoners were taken to their former tool shed the next day, they found it transformed:
The window shutters had been barricaded with a board. On the side, on the outside, a square crate, measuring about thirty or forty centimeters on a side, had been attached to the base of the left-hand wall, near the entrance door. Three SS men . . . were there; one of them was showing the two others how the crate was arranged. On the side attached to the barrack, two round holes about five centimeters in diameter had been drilled. They matched two identical holes in the wall of the building. A hermetic cover closed the crate. Our work as painters consisted of filling up all the cracks around the windows with putty; the cracks were easy to discern in the total darkness in which we were obliged to work. [51]
Gassings in Other Concentration Camps 187

Johanna Sturm, an Austrian, had to work in the same place as a carpenter. She remembers that two interior partitions had been built. The floor had been tiled. A metal plate had been set in the center, and shower heads in the ceiling. [52]

The SS physician, Dr. Percy Treite, later explained how the idea of building a gas chamber had originated:
"I remember that many Polish women were killed with a bullet in the nape of the neck. This killing was done in a perfectly savage way, and it was feared that some bodies might be burned while still alive. So, under pressure of circumstances, I concerned myself with finding an appropriate killing process. It was the gas chamber."[53]
As soon as the tool shed was turned into a gas chamber, it was hidden from view by a fence made of mats about two meters high. [54]

Camp leader SS-Hauptsturmführer Johann Schwarzhuber, who had been at Auschwitz until October 1944, was transferred to Ravensbrück in January 1945 after a brief assignment at Dachau. As a defendant, he described the gassing process at Ravensbrück:
At the end of February 1945 I was called with Dr. Trommer to the office of the camp commandant, Sturmbannführer Suhren. Suhren informed us that he had received an order from Reichsfuehrer Himmler to liquidate all the women who were sick or unable to walk. Before giving us this information, he asked us how many sick women there were in the camp. I explained to the commandant that I had been glad to leave Auschwitz and would not like to repeat that experience. He then told me that Sturmbannführer Sauer, deputy to the camp commandant, had been put in charge of the execution.

During the following days Dr. Trommer undertook to make "selections" in the various blocks; more than twenty-three hundred women were chosen that way. First they began shooting the women. Hauptscharführer Moll was in charge of this. Eight prisoners helped him. But, in the eyes of the camp commandant, this method was too slow. He said in my presence: "Things aren't going fast enough; we'll have to use other methods." In consequence, Sturmbannführer Sauer ordered that a gas chamber be installed in a barrack near the crematorium.

I witnessed a gassing. A hundred and fifty women, all at once, were pushed into the gas chamber. Hauptscharführer Moll ordered the women to undress and told them that a delousing was going to take place. They were then pushed into the chamber, and the door was bolted. A male prisoner, wearing a gas mask, climbed up onto the roof and, through an opening which he closed again immediately afterward, threw a can of gas into the room. I heard groans and moans.

After two or three minutes, there was silence in the chamber. I cannot say whether the women were dead or unconscious. I was not present when the chamber was emptied. I was merely told—it was Moll
188 Gassings in Other Concentration Camps
who told me—that the corpses were immediately taken to the crematorium. [55]
In another statement, Schwarzhuber completed his description:
"Between twenty-three hundred and twenty-four hundred people were gassed at Ravensbrück. The gas chamber was about nine meters by four and a half, and could hold about 150 people. It was about five meters from the crematorium. The prisoners had to undress in a little hut located three meters from the gas chamber, and they were led into the chamber through a little room. "[56]
As Schwarzhuber tells it, the selected victims were taken to a little camp located among pine trees about fifteen hundred meters east of the main camp. Up to the end of 1944, this camp had been used for German girls and young women who were deemed to need "re-education." That is why it was called the "Uckermark Youth Camp."

The supervisors who ran this camp also testified before the court. Ruth Closius-Neudeck made the following deposition:
When I took charge of the Uckermark camp, there were about four thousand prisoners of all nationalities. About six weeks later I was transferred and left Uckermark. At that time there were about a thousand prisoners left. So three thousand women were selected for gassing while I held my position at Uckermark.

Every day Schwarzhuber would arrive at 2:00 P.M. and tell me to call the roll. Then came Dr. Treite and the two SS male nurses, Rapp and the other one, his friend, who had a first name that sounded like Franz, but with an ending that sounded Polish. While Schwarzhuber pointed out the women who should leave Uckermark, the two SS nurses and I had to make the women step forward. After that my only job was to make a list of the names and numbers of the women who had been chosen. Often I pulled the women out of the line with a little silver-handled cane, a present from Sturmbannführer Sauer, former commandant of the Riga ghetto.

Thus, every day I made up a list of fifty or sixty women who were supposed to be transferred to the Mitwerda camp. This camp never existed; it was an invention of Schwarzhuber's, to hide from the prisoners the fact that they were going to be gassed. The women selected were then taken to an empty barrack that we called the gymnasium. The same day, at 6:00 P.M., a truck would arrive to take the women in two trips to the Ravensbrück gas chamber.

Obersturmbannführer Bertel was responsible for these convoys. Schwarzhuber had ordered him always to have a truck ready to pick up victims at Uckermark. Bertel was head of the vehicle service. He certainly knew that the victims were being taken to the gas chamber, because Schwarz-
Gassings in Other Concentration Camps 189
huber had told him so. One afternoon I heard Schwarzhuber say to Bertel over the telephone: "Bertel, you know what's up. Tonight again."

I myself, Supervisor Mohnicke, the two SS male nurses, and sometimes Supervisor Schulz made the women climb into the truck. In the beginning I stayed below to count the prisoners so as to make sure there weren't too many or too few. Sometimes a daughter would want to leave with her mother, or the opposite. As soon as all the women were in the truck, I climbed in too, and sometimes Supervisors Mohnicke and Schwaz as well. Often Rapp and his friend sat in the back, to prevent the prisoners from jumping out.

I had been at Uckermark for three or four days when Rapp told me that the women selected had been gassed at the Ravensbrück crematorium. The truck always stopped about fifty meters from the crematorium. Rapp and his friend made the prisoners get out two by two and then made them go into the building. I and the other supervisors stayed at the truck until the last prisoners had gone in. Then we went back to our own quarters.
Closius-Neudeck completed her statement in another deposition:
"I know that a fairly large number of male prisoners—from the men's camp—were gassed in this hut at the same time as the sixty women I brought from Uckermark. I often saw them waiting when I arrived with my convoys. This way, the hut was always full before the gassing was done. If for any reason there were not enough men to fill the hut, the women I had brought would simply be shot, for it didn't pay to waste gas."[57]
SS-Unterscharführer Walter Schenk was the head of the crematorium. Questioned later about the gassings, he said:
"I first heard about the gassings through Schwarzhuber in February 1945. He told me: `We're going to adopt a new activity.' I asked, `What kind?' He said: `You'll hear about it when we begin the gassings.' "
At the time, Schwarzhuber told him that he, Schenk, would not have to play a part in this business: the SS members from Auschwitz would do the work.
The commando from Auschwitz arrived in January 1945. It was not directly under my orders. These men had a leader, SS-Hauptscharführer Moll. They hadn't yet worked in my crematorium. They were under Schwarzhuber's authority; he was a Hauptscharführer and I was an Unterscharführer. They were SS members.

Schwarzhuber told me that they came from Auschwitz—that they could do all that and would work only at night. The gassing and the burning would be done at night. He told me this before the gassing began. Of his commando I saw five men, when they were in my office. . . . I knew that the men who worked at night burned the
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bodies of the gassed people, and that at the same time they helped drag the corpses. I ordered the necessary coal. [58]

Even though the gassings were supposed to remain secret, they were known of in the big camp because of the shuttling back and forth between the youth camp and the main camp. In a diary that a young German girl at the youth camp, Gisela Krüger, kept secretly, we find: "9 February 1945: something frightful: those who left yesterday in a convoy were sent to the gas! Merciful heavens! Alive into the gas! Even if we are sick, we are still human beings! They should not make us die that way! Oh, what fear! Father, Mother, I shall never see you again!" [59]
By that time all the women amputees had been transferred to the youth camp.

It is no longer possible to say for sure when the first gassings began—whether it was in January or only in early February 1945. On the other hand, it is certain that they continued until just before the camp was liberated, during the same time that the SS members were turning women prisoners over to the Swedish Red Cross. A French prisoner in the hospital, Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier, wrote in her secret diary:
"22 April. Women are registered for the Swedish Red Cross, and sixteen tubercular women are taken from block 10 for gassing." [60]
And the prisoner leader of this block of tuberculosis patients remembers the same operation—with a few minimal variations in the figures and date:
"On the morning of 23 April, eighteen sick women left for the gas chamber."[61]
A French physician, a prisoner assigned to work in the hospital, Dr. Adelaide Hautval, noted the confusion that resulted when lists were drawn up simultaneously of those to be freed and those to be killed by gas:
"At the time when women were leaving for Sweden, people were still being gassed in the camp. Things had reached such a point that we no longer dared make up lists for the Swedish Red Cross, for fear they would be used for the gas chamber instead." [62]
The convoys for the gas chamber were disguised as "convoys for the Mitwerda rest camp."

Depending on the circumstances, the name of this mythical camp, supposedly located in Silesia (Schlesien), was spelled several different ways.

It has been said that other gassing facilities also operated at Ravensbrück -- for example, in a railroad car equipped for the purpose—but no sure evidence exists to prove these stories.

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Post by Dan » 19 Sep 2004 20:53

Corrie Ten Boom writes of male SS guards systematically groping women at the undressing area of the introductory showers.

Was discipline at this camp really so bad?

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Post by xcalibur » 19 Sep 2004 21:23

Dan wrote:Corrie Ten Boom writes of male SS guards systematically groping women at the undressing area of the introductory showers.

Was discipline at this camp really so bad?
That would probably depend on whether or not sexual humiliation of prisoners was considered a breach of discipline.

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Post by Dan » 19 Sep 2004 22:00

Yes, that is so. At church today the pastor, who is superbly educated and not at all friendly to Christian Zionism or any other low brow type of thinking was speaking on the topic of "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors".

He used the example of Corrie Ten Boom who along with family members was send to this camp. Her sister and father died, and after the war she spoke at a German church. She said she recognized the guard outside the disrobing room, who was in attendence. When he (she said he was SS) came up afterwards and told him he had converted to Christianity and thanked her for the speech. She said it took basically a miracle to allow her to shake his proffered hand because she kept seeing her sisters pain twisted face.

Now, she didn't say anything about groping, but the film they made about her and was and is shown across churches all across the US show a line of German guards systematically groping the females in line to the showers.

I was just wondering how much of the film was artisitic license, and how much was supported by fact.

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