• Germany edition
 
Nazi sex slave story finally told at camp
A memorial artwork at Ravensbrück. Photo:DPA

Nazi sex slave story finally told at camp

Published: 28 Feb 2009 10:01 GMT+01:00
Updated: 28 Feb 2009 10:01 GMT+01:00

A new exhibition at Nazi concentration camp Ravensbrück near Berlin details the fate of women forced to work as sex slaves for fellow prisoners during World War II.

“They told us we were in the camp brothel, that we were the lucky ones. We would eat well and have enough to drink. If we behaved and fulfilled our duties nothing would happen to us.”

So begins the wrenching account of Frau W., a prisoner of the Nazi concentration camp Ravensbrück north of Berlin who was forced to work as a sex slave for her fellow detainees.

Her story forms the centrepiece of a new exhibition at Ravensbrück about the fate of women pressed into prostitution between 1942 and 1945, like Asia's ‘comfort women’ during World War II.

But rather than servicing soldiers, these women were made to have sex with the forced labourers – an idea from SS chief Heinrich Himmler to increase productivity try to prevent homosexuality from ‘breaking out’ among their ranks.

Their numbers were far smaller than the tens of thousands of ‘comfort women’ kidnapped across Asia to serve Japanese troops.

But Ravensbrück centre director Insa Eschebach said the at least 200, predominantly German women who were enslaved also endured paralysing trauma, shame and scorn in an until-now largely taboo chapter of European history.

Most of the sex workers were taken from the women's camps at Ravensbrück and Auschwitz to ‘brothels’ at 10 camps in Germany and the Nazi-occupied eastern territories.

The vast majority had been imprisoned for ‘anti-social’ behaviour - a crime arbitrarily defined under Hitler to include prostitutes but also women with suspect political ties or relationships with Jews.

Those prisoners who had a privileged place in the camp hierarchy – exhibition curator Michael Sommer estimates about one percent of the forced labourers - could buy up to a quarter of an hour with one of the women for two Reichsmarks from the pittance they earned in the Nazi-run factories.

A fraction of that amount was credited to women’s camp accounts which they could use for food when it was available.

“The sex work was organised very bureaucratically,” said Sommer, showing prisoner files with the code 998 signifying a prostitute and vouchers used by men allowed to visit the camp brothel.

No Jews worked at the brothels or were allowed to patronise them, and separate facilities were created for camp guards.

Prostitutes were regularly tested for sexually-transmitted diseases to prevent outbreaks at the camps. Pregnancies were compulsorily ended by abortion.

“The irony was that while the Nazis tried to regulate prostitution in German cities, they institutionalised it at the camps,” Sommer said.

Some women volunteered for service in the brothels, which were heated and had slightly better hygienic conditions, after being promised early release from the life-threatening conditions of the camps.

Others only learned of their fate when the first patrons were ushered in.

Another woman whose testimony is featured in the exhibition, identified only as Frau B., said each woman worked in a small room where she received up to 10 men in two hours.

“There was a spy hole and sometimes the guards would peek in and sneer,” she said.

“But you know, we were so numb that we just thought, ‘Get stuffed, you bastards’.”

Although the months in the brothel left her permanently scarred, Frau B. said the men who visited her were by and large decent.

“They had also been locked up for years and were happy to have human contact,” she said. Sometimes, the men just wanted to talk.

Many of the political prisoners boycotted the brothels. Communists at Buchenwald were convinced the bordellos would be used by the SS to spy on prisoners.

Although nearly all the sex workers survived until the camps were liberated, there is scant evidence any were released early for service rendered.

After the war, most of the German women kept their experience hidden, out of shame or trauma, while foreign victims feared being seen as collaborators.

None received recognition from the German state as victims of sex slavery or compensation for their ordeal. Few, if any, are still alive today.

Eschebach noted that sex slavery has only been recognised as a war crime under international law since 2002 and said the more recent occurrences of mass rape in Bosnia and Rwanda, as well as the demands of Asian ‘comfort women’ for justice, had prompted more research in Germany.

The exhibition can be seen at Ravensbrück until March 8, after which there are plans to take it to Dresden, Bielefeld and then Rome.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Don't miss...X
Left Right
Today's headlines
German ladies net Fed Cup final appearance
Germany's Angelique Kerber celebrates her victory over Australia's Sam Stosur with teammates after their match in the Fed Cup semi-final. AFP Photo: Patrick Hamilton

German ladies net Fed Cup final appearance

Angelique Kerber put Germany into their first Fed Cup final in 22 years with a fighting victory over Australia's Samantha Stosur in the semi-final in Brisbane on Sunday. READ () »

Germany should make use of shale gas: EU
EU commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger pictured in Luxembourg in 2013. AFP Photo: Georges Gobet

Germany should make use of shale gas: EU

EU energy commissioner Günther Oettinger has urged Germany to make use of shale gas options and added that the he saw no danger of Europe's access to Russian gas falling victim to possible economic sanctions in the standoff over Ukraine. READ () »

Tennis aces close in on Fed Cup final
Members of the German Fed Cup Team celebrate after an earlier victory in the tournament. Photo: DPA

Tennis aces close in on Fed Cup final

Germany took hold of their Fed Cup semi-final on Saturday, winning both the opening day singles to lead Australia 2-0 in Brisbane. READ () »

Croatia extradites ex-top spy to Germany

Croatia extradites ex-top spy to Germany

Croatia extradited a former Yugoslav spy chief, Zdravko Mustac, to Germany on Thursday to face charges for the 1983 murder of a dissident on German soil. READ () »

German court jails Somali pirate for 12 years
An officer of the Lower Saxon Criminal Investigation Department (CID) securing evidence on the hijacked ship Marida Marguerite. Photo: DPA

German court jails Somali pirate for 12 years

A German court has sentenced a Somali pirate chief to 12 years in jail for hijacking a ship off the Horn of Africa and tormenting its crew during an eight-month ordeal. READ () »

New app helps clients find prostitutes
Photo: DPA

New app helps clients find prostitutes

While the German government is considering tightening prostitution laws, Berlin entrepreneurs have developed a smartphone app to connect sex-workers with clients. READ () »

Highs of 22C forecast for Easter weekend
Photo: DPA

Highs of 22C forecast for Easter weekend

The days running up to Easter may be cool and wet, but the holiday weekend should be a bit warmer for most of Germany, according to forecasters. READ () »

Berlin man must call himself a mother
The fight over the transgender man's right to be his child's official father has been raging since last year. Photo: DPA

Berlin man must call himself a mother

A transgender person who became the first man in Germany to give birth in March 2013 must be registered as the child's mother, a court has ruled after his year-long court battle to be named a father. READ () »

Study: rape convictions fall sharply
Photo: DPA

Study: rape convictions fall sharply

The chance of being convicted of rape in Germany has more than halved in the past two decades to fewer than one in ten, a major study revealed on Thursday. READ () »

SPD: Restore 45-percent investment tax
The tax privilege for investment income is unfair, says the SPD. Photo: DPA

SPD: Restore 45-percent investment tax

The centre-left half of Germany's coalition government has called for the old top rate of a 45-percent tax on investments to be brought back - to match standard income tax and fight the squeeze on middle incomes. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Rhineland
Elderly man taped €200,000 to his genitals
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
What's the unemployment rate in your area of Germany?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Nine ways to celebrate Easter like a German
Photo: Galerie Bilderwelt
Gallery
World War I in colour photos
Photo: DPA
Society
'The mafia has infiltrated every sector in Germany'
Photo: DPA
Society
JobTalk: Why you should teach English in Germany
Photo: DPA
National
330,000 sign up against TV licence fee
Photo: DPA
Hamburg
School kids hospitalized after 'porno' party
Photo: Submitted
Frankfurt
'I'll get even with my old pal Schwarzenegger'
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The week in pictures: April 5th - April 11th
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Ten great inventions you (probably) didn't know were German
Photo: J. Arthur White
Berlin
Clashes in Berlin as refugees tear down their own camp
Advertisement:
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Munich's baby polar bears are finally named
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The 10 best German employers to work for
CurrencyFair
Sponsored Article
Why it pays to avoid banks when making overseas transfers
Mr. Lodge
Sponsored Article
How to find a furnished rental in Munich
Sponsored Article
How to make a lasting impression in business
Hult International Business School
Sponsored Article
What they don't teach you at Business School
Photo: DPA
Society
Nine jobs you can only do in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,070
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd