• 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

“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)

Today's headlines
Germany has just ten Ebola beds
Photo: DPA

Germany has just ten Ebola beds

Doctors at high-level infectious disease clinics say that caring for patients with the Ebola virus is much more intensive than they first thought, meaning they can handle fewer cases at once. READ  

Refugee Crisis
Now Berlin turns to tents to house refugees
A refugee protests on the roof of the former Gerhart Hauptmann School in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Now Berlin turns to tents to house refugees

Berlin has turned to huge tents and shipping containers to shelter growing numbers of refugees. With winter approaching, city politicians have called on the federal government for help. READ  

Ludwigshafen explosion kills one, injures 11
An eyewitness captured the moment of the explosion on their phone. Photo: DPA

Ludwigshafen explosion kills one, injures 11

UPDATE: One person has died and at least 11 others are injured after a huge explosion in western Germany on Thursday. READ  

Clueless Merkel forgets the F-word
Merkel suffers from Wortfindungsstörung at the IT summit in Hamburg. Photo: DPA

Clueless Merkel forgets the F-word

Angela Merkel's government is often criticized for its lack of understanding of all things digital and an appearance by the chancellor in Hamburg, which was supposed to change those perceptions, has only made things worse. READ  

Greenpeace finds danger in kids clothes
Photo: DPA

Greenpeace finds danger in kids clothes

Research released on Thursday by environmental group Greenpeace showed that more than half of clothing sold by German discount brands contain chemicals known to be dangerous to health and the environment, with items from Aldi being the worst offenders. READ  

Woman sues for accidental pot raid
Photo: DPA

Woman sues for accidental pot raid

A Bavarian woman is suing police for unlawful search after a reported break-in at her home led authorities to discover 158 cannabis plants in her basement. READ  

Germany lags in permits for non-EU migrants
Photo: DPA

Germany lags in permits for non-EU migrants

Germany gave out fewer residency permits last year per head to non-EU citizens than any other major European economy. READ  

Hamburg volunteers test Ebola vaccine
Hamburg's UKE has helped lead the fight against Ebola. Photo: DPA

Hamburg volunteers test Ebola vaccine

Volunteers have rolled up their sleeves for the first phase of the human trial for an Ebola vaccine at the Hamburg-Eppendorf University Clinic (UKE), it was announced on Wednesday evening. READ  

US adds voice to chorus telling Germany to spend
Jacob Lew and Sigmar Gabriel. Photo: DPA

US adds voice to chorus telling Germany to spend

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, in a meeting on Wednesday with German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, called on Germany to boost public spending to stimulate stuttering eurozone growth, the Treasury said. READ  

Man leaps with son, 5, from third-floor window
Schönhauser Allee in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Man leaps with son, 5, from third-floor window

A father and his young son are in serious condition after police and firefighters were called to their home in northeast Berlin early on Wednesday morning. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Gallery
PHOTOS: Huge explosion rocks Ludwigshafen
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
Which high school cliche is your German city?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Storm hits southern Germany
Sponsored Article
An international school unlike any other : School on the Rhine
Photo: Fitzpatrick family
Society
'We still don't know what happened to Matthew'
Photo: Mariana Schroeder
Munich
Special Report: Hope and chaos at Munich's refugee shelters
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Robbers blow up Berlin bank
Photo: DPA
Culture
Can you top our history quiz leaderboard?
Photo: Facebook
Society
German motorcycle gang joins Isis fight
Photo: DPA
Politics
UKIP ‘seeks EU pact’ with German satirical party
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
11 things Germans are afraid of...
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

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

3,523
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd