'Many are capable of this': how ordinary women became executioners in Nazi camps
“A military facility requires physically healthy female employees between the ages of 20 and 40. A good salary, free food, lodging and clothing are guaranteed, ”read an ad in a German newspaper in 1944, writes Air force... On January 27, the world will honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust; on the eve of this day, we decided to recall the terrible stories of those days.
It did not mention that “clothes” were SS uniforms and “object” was the Ravensbrück women's concentration camp, about 80 kilometers north of Berlin.
In place of the wooden barracks for prisoners, an empty stony field has long been left. But eight solid old German-style cottages, with balconies and wooden shutters, are in place. They were inhabited by guards, some with their children.
"The best time of my life"
From the balconies, they could admire the forest and the picturesque lake.
“It was the best time of my life,” one of them said decades later.
From the windows of their bedrooms, they could also observe the columns of prisoners and the chimney of the crematorium.
“Visitors to the memorial ask us a lot of questions about these women. Men are less interested in them, - says the director of the museum, Andrea Genest, showing me the apartments of the warders. "People find it hard to imagine that women could be so cruel."
Many of the guards came from poor families, dropped out of school and went to a concentration camp for a salary, housing and financial independence.
“Service here seemed more attractive to them than working in a factory,” says Dr. Genest.
Many were brainwashed by Nazi children's and youth organizations and, he said, believed they were doing good to society by fighting enemies.
Hell with conveniences
In one of the houses, a new photo exhibition is unfolding dedicated to how the warders spent their free time. Most of the women in the pictures are between 20 and 30 years old, pretty, with trendy hairstyles.
Here they are smiling over coffee and cake. Here, laughing and holding hands, they walk through the forest, walking their dogs.
Peaceful innocent scenes - until you notice the SS runes on your clothes and remember that these Alsatian Shepherds are camp dogs trained on humans.
The staff of the Nazi concentration camps numbered about 3,5 thousand women, and they all began their service in Ravensbrück. Some were later transferred to Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and other places.
“They were scary people,” says 98-year-old Selma van de Perr by phone from London. A Dutch Jew, she participated in the Resistance and therefore ended up in Ravensbrück, which was intended mainly for political prisoners. “They liked their job because it gave them power. They treated the prisoners very badly. They beat me. "
Selma was an underground worker in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands and rescued Jewish families. In September last year, she published in the UK a book about this, My Name Is Selma. This year the book will be published in a number of countries, including Germany.
Selma's parents and younger sister died in concentration camps. Almost every year she comes to Ravensbrück for commemorative events.
"Bloody Brigida" and "Anna-revolver"
Ravensbrück was the largest women's camp in the Third Reich. More than 120 thousand prisoners from all over Europe passed through it. Among them were both Resistance fighters and opponents of the Hitler regime from Germany itself, as well as women whom the Nazis considered unnecessary for society: Jews, lesbians, prostitutes and homeless people.
At least 30 prisoners died. Some were hanged or gassed to death, but most died from malnutrition, disease, and overwork.
The women warders were beaten, tortured and killed. Some of them were given nicknames like "Bloody Brigid" and "Anna-revolver".
During the post-war trials of the Nazis, one of them, Irma Grese, was nicknamed “the beauty-monster” by the press. A young, attractive blonde woman was found guilty of the murders and hanged.
A sexy blonde sadist in black uniform has become a cliché in films and comics. The most famous is the German novel "The Reader", based on which a film of the same name was shot in 2008 with Kate Winslet in the title role.
But only 77 overseers of the Nazi camps were prosecuted, and even fewer were convicted.
They seemed like they didn’t understand anything, which was easily taken on faith in the patriarchal society of West Germany.
Subsequently, many of these women did not remember the past. They got married, changed their surnames and disappeared into the post-war environment.
Herta Bothe received a sentence for horrific atrocities, served several years, was pardoned by the British occupation authorities, and in 1999, shortly before her death, said in an interview that she did not repent.
“Have I made a mistake in my life? No. I had to go for it, otherwise they would have put me there myself, ”she said.
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Former guards often used this excuse. But this is slyness.
Ravensbrück's archives confirm that many newcomers quit when they saw what they had to do. Nobody kept them, and this did not have any negative consequences for them.
Selma was asked if she considered her former tormentors to be devils in the flesh.
“I think they were ordinary people doing devilish deeds. I think many are capable of this, even here in England. I think it can happen everywhere if people are allowed, ”she replied.
This is the main lesson of the past for the present, the former prisoner believes.
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