Women and the Holocaust
Dedicated to all those women: Who were murdered while pregnant. Holding little hands of children or carrying infants in their arms on the way to be gassed. In hiding. To the mothers who gave their children to be hidden, many never to find them again. To the righteous gentile mothers and the nuns in convents, who were hiding and protecting the children in their care. Or as fighters in the resistance: in ghettos, forests, partisan units.
And to those who survived and bravely carried on …
Extract From Evidence Given at the Nuremberg Trials on the Auschwitz Extermination Camp Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, 14 November 1945-1 October 1946, VI, Nuremberg, 1947, pp. 214-216.
From the evidence of a Frenchwoman, Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier, who was a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp, where she arrived on January 1, 1943.
M. Dubost: What do you know about the Jewish transport that arrived from Romainville about the same time as you?
Vaillant-Couturier: When we left Romainville the Jewish women who were together with us remained behind. They were sent to Drancy, and finally arrived in Auschwitz, where we saw them again three weeks later. Of 1,200 who left, only 125 arrived in the camp. The rest were taken to the gas chambers immediately, and of the 125 not a single one was left by the end of a month. The transports were carried out as follows: at the beginning, when we arrived, when a Jewish transport came there was a "selection." First the old women, the mothers and the children. They were told to get on trucks, together with the sick and people who looked weak. They kept only young girls, young women and young men; the latter were sent to the men's camp. In general, it was rare for more than 250 out of a transport of 1,000 to 1,500 to reach the camp, and that was the maximum; the others were sent to the gas chambers straight away. At this "selection" healthy women between 20 and 30 years old were also chosen, and sent to the Experimental Block. Girls and women, who were a little older or not chosen for this purpose, were sent to the camp and, like us, had their heads shaved and they were tattooed …
M. Dubost: Did you actually see the "selection" when transports arrived?
Vaillant-Couturier: Yes, because when we were working in the Sewing Block in 1944, the block in which we lived was situated just opposite the place where the trains arrived … we saw how the seals were taken off the trucks and how women, men and children were pulled out of the trucks by soldiers. We were present at the most terrible scenes when old couples were separated. Mothers had to leave their daughters, because they were taken to the camp, while the mothers and children went to the gas chambers. All these people knew nothing of the fate that awaited them. They were only confused because they were being separated from each other, but they did not know that they were going to their death … To make the reception more pleasant, there was then - in June and July 1944, that is - an orchestra made up of prisoners, girls in white blouses and dark blue skirts, all of them pretty and young, who played gay tunes when the trains arrived … They could not know what awaited them. Those who were taken to the gas chambers - that is, the old people, children and others - were taken to a red brick building.
Text from the Yad VaShem archives
The Ravensbrueck concentration camp was the largest and, after the closure of the Lichtenburg camp, the only Nazi concentration camp almost exclusively for women. German authorities began construction of the camp in November 1938, at a site near the village of Ravensbrueck in northern Germany, about 56 miles north of Berlin …
The first prisoners at Ravensbrueck were approximately 900 women … By the end of 1942, the female inmate population of Ravensbrueck had grown to about 10,000. In January 1945, the camp had more than 45,000 prisoners, mostly women. Besides the male Nazi administrators, the camp staff included over 150 female SS guards assigned to oversee the prisoners. Ravensbrueck also served as one of the main training camps for female SS guards. Periodically, the SS authorities subjected prisoners in the camp to "selections" in which the Germans isolated those prisoners considered too weak or injured to work and killed them. At first, "selected" prisoners were shot. Beginning in 1942, they were transferred to "euthanasia" killing centers or to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. The SS staff also murdered some prisoners in the camp infirmary by lethal injection. The bodies of those killed in the camp were cremated in the nearby Fuerstenberg crematorium until 1943. In that year, SS authorities constructed a crematorium at a site near the camp prison. In the autumn of 1944, the SS constructed a gas chamber near the crematorium. The Germans gassed several thousand prisoners at Ravensbrueck before the camp's liberation in April 1945. Starting in the summer of 1942, SS medical doctors subjected Ravensbrueck concentration camp prisoners to unethical medical experiments. SS doctors experimented with treating wounds with various chemical substances (such as sulfanilamide) to prevent infections. They also tested various methods of setting and transplanting bones; such experiments included amputations. The SS selected close to 80 women, mostly Polish, for these experiments. Most of the women died as a result. The survivors suffered permanent physical damage. SS doctors also carried out sterilization experiments on women and children, many of them Roma (Gypsies), in an attempt to develop an efficient method of sterilization.
Ruth (Huppert) Elias
Ruth grew up in Moravska Ostrava, a city in the region of Moravia with the third-largest Jewish community in Czechoslovakia. When Ruth was a child her parents divorced. She and her sister, Edith, moved in with their paternal grandmother and then with their uncle, but they kept in close contact with their father. Ruth trained to be a pianist and hoped to attend a musical academy in Prague.
1933-39: In March 1939 Bohemia and Moravia were occupied by the Germans and declared a German protectorate. That fall, the city's Jewish males of working age were ordered to report for forced labor. Ruth's father escaped to his sister in Brno and arranged for Ruth and Edith to go to an aunt in the town of Vyskov. After a month he sent for his children and paid a Czech farmer to allow him and his daughters to work on a farm near Brno.
1940-45: In 1942 Ruth was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto where she married. A year later, pregnant, she was deported to Auschwitz. After Ruth gave birth, an SS doctor ordered her breasts to be tied off with string as part of a medical experiment to see how long her baby daughter could live without food. Ruth secretly fed the baby by soaking pieces of bread in water, but the baby grew weak, her stomach swelling from hunger. A prisoner-doctor convinced Ruth to inject a lethal dose of morphine into the suffering baby, who had no chance of surviving.
Ruth was liberated by U.S. troops at a labor camp near Leipzig, Germany. After the war, she remarried and lived in Prague. In 1949 she emigrated to Israel.
The Girl Couriers of the Underground Movement
The heroic girls, Chajka [Grosman], Frumke [Plotnicka] and others - theirs is a story that calls for the pen of a great writer. They are venturesome, courageous girls who travel here and there across Poland to cities and towns, carrying Aryan papers which describe them as Polish or Ukrainian. One of them even wears a cross, which she never leaves off and misses when she is in the ghetto. Day by day they face the greatest dangers, relying completely on their Aryan appearance and the kerchiefs they tie around their heads. They accept the most dangerous missions and carry them out without a murmur, without a moments hesitation. If there is need for someone to travel to Vilna, Bialystok, Lvov, Kowel, Lublin, Czestochowa, or Radom to smuggle in such forbidden things as illegal publications, goods, money, they do it all as though it were the most natural thing. If there are comrades to be rescued from Vilna, Lublin, or other cities, they take the job on themselves. Nothing deters them, nothing stops them. If it is necessary to make friends with the German responsible for a train so as to travel beyond the borders of the Government-General, which is allowed only for people with special permits they do it quite simply, as though it were their profession. They travel from city to city, where no representative of any Jewish institution has reached, such as Volhynia and Lithuania. They were the first to bring the news of the tragedy in Vilna. They were the first to take back messages of greeting and encouragement to the survivors in Vilna. How many times did they look death in the eye? How many times were they arrested and searched? But their luck held. "Those who go on an errand of mercy will meet no evil." With what modesty and simplicity do they deliver their reports on what they accomplished during their travels on trains where Christians, men and women, were picked up and taken away for work in Germany. Jewish women have written a shining page in the history of the present World War. The Chajkes and the Frumkes will take first place in this history. These girls do not know what it is to rest. They have hardly arrived from Czestochowa where they took forbidden goods, and in a few hours they would move on again: they do it without a moment's hesitation, and without a minute's rest.
Ringelblum, I, pp. 359-360.