AUSCHWITZ, DACHAU AND RAVENSBRUCK
FR. MAREK ŁUCZAK
Before Europe starts celebrating the May anniversary of the war end, on its map one can notice places in which we are going to reminisce not so much soldiers of those times but prisoners. Not long time ago did we celebrate the anniversary of Auschwitz camp liberation, and with the end of April we celebrate liberation of camps in Dachau and Ravensbruck.
KL Dachau had already been functioning since 1933. It was designed mainly for priests and Jews, although, in the beginning of its activity, it had been designed for political opponents of the Nazis regime. What is significant is the fact that it was to be a kind of an example from the logistic and administrative side for later ideas of this kind. The ecclesiastical party estimates that during the functioning of the camp, at the time of the war, over 3 thousand priests, both the diocesan and monastic ones, were there.
The second of the camps, the one in Ravensbruck, had been functioning since 1939. It was built by prisoners of KL Sachsenhausen in 1938. It was aimed for women. Next to the camp buildings, big production halls were erected. Thanks to this arrangement, German companies could use imprisoned women to slavery work.
They were saved by St. Joseph
For archbishop Kazimierz Majdański, the camp reality in Dachau appeared in black colours on the one hand, but on the other hand, it had its bright sides: ‘Camp leaders of all spheres (among them also prisoners) were executioners. But there were some exceptions. They proved that a man can always remain a man. Let’s mention two surnames: of our block man, Frey, a real man, and the main nurse at the cruel experimental station, Heinrich Stohr, who saved others’ lives, by putting his own life at risk. However, besides these examples, the death civilization was completely unpunished. According to its evaluation, prisoners were only numbers. Numbers are also for counting (there were calculations done in the camp all the time) and till the moment of annihilation’.
Testimonies of prisoners-priests of the camp are on the websites of the sanctuary of St. Joseph in Kalisz.
Alive witnesses of cruelty
Memories of the last alive imprisoned women of the camp in Ravensbruck also have an exceptional character. Wanda Półtawksa and Stanisława Śledziejowska-Osiczko reminisce: ‘First there were plans to imprison 15 thousand women. With the outbreak of the war, the camp took on an international character and its construction was developed many times. In the years 1939-45, over 132 thousand women (including children) of 27 nationalities were in the Ravensbruck camp. Polish women were the biggest group because there were 40 thousand of them and were classified as political imprisoned women. Till the moment of opening the camp gates in spring 1945, about 8 thousand women had survived. Existence conditions contradicting with all hygiene rules, hunger, hard work, terror, harassment from caretakers and SS men and death executions and selections to gas chambers – caused the atmosphere of uncertainty and constant psychical pressure which additionally increased death rate (…)
In Ravensbruck there were the following experiments carried out: operations whose aim was to cause infection and trying out its treatment with sulfonamides; operations of bones, muscles and neurotic system, based on cutting out some nerves of drumsticks, etc. Operated imprisoned women were called ‘rabbits’. Camp authorities did everything to blur signs of their cruel doings. Only the international solidarity among prisoners allowed them to survive and become real witnesses of the cruelty during a court process in Nuremberg . In the camp there were a crematory, and ashes of burnt women were sunk in the nearby lake Schwedt. From August 1944 the Germany had brought about 12 thousand Poles to the camp from the Warsaw Uprising. In those inhuman conditions, when there were not even any barracks, and imprisoned women had to live in tents under the bare sky, about 800 children were born. There were only a few exceptions, children of Polish women from the Warsaw Uprising. About 30 babies survived. Conspiracy in difficult camp conditions, secret teaching, poetry, artistic activity in secret, help to the weaker ones, solidarity – all this enriched the character and allowed for maintaining dignity.
These values allowed us, imprisoned women, to survive, telling us to pass over the belief to the young generations, that ‘one cannot forget about it’.
On a website of ‘Niedziela’ we can find detailed information about ceremonies connected with the anniversary of the Ravensbruck camp liberation.