Concentration Camp Bordellos 'The Main Thing Was to Survive at All'
Concentration camp brothels remain a hushed-up chapter of the Nazi-era horrors. Now a German researcher has probed the dark subject -- and has revealed the meticulous cruelty of the so-called "special buildings."
Kicking them with his boots, the SS soldier drove Margarete W. and the other women prisoners out of the train and onto a truck. "Move the tarpaulin, put the flap down. Everyone get in," he yelled. Through the plastic window in the truck's canvas side, she watched as they drove into a men's camp and stopped in front of a barracks with a wooden fence.
The women were taken into a furnished room. The barracks were different from the ones Margarete W., then 25, knew from her time at the Ravensbrück women's concentration camp. There were tables, chairs, benches, windows, and even curtains. The female overseer informed the new arrivals that they were "now in a prisoners' brothel." They would live well there, the woman said, with good food and drink, and if they did as they were told, nothing would happen to them. Then each woman was assigned a room. Margarete W. moved into No. 13.
The prisoners' brothel at the Buchenwald concentration camp opened on July 11, 1943. It was the fourth of a total of 10 so-called "special buildings" erected in concentration camps between 1942 and 1945, according to the instructions of Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS. He implemented a rewards scheme in the camps, whereby prisoners' "particular achievements" earned them smaller workloads, extra food or monetary bonuses.
Himmler also considered it beneficial to "provide the hard-working prisoners with women in brothels," as he wrote on March 23, 1942, to Oswald Pohl, the SS officer in charge of the concentration camps. Himmler's cynical vision saw brothel visits increasing the forced laborers' productivity in the quarries and munitions factories.
It remains one of the lesser known aspects of Nazi terror that Sachsenhausen, Dachau and even Auschwitz included brothels, and that female concentration camp prisoners were forced into prostitution. Berlin-based cultural studies scholar Robert Sommer, 34, has scoured archives and concentration camp memorial sites around the world and carried out numerous interviews with historical witnesses over the past nine years. His study, which will be published this month, provides the first comprehensive, scientific survey of this "especially perfidious form of violence in the concentration camps." His research has largely informed a traveling exhibition "Camp brothels -- forced sex work in Nazi concentration camps," which will tour several memorial sites next year.
Austrian resistance fighter Antonia Bruha, who survived the Ravensbrück camp, reported years ago that, "the most beautiful women went to the SS brothel, the less beautiful ones to the soldiers' brothel."
And the rest ended up in the concentration camp brothel. In the Mauthausen camp in Austria, in the 10 small rooms of "Barrack 1," the very first camp brothel began operation behind barred windows in June 1942. At that point there were around 5,500 prisoners in the Mauthausen work camp, hammering out stone in granite quarries for Nazi buildings. By the end of 1944, over 70,000 forced laborers lived in the entire camp complex.
The SS had recruited 10 women for Mauthausen, following the government security agency's guidelines for erecting brothels in forced labor camps. This meant between 300 and 500 men per prostitute.
Altogether some 200 women shared the fate of the Mauthausen prisoners in the camp brothels. In particular healthy and good-looking women prisoners between the ages of 17 and 35 caught the eye of SS recruiters. More than 60 percent of them were of German nationality, but Polish women, those from the Soviet Union and one Dutch woman were transferred into the "special task forces." The Nazis didn't allow Jewish women for "racial hygiene" reasons. First the women were sent to the camp hospital, where they were given calcium injections, disinfection baths, better food and a stint under a sunlamp.
- Part 1: 'The Main Thing Was to Survive at All'
- Part 2: Between 300 and 500 Men Per Prostitute