"Female Affairs": Female Concentration Camp Guards in Ravensbrück and Neubrandenburg - Johannes Schwartz
The female guards in Nazi concentration camps occupied a key position in the camp chain of command between male SS leaders and female prisoner-functionaries. These women were responsible for a considerable part of the violence routinely perpetrated against female camp inmates.
According to the staff manual for those who worked at Ravensbrück, the largest Nazi concentration camp for women on German territory, the chief female guard was to advise the camp compound leader "with respect to all female affairs". And the camp regulations explicitly prohibited "any abuse of inmates" by camp guards. Nevertheless, violence perpetrated by guards was an everyday occurrence.
Johannes Schwartz examines the violent practices of concentration camp guards in the Ravensbrück camp and its satellite camp Neubrandenburg. To what extent did the guards have opportunities to decide, whether or not they would use coercion or physical force, beyond the scope of express orders? How and when did they make use of such opportunities? Schwartz's analysis reveals that, in actual practice, the camp leadership delegated the decision to use physical violence to the female guards. Like their male colleagues, many female guards perpetrated, without experiencing interventions on the part of their superiors, various forms of violence-from psychological and "gentle" coercion to excessive and capricious violence, from instrumental abuse to exemplary punishment.
Utilizing a wide range of historical sources, the author analyzes how the violent practices of female guards conformed to the goals of the camp administration and the war industries that exploited prisoners as laborers. As a result, the guards' use of coercion and force contributed to stabilizing the internal power structure and securing inmates' productivity. Overall, however, individual options and their limits were determined to a large extent by power politics, competition, and other factors that shaped social relations among the staff of the concentration camps. What remained as a constant was the drastic imbalance of power between prisoners and guards. The unpredictability and erratic variability of the guards' actions served to cement, again and again, their power over the female inmates of the Nazi concentration camps.
Johannes Schwartz, Dr. phil., is a historian and staff researcher who investigates the provenience of museum artifacts and archival documents for the Museums for Cultural History and the City Archives of Hanover.
Original title : "Weibliche Angelegenheiten" Handlungsräume von KZ-Aufseherinnen in Ravensbrück und Neubrandenburg
This book is the result of research supported by the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah.