Of the 55, guards who served in German concentration camps , about 3, were women. The year after, the Nazis began conscripting women because of a guard shortage.
The German title for this position, Aufseherin plural Aufseherinnen means female overseer or attendant. Later female guards were dispersed to Bolzano —45 , Kaiserwald-Riga —44 , Mauthausen March — May , Stutthof —45 , Vaivara  —44 , Vught —44 , and at other Nazi concentration camps , subcamps, work camps, detention camps, etc. Female guards were generally from the lower to middle class  and had no relevant work experience; their professional background varied: one source mentions former matrons, hairdressers, tramcar-conductresses, opera singers or retired teachers.
Additionally, some were conscripted based on data in their SS files. The League of German Girls acted as a vehicle of indoctrination for many of the women. Consequently, at some tribunals it was disputed whether SS-Helferinnen employed at the camps were official members of the SS, thus leading to conflicting court decisions.
They were never given any positional titles or equivalent ranks of the SS. The supervisory levels within the SS-Helferin were as follows:. Relations between SS men and female guards are said to have existed in many of the camps, and Heinrich Himmler had told the SS men to regard the female guards as equals and comrades. At the relatively small Helmbrechts subcamp near Hof , Germany, the camp commandant, Doerr, openly pursued a sexual relationship with the head female overseer Herta Haase-Breitmann-Schmidt.
Corruption was another aspect of the female guard culture. Both were rumoured to have embezzled millions of Reichmarks, for which Karl Koch was convicted and executed by the Nazis a few weeks before Buchenwald was liberated by the U. Army; however, Ilse was cleared of the charge. Convicted of war crimes, she was sentenced to life imprisonment in One apparent exception to the brutal female overseer prototype was Klara Kunig, a camp guard in who served at Ravensbruck and its subcamp at Dresden-Universelle.
The head wardress at the camp pointed out that she was too polite and too kind towards the inmates, resulting in her subsequent dismissal from camp duty in January Her fate has been unknown since February 13, , the date of the allied firebombing of Dresden. Near the end of the war, women were forced from factories in the German Labour Exchange and sent to training centres.
In , the first female overseers were stationed at the satellite camps belonging to Neuengamme, Dachau,  Mauthausen, a very few at Natzweiler-Struthof, and none at the Mittelbau-Dora complex until March In , a story broke in Germany about Margot Pietzner married name Kunz , a former Aufseherin from Ravensbruck, the Belzig subcamp and a subcamp at Wittenberg. She was originally sentenced to death by a Soviet court, but it was commuted to a life sentence, and she was released in In the early s, at the age of 74, Pietzner was awarded the title "Stalinist victim" and given 64, Deutsche Marks 32, Euros.
Many historians argued that she had lied and did not deserve the money. She had, in fact, served time in a German prison which was overseen by the Soviets, but she was imprisoned because she had served brutally in the ranks of three concentration camps. Pietzner currently lives in a small town in northern Germany. She received 10 years' imprisonment and was released in the mids. In a rare interview in , Bothe was asked if she regretted being a guard in a concentration camp. Her response was, "What do you mean?
I made a mistake, no The mistake was that it was a concentration camp, but I had to go to it—otherwise I would have been put into it myself, that was my mistake. She had hidden her secret for more than 60 years from her family, friends and Jewish-German husband Fred. In Germany, Rinkel does not face criminal charges as only murder allegations can be tried after this amount of time,  although the case continues to be examined. In the novel The Reader , a young man has an affair with an older woman later revealed as a concentration camp guard Hanna Schmitz.
She is later tried in a court of law. In the film adaptation , she is portrayed by Kate Winslet. Now, in the years before actual war came, the K.
Get the best of The New Yorker in your in-box every day. Your Remark. President Donald Trump with seeing through Palij's August deportation after it had been stalled for a quarter-century. People with previous criminal convictions were among the first to find themselves targeted by the Nazis. Until , political prisoners remained the majority.
The metaphor of war encouraged the inhumanity of the S. Particularly hated was the roll call, or Appell , which forced inmates to wake before dawn and stand outside, in all weather, to be counted and recounted.
The process could go on for hours, Wachsmann writes, during which the S. The camps were outside ordinary law, answerable not to judges and courts but to the S. At the same time, they were governed by an extensive set of regulations, which covered everything from their layout including decorative flower beds to the whipping of prisoners, which in theory had to be approved on a case-by-case basis by Himmler personally.
Yet these regulations were often ignored by the camp S. Strangely, however, it was possible, in the prewar years, at least, for a guard to be prosecuted for such a killing. In , Paul Zeidler was among a group of guards who strangled a prisoner who had been a prominent churchman and judge; when the case attracted publicity, the S. He was sentenced to a year in jail. In , Himmler agreed to allow the Red Cross to deliver food parcels to some prisoners in the camps.
To send a parcel, however, the Red Cross had to mark it with the name, number, and camp location of the recipient; requests for these details were always refused, so that there was no way to get desperately needed supplies into the camps. Even the distinction between guard and prisoner could become blurred. From early on, the S. This system spared the S.
In some cases, Kapos became almost as privileged, as violent, and as hated as the S. Mory was sentenced to death but managed to commit suicide first. At the bottom of the K. Once there, however, they found themselves subject to special torments, ranging from running a gantlet of truncheons to heavy labor, like rock-breaking. As the chief enemies in the Nazi imagination, Jews were also the natural targets for spontaneous S.
The systematic extermination of Jews, however, took place largely outside the concentration camps. They had almost no inmates, since the Jews sent there seldom lived longer than a few hours. By contrast, Auschwitz, whose name has become practically a synonym for the Holocaust, was an official K.
The first people to be gassed there, in September, , were invalids and Soviet prisoners of war. It became the central site for the deportation and murder of European Jews in , after other camps closed.
Apr 6, Two new histories show how the Nazi concentration camps worked. book, “ Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for. The first concentration camp in the Nazi system, Dachau, opened in March, By the end of World War II, the Nazis administered a massive system of more.
The vast majority of Jews brought to Auschwitz never experienced the camp as prisoners; more than eight hundred thousand of them were gassed upon arrival, in the vast extension of the original camp known as Birkenau. Only those picked as capable of slave labor lived long enough to see Auschwitz from the inside.
Many of the horrors associated with Auschwitz—gas chambers, medical experiments, working prisoners to death—had been pioneered in earlier concentration camps. Oswald Pohl, the S. The most ambitious was the construction of a brick factory near Sachsenhausen, which was intended to produce a hundred and fifty million bricks a year, using cutting-edge equipment and camp labor.
The failure of the factory, as Wachsmann describes it, was indicative of the incompetence of the S.
To turn prisoners into effective laborers would have required giving them adequate food and rest, not to mention training and equipment. It would have meant treating them like employees rather than like enemies. But the ideological momentum of the camps made this inconceivable. Labor was seen as a punishment and a weapon, which meant that it had to be extorted under the worst possible circumstances.
Prisoners were made to build the factory in the depths of winter, with no coats or gloves, and no tools. This debacle did not discourage Himmler and Pohl. On the contrary, with the coming of war, in , S. On the eve of the war, the entire K. New camps were built to accommodate the influx of prisoners from conquered countries and then the tens of thousands of Red Army soldiers taken prisoner in the first months after Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the U.
The enormous expansion of the camps resulted in an exponential increase in the misery of the prisoners. Food rations, always meagre, were cut to less than minimal: a bowl of rutabaga soup and some ersatz bread would have to sustain a prisoner doing heavy labor. The result was desperate black marketing and theft.
At the same time, the need to keep control of so many prisoners made the S. The murder of prisoners by guards, formerly an exceptional event in the camps, now became unremarkable. But individual deaths, by sickness or violence, were not enough to keep the number of prisoners within manageable limits. Accordingly, in early Himmler decided to begin the mass murder of prisoners in gas chambers, building on a program that the Nazis had developed earlier for euthanizing the disabled. During the following months, teams of S. Everything was done with an appearance of medical rigor.
Under this extermination program, known to S. By early , it had become obsolete, as the scale of death in the camps increased.