University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


  • Beginning Days

    Beginning Days

    Ravensbrück was inaugurated as the Nazis' major concentration camp for women in May 1939.

    Click on image to enlarge

    himmler inspects the camp

    SS Propaganda photo, 19401941, SS Reichsfürher Heinrich Himmler inspects the female overseers of Ravensbrück, which was also a training center for female guards in other camps. Archive of MGR/SBG.

    Ravensbrück was very different at the end of World War II than it was intended to be when it was inaugurated in May, 1939. In the camp's early days, conditions were hygienic and the prisoners were issued clean uniforms. However, the regime was strict, punishment was inflicted, and harsh labor was required.

    The first transport of 867 women arrived in May, 1939, and consisted mostly of German anti-fascists, either Social Democrats or Communists - some coincidentally Jewish, and Jehovah's Witnesses. They arrived from Lichtenburg in Saxony, a fortress that had been used as a women's camp from March, 1938, until May, 1939. Before that, from October, 1933, until March, 1938, the first women's camp was located in a workhouse in Moringen, near Hanover. However, women were generally incarcerated in prisons during the early years.

    Click on image to enlarge

    in line for the toilet

    "In Line for the Toilet." Drawing by Ravensbrück Czech prisoner Nina Jirsikova. Ravensbrücker Zeichnungen. © MGR/SBG..

    camp accounts list

    Camp list accounting for prisoners, 1939. Courtesy of MGR/SBG.

    left arrowhomeright arrow