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June 23, 2012

The Ravensbrück gas chamber …. and the Lachout document

Ravensbrück is one of the few Nazi concentration camps that I have never visited.  I am writing about it today because the subject came up in the comments on my last post, which was about Joe the Plumber, who thinks that the Holocaust was allowed to happen because Hitler instituted gun control in 1939.

One of the regular readers of my blog, The Black Rabbit of Inlé, who has just returned from a trip to Germany, wrote a comment which included a link to his photos of the Ravensbrück crematorium and the memorial stone that marks the spot where the gas chamber was located before it was destroyed by the Nazis on April 23, 1945.

Wait a minute!  The Ravensbrück gas chamber was destroyed a week before the camp was liberated by the Russians on April 30, 1945?  This sounds just like the story of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the Russians arrived on January 27, 1945 and found that the Germans had destroyed the gas chamber on January 20, 1945. Very suspicious!

Another coincidence is that all the records from both the Auschwitz camp and the Ravensbrück camp were confiscated by the Russians.  The Ravensbrück records have never been released.

Years ago, I contemplated a visit to the Ravensbrück Memorial Site, and to prepare for the trip, I read the book Ravensbrück, Everyday Life in a Women’s Concentration Camp 1939-45 by Jack G. Morrison.  The section about the Ravensbrück gas chamber begins with this sentence:

The existence and operation of a gas chamber are not in doubt.

Seriously?  The gas chamber at Ravensbrück is not in doubt?  Everything about the Holocaust is in doubt.  Ever hear of “Holocaust deniers”?  Ever hear of the Lachout Document?  You can read the text of the Lachout Document on my website here.  Ravensbrück is one of the camps that is included in the document.

Note that, on my website, I have a link to The Nizkor Project which claims that the Lachout Document is a forgery.

I consider the deathcamps.org website to be the best of the True Believer Holocaust websites.  You can read their page about the Ravensbrück gas chamber here.

This quote is from the deathcamps.org website:

The last gassings happened when the Swedish Red Cross was in the camp to compile transports with weakened prisoners to carry them to neutral Sweden (via the still occupied Denmark).

Strangely, the same thing happened at the Mauthausen concentration camp where the Nazis were gassing prisoners while the Red Cross was taking prisoners out of the camp.

This quote is from this page of my own website:

As further evidence that prisoners at Mauthausen were gassed in the final days of war, Christian Bernadac quotes [in his book] the testimony of Maurice-Georges Savourey on May 4, 1945 at La Plaine, near Geneva, immediately after he was taken out of the camp by the Red Cross convoy. Savourey’s testimony, obtained from Choumoff’s book, is quoted below from Bernadac’s book:

“…The day on which the first Red Cross convoy left, Saturday, April 21, 1945, out of two thousand men…one hundred, exhausted by the short route to be covered, were led to the gas chamber and executed…One (sic) Sunday, the 22nd, one hundred fifty men went to the gas chamber; on Monday, the 23rd, eighty men met the same fate…; on Tuesday, the 24th, one hundred eighty, in two groups, all Slavs, were gassed. One of them broke away, ran through the “free camp” in his nightshirt, stumbling, not knowing which way to turn, made his way back to camp 3. There he was retaken by the S.S. and the inner camp police, and returned for execution in the gas chamber. In addition, some forty French were said to have been gassed.”

In his account of the liberation of Mauthausen, the Red Cross representative, Louis Haefliger, confirms that the “annihilation” of the prisoners in the gas chamber continued until Commandant Ziereis fled the camp on the night of May 2-3, 1945. Apparently the Nazis were gassing as many of the prisoners as they could, while at the same time, the Red Cross was allowed to take selected prisoners out of the camp.

The section about the gas chamber in the book by Jack G. Morrison continues with this quote:

However, there are some uncertainties surrounding this issue, caused in part by the SS’s destruction of the gas chamber in the closing days of the war, and by their virtual annihilation of those prisoners who worked in the crematorium and gas chamber.  The SS did a quite thorough job of destroying evidence that might be used against them.  Following the war, the Russians did not help matters by keeping researchers out of the camp and making sweeping changes, turning it into a military post.

In April 1945, the Ravensbrück prisoners, who were still able to walk, had been marched out of the camp toward one of the sub-camps. Eventually the marchers reached the Allied lines and were liberated in early May, 1945.

To his credit, author Jack G. Morrison includes the story of the liberation of Ravensbrück in his book on page 303.

That night (30 April) the Russian arrived.  Rather than being liberators, they put the French women [prisoners] through a more hellish ordeal than what they had experienced in the camp.  The women were raped repeatedly by the Russian troops, to the point where some of them were too weakened to continue their journey  [the march out of the camp].  When Soviet forces liberated the subcamp at Neustadt-Glewe, they raped all the women and girls: Jewish, Hungarian, German — it didn’t matter.

One of the prisoners at Ravensbrück was Odette Sansom, a British SOE agent, who was allegedly having an affair with the camp Commandant, Fritz Suhren.   When the march out of the camp started, Odette rode with Fritz Suhren in his car to the American lines where he surrendered on May 3, 1945. He was expecting Odette to put in a good word for him to save himself from being charged as a war criminal, but she refused.

After the war, there were rumors that Odette had survived Ravensbrück because she had been the mistress of Suhren, who was a handsome man. But Odette claimed that her toenails had been pulled out while she was a prisoner at Ravensbrück.  Strangely, Odette was the only one who was tortured this way even though she had told her captors that she was married to a relative of Winston Churchill.  Did Fritz pull out all of Odette’s toenails to convince her to sleep with him?  Is that why she refused to testify on his behalf?

Odette was one of the three SOE agents who survived Ravensbrück; the other two were Yvonne Baseden and Eileen Nearne.

Four of the 8 female SOE agents, who were sent to Ravensbrück, were executed there, according to eye-witness testimony. Their names are Denise Bloch, Lilian Rolfe, Violette Szabo and Cecily Lefort.   According to the testimony of Sylvia Salvensen, a former prisoner in the camp, Cecily Lefort was one of the women who died in the gas chamber on May 1, 1945.  This was after the march out of the camp began and the marchers were overtaken by Russian troops.

The SS man who was the second in command at Ravensbrück, Johann Schwarzhuber, gave detailed testimony in the British Military Court at Hamburg, where 16 staff members of Ravensbrück were on trial from December 5, 1946 to February 3, 1947. Schwarzhuber testified that SOE agents Violette Szabo, Lilian Rolfe and Denise Bloch were executed by a shot in the neck shortly after Schwarzhuber was transferred to the camp on January 12, 1945.

Until Vera Atkins interrogated Schwarzhuber on March 13, 1946 and got him to confess to witnessing the murder of the SOE agents, nothing was known about the fate of these three women who had been at Ravensbrück since August 22, 1944. Schwarzhuber filled in all the details that Atkins wanted to hear, about how the women had died bravely and how the SS men had been impressed with their bearing.

I previously blogged about Vera Atkins here.

Schwarzhuber, who was on trial himself, said in the deposition taken from him by Vera Atkins and repeated in the courtroom, that Commandant Fritz Suhren had been annoyed that the Gestapo had not carried out these executions themselves. Suhren was not on trial since he had escaped from custody. Schwarzhuber also testified that Suhren had ordered him to organize a mass gassing of the women prisoners at the end of February 1945 at a time when sixty to seventy prisoners were dying each day during a typhus epidemic.

Prior to being sent to Ravensbrück, Schwarzhuber had worked at Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz II, better known as Birkenau. Schwarzhuber was convicted and executed on May 3, 1947.

Schwarzhuber was the most important witness at the Ravensbrück proceedings; he had first told his story when he gave a deposition after being interrogated by Vera Atkins. How was Vera Atkins able to get Schwarzhuber to confess to crimes for which he knew that he would surely be executed? Did she threaten to turn his family over to the Russians, a threat that was usually effective?

If any of the camp records were ever found, they were not released. All of the information about the women who were executed at Ravensbrück came from the testimony of Johann Schwarzhuber and from some of their fellow prisoners.

April 3, 2010

Corrie ten Boom forgave a Ravensbrück SS guard

This morning I heard Kenneth B. McMillan, Presiding Bishop in the Mormon church, give a sermon on TV.  He told the story about a former SS guard at the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp, who asked Corrie ten Boom to forgive him for his crime of being a camp guard.  She hesitated, but then held out her hand and forgave him.

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom is second only to Anne Frank as a famous female person in the story of the Holocaust.  In 1971, Corrie wrote a book entitled The Hiding Place, which was made into a film by World Wide Pictures in 1975.

There is a Museum in the Dutch city of Haarlem, which is all about Corrie ten Boom’s work with the Dutch Resistance and her work in hiding Jews from the Nazis.

The Corrie ten Boom Museum in Haarlem, Holland. Photo credit: Florida Center for Instructional Technology

After World War II, Corrie ten Boom taught the Christian gospel all over the world, in 60 countries; her emphasis was on forgiveness. In 1974, Corrie wrote  Tramp for the Lord, in which she told about teaching the gospel in Germany in 1947.  She wrote that when she was approached by one of the cruelest former Ravensbrück camp guards, she was at first reluctant to forgive him.

In her book, Tramp for the Lord, Corrie ten Boom wrote:

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”

Corrie ten Boom had been arrested, along with her entire family,  by the German Gestapo on February 28, 1944 after a Dutch informant turned them in.  According to Wikipedia, they were sent first to Scheveningen prison, where her father died ten days after his capture. Corrie’s sister Nollie, brother Willem, and nephew Peter were all released.

Later, Corrie and Betsie ten Boom were sent to the Vught  political concentration camp in the Netherlands, and finally to the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women in Germany on December 16, 1944, where Corrie’s sister Betsie died.  Corrie was released on December 31, 1944.

In the movie The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom narrates the section on her release from the Ravensbrück concentration camp, saying that she later learned that her release had been a clerical error. The women prisoners, who were her age, were killed the week following her release, which would have been in January 1945.

Women prisoners at work in Ravensbrück camp

Ravensbrück was not a death camp, but it did have a gas chamber, according to a confession given by Johann Schwarzhuber, the SS man who was the second in command at Ravensbrück.

Schwarzhuber gave detailed testimony in the British Military Court at Hamburg, where 16 staff members of Ravensbrück were put on trial from December 5, 1946 to February 3, 1947. Schwarzhuber testified that British SOE agents Violette Szabo, Lilian Rolfe and Denise Bloch had been executed by a shot in the neck shortly after Schwarzhuber was transferred to the camp on January 12, 1945. This would have been around the time that women the age of Corrie ten Boom were killed, according to her story.

Until British SOE officer Vera Atkins interrogated Schwarzhuber on March 13, 1946 and got him to confess to witnessing the murder of the women SOE agents, nothing was known about the fate of these three women who had been at Ravensbrück since August 22, 1944. Schwarzhuber filled in all the details that Atkins wanted to hear, about how the women had died bravely and how the SS men had been impressed with their bearing.

Schwarzhuber, who was on trial himself because he was an SS man at Ravensbrück, said in the deposition taken from him by Vera Atkins and repeated in the courtroom, that Ravensbrück Commandant Fritz Suhren had been annoyed that the Gestapo had not carried out these executions themselves.

Suhren was not on trial since he had escaped from custody. Schwarzhuber testified that Suhren had ordered him to organize a mass gassing of the women prisoners at the end of February 1945, at a time when sixty to seventy prisoners were dying each day during a typhus epidemic. Cecily Lefort was one of the women who died in the gas chamber on May 1, 1945, according to the testimony of Sylvia Salvensen, a former prisoner in the camp.

Schwarzhuber was the most important witness at the Ravensbrück proceedings; he had first told his story when he gave a deposition after being interrogated by Vera Atkins of the British SOE.  Vera Atkins was somehow able to get Schwarzhuber to confess to crimes for which he knew that he would surely be executed. After he was convicted, Schwarzhuber was executed on May 3, 1947.

I don’t know the name of the SS man who asked for forgiveness from Corrie ten Boom.  It could have been Schwarzhuber, but probably not.

In the same passage of her book, in which she wrote about forgiving the SS guard, Corrie wrote that, in her post-war experience with other victims of Nazi brutality, it was those who were able to forgive who were best able to rebuild their lives.

The State of Israel has named Corrie ten Boom as a person who is Righteous Among the Nations. She was also knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands in recognition of her work with the Dutch Resistance during World War II. Because of her aid to the Dutch Resistance, Corrie ten Boom was technically an illegal combatant under the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929 and her imprisonment in a concentration camp was legal.

The photo below shows a famous monument at the Ravensbrück Memorial Site.

Burdened Woman by Will Lammert. Bronze sculpture looks out over Lake Schwedt. 1959. Photo credit: Florida Center for Instructional Technology

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