Docstoc

THE ORIGIN OF THE PROJECT MY PERSONAL INTEREST IN RAVENSBRüCK

Document Sample
THE ORIGIN OF THE PROJECT MY PERSONAL INTEREST IN RAVENSBRüCK Powered By Docstoc
					ch1.080   09/12/2006   12:52 PM    Page 1




                                            1
            THE ORIGIN OF THE PROJECT: MY PERSONAL
                   INTEREST IN RAVENSBRÜCK



           This book is the result of my part in the group effort of a team of
           women sociologists and historians that I initiated, to rescue from
           oblivion the memory of thousands of Jewish women, girls, and chil-
           dren imprisoned in the only Nazi concentration camp exclusively for
           women.
              The group effort resulted in a book with contributions by most of
           the members of the initial two teams, the Israeli and the German.1
              The present book is the record of my own effort – my answer to the
           question: The Jewish prisoners of Ravensbrück: who were they?
              Let me report how I, a sociologist of gender and of work, got
           involved in this project that, although pertaining to women and thus to
           gender, lies on the borderline between history and sociology. I had not
           previously worked in the field of Holocaust or antisemitism studies,
           and I was not engaged with their specific gender aspects, nor with the
           problems issuing from the combination of the evidence of the mem-
           oirs of individual survivors, published and unpublished, with that of
           documentary evidence, nor with the problems involved with the
           combination of the information contained in open-ended interviews,
           specific testimonies, and questionnaires, with police documents,
           documents of the Ravensbrück camp administration and that of other
           concentration camps and their outlying labor camps, their work
           details (AKDOs), the SS correspondence, and documents concerning
           the names of victims and perpetrators recorded after the War.
              It was a personal connection that in the first place brought me to
           Ravensbrück, and to the realization that its Jewish prisoners, the dead
           and the surviving, and the story of their fate, had not yet been
ch1.080   09/12/2006   12:52 PM    Page 2




            2 The Jewish Prisoners of Ravensbrück

            recorded systematically, and that were in danger of being irretrievably
            forgotten. The irony is that I was brought to this study of the
            Holocaust through my German, non-Jewish mother, who had been
            for five years a Ravensbrück prisoner.
                 My mother was Margarete Buber-Neumann. Her daughters, my
            sister and I, had known nothing about her whereabouts and fate from
            1938 until the end of the War. By then, she had survived two years in
            Soviet prisons and concentration camps and another five years in a
            Nazi concentration camp. Although I had known these facts since
            1945, the name of the Nazi camp registered in my memory for the first
            time two years later, when she related to me her memories of
            Ravensbrück when we first met in Sweden in the spring of 1947 after
            all those years.At this time, she was busy writing the second half of her
            book Als Gefangene bei Stalin und Hitler, which was soon translated
            into 12 languages (published in English as Under Two Dictators) and
            brought her international fame.
                 Much later, five years after her death, due to that book of hers I was
            invited to take part in the preparation of the planned commemora-
            tion reunion on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of
            Ravensbrück, its “liberation”. This is how I came to see, towards the
            end of 1994, for the first time, the site of this camp, which is situated
            north of Berlin in an idyllic countryside of lakes and forests. The fact
            that, due to the Cold War, my mother had never returned to the site of
            Ravensbrück before her death in November 1989 is symptomatic of
            the political situation in Germany until the fall of the Berlin Wall: it
            was inaccessible to her – as an anti-Communist, she was naturally
            persona non grata in the German Democratic Republic.
                 She left Germany in 1933 as a Communist. I am one of her two
            daughters from her first marriage, raised as Jews. We emigrated to
            Palestine with our paternal grandparents. Her second husband was
            Heinz Neumann – also a Jew – who had been a member of the Central
            Committee of the German Communist Party, and a member of the
            German Reichstag. He formed a left-wing faction whose slogan was
            “Hit the Fascists wherever you meet them” and opposed Stalin’s direct-
            ives to declare not the Nazis, but the Social Democrats, the main enemy
            of the German Communists.In 1931 he was removed by the Comintern
            from his post and thus from all German politics. In 1932, the
            Comintern sent him and my mother to Spain and one year later aban-
            doned them in Switzerland. In 1935, the Nazis demanded his extradi-
            tion on a trumped-up charge.They had no choice but to go to the Soviet
ch1.080   09/12/2006   12:52 PM    Page 3




                                                      The Origin of the Project 3

           Union where, in 1937, he was arrested and secretly executed; she was
           arrested and sent to Siberia in 1938. Later, in 1940, she was forcibly
           handed over – together with about one thousand other German and
           Austrian refugees, mainly Communists and many of them Jews – to the
           Nazi authorities at the border that then separated Nazi and Soviet
           occupied Poland.2 Thus my mother,after learning firsthand the realities
           of the Soviet Communist regime and its prisons and concentration
           camps, was incarcerated for five more years in the Nazi “Hell for
           women”, Ravensbrück, this time as a suspected Soviet agent.
               Ostracized by the leadership of the German Communist
           Ravensbrück prisoners, she survived due to the support and friend-
           ship of many fellow prisoners, a few Communists who did not accept
           the dictate of their own leaders, and others, mainly Czech, French,
           and Norwegian non-Communist prisoners. Those who survived
           remained her friends for life.
               During these five years, she had learnt about many events in the
           camp and about the behavior of many of the SS guards, supervisors,
           and commanders. She knew hundreds of fellow prisoners from dif-
           ferent national groups, categories, and workplaces. Through her
           Czech close friend Milena Jesenska,3 she knew about the horrors of
           the camp Revier (hospital). She knew about the deportation of nearly
           all the Jewish women there to Bernburg in 1942, and to Auschwitz
           until October 1944; but even she had no firsthand contact with Jewish
           prisoners, since all contact between non-Jewish and Jewish prisoners
           was strictly forbidden. Jews and non-Jews worked most of the time in
           different work details and work sites. Therefore, her account can serve
           only partially as evidence for the construction of the present histor-
           ical account of the Jewish prisoners of Ravensbrück. It supplies much
           background material for this study.
               When I visited the campsite at the end of 1994 to take part in the
           preparations for the commemoration of 50 years since the liberation
           of the camp, considerable efforts had already been made by the gov-
           ernments of the Land Brandenburg and the Federal Republic of
           Germany to reform the memorial site and to open it to visitors and
           researchers from all over the world. Yet, when I learned that the gov-
           ernments of the Land Brandenburg and the Federal Government of
           Germany had decided to share the cost of travel and accommodation
           for all the survivors of Ravensbrück so that they could attend the com-
           memoration, and asked the members of the inviting committee how
           many survivors they were inviting from Israel, I was astonished to
ch1.080   09/12/2006   12:52 PM     Page 4




            4 The Jewish Prisoners of Ravensbrück

            learn that there was only one. It turned out that only the name of this
            one woman, who had been the editor of the Mapai (Social Democrat)
            daily newspaper Davar, had been registered on the list of the
            International Ravensbrück Committee as an Israeli survivor. The
            Committee also did not possess any separate list of Jewish
            Ravensbrück survivors living in any country whatsoever.4
                On returning to Israel, I went to the archive of Yad Vashem in
            Jerusalem (The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Remembrance
            Authority) and asked for a list of Ravensbrück survivors. Yad Vashem
            had then no separate list of Jewish prisoners of Ravensbrück. A cur-
            sory search produced a short list of women who had mentioned the
            name of this camp in their testimonies or in interviews about their
            Holocaust experiences. Many of the addresses and phone numbers of
            the women on that list were no longer valid. (Later on, Yad Vashem
            was very helpful to our research teams. Many more names of
            Ravensbrück survivors were located in its archives. Previously unex-
            amined microfilms of arrival lists of prisoners to Ravensbrück soon
            proved most significant for the beginning of my study. Much later we
            found many more Ravensbrück documents in its archives.)
                As I had taken upon myself the task of organizing the travel of Israeli
            Ravensbrück survivors to the commemoration event, I approached a
            young woman journalist writing for the daily Yediot with a request to
            interview me about this issue. I offered my phone number to all who
            were interested. As a result, the phone did not stop ringing for the next
            two weeks. More than 200 women declared themselves willing to travel
            to Ravensbrück, and about a hundred additional ones also told about
            their being Ravensbrück survivors, but were unable to travel – usually
            because of their own ill health or that of a family member. The upshot
            was that the German government had to rent a special plane from
            EL-AL so the survivors could reach Berlin in time.
                In Germany, the arriving survivors were received well and a group
            of young students who had all previously visited Israel were very help-
            ful guides. Yet, in Ravensbrück itself, it took a special effort to enable
            them to appear as Israelis and for a representative to deliver their spe-
            cial message to the thousands of other survivors arriving from all over
            the world. Many of the Israeli survivors had not spoken before about
            their Holocaust experiences, even to their own children, and many
            had set out to visit Germany with great trepidation. Surprisingly, all
            experienced the visit to the place of their immense suffering as posi-
            tive, and the opening of the floodgates of their memories as liberating.
ch1.080   09/12/2006   12:52 PM     Page 5




                                                        The Origin of the Project 5

               On returning to Israel, I realized that by this informal process, a
           considerable amount of evidence through oral history had come
           my way. Colleagues persuaded me then to use this unique opportu-
           nity for systematic research and to apply for funding to the GIF
           (German Israel Foundation for Research and Development). I
           approached with this suggestion a sociologist, Professor Hanna
           Herzog, and historians Professor Dina Porat and Dr. Irith Dublon-
           Knebel, all of Tel Aviv University, and they accepted the idea and
           agreed to cooperate. The regulations of the GIF demand the cooper-
           ation of teams of Israeli and German researchers. Eventually, a group
           of women sociologists and historians of Tel Aviv University and of
           Free University Berlin, also including Professor Dr. Sigrid Jacobeit, the
           director of the Ravensbrück Memorial (Mahn- und Gedenkstätte),
           started out on a three-year research project, which was later extended.
           We first sent out a questionnaire to survivors living in Israel that
           hundreds answered. For many more who had lived in Israel but had
           died, relatives filled in the data to the best of their knowledge. We also
           used the data eventually found in 200 Yad Vashem survivor testi-
           monies. All this resulted in a database for over 700 survivors of
           Ravensbrück who had ever reached Israel. Using the data first gained
           in 1995, we organized a moving meeting of Israeli Ravensbrück
           survivors at Tel Aviv University.
               Though both teams participated in this initial effort, soon our
           ways parted as each showed interest in different aspects of the story. It
           became increasingly clear to me that, in addition to my contribution
           to the collective volume of both teams, A Neglected Chapter in the
           History of the Holocaust: The Jewish Women Prisoners of Ravensbrück,
           which Dr. Irith Dublon-Knebel has edited and which is due to appear
           soon, my task was to concentrate on a thorough study – both histori-
           cal and sociological – in an attempt to answer as best I can the ques-
           tion, The Jewish prisoners of Ravensbrück: who were they? I wanted to
           illustrate my view that social studies do not preclude the individual
           human aspect of the story.
               Meanwhile, two welcome publications appeared on the same topic
           but from different viewpoints. One is by a member of our German
           team, Dr. Linde Apel, Jüdische Frauen im Konzentrationslager
           Ravensbrück 1939–1945, Metropol, Berlin, 2003; the other is by
           Rochelle G. Saidel, The Jewish Women of Ravensbrück Concentration
           Camp, Wisconsin University Press, Madison, WI, 2004, who pursued
           this topic independently. (The terms of our contract with GIF
ch1.080   09/12/2006   12:52 PM    Page 6




            6 The Jewish Prisoners of Ravensbrück

            regrettably prevented us from including her in our team.) Let me add
            one brief paragraph on these books.
                Neither book aims at as complete an answer as possible to the ques-
            tion of my choice, The Jewish prisoners of Ravensbrück: who were they?
            And neither book pays as much attention to the differences in the
            Jewish prisoner populations and their different situations in different
            periods as this study does. Apel made a valiant effort to be objective.
            She describes and analyzes the specific conditions of work, life, and
            death of the Jewish women prisoners on the basis of a wealth of docu-
            ments, records, and testimonies of Jewish and non-Jewish survivors.
            Her effort at objectivity towards the Jewish prisoners may be the reason
            for her not having touched upon moral issues, attitudes, and senti-
            ments.By contrast,Saidel is very sensitive to the attitudes and sentiments
            of the interviewed survivors, including also the problems that the
            survivors experienced after the War. She includes in her book many
            pages of interview texts, and it is indeed the fruit of a labor of love.
                Returning to the question of my choice, ‘The Jewish prisoners of
            Ravensbrück: who were they?’, in the following chapters I present the
            fruits of my efforts to answer this question. I also enclose on a
            CD-ROM a list of well over 16,000 names of Jewish prisoners of
            Ravensbrück, with much detailed information about them.
                In addition, I have also attempted to include in this volume an
            analysis of the social relations of the Jewish women prisoners and of
            the specific social ties among them. What I did not do is study the
            problems related to the physical and psychological damage to sur-
            vivors of the Holocaust and the degree of success of efforts to over-
            come them and integrate in the societies, most of whose populations
            were spared this horrendous experience. I also did not deal with the
            difficult question of whether it was advisable or inadvisable for sur-
            vivors to share their horrid experiences with their closest relatives.
            How heavy was the post-Holocaust traumatic burden and was its
            transmission to the next generation inevitable? On these questions,
            there is a wealth of literature that I was not sufficiently qualified to
            examine on the basis of the data available to me. As a sociologist, I
            always found very relevant the differences in conditions between the
            USA, Israel, and other countries. I also found relevant the differences
            in the degree of education and the social status of the survivors, as well
            as their ability to integrate in their societies of settlement. I did not
            have sufficient data to examine these. I used the expression of Halina
            Nelken as a motto for this study: “Once again,” she says,“we are being
ch1.080   09/12/2006     12:52 PM      Page 7




                                                              The Origin of the Project 7

           turned into nameless, faceless, dehumanized theories and statistics. I
           wish I could protect the memory of us all, young and old: not one of
           us thought of ourselves as hero or victim – and yet we were both.” I
           sincerely hope that this study, dealing with theories and statistics as it
           does, nevertheless does justice to the memory of the victims: I honor
           as many names as I could find, describing them and their diverse per-
           sonalities and fate, and above all, their having been both victims and
           heroines.
           Herzlia                                                           J. B. A.
           January 2006


           NOTES

            1. Irith Dublon-Knebel (ed.), A Neglected Chapter in the History of the Holocaust:
               The Jewish Women Prisoners of Ravensbrück, forthcoming.
            2. Margarete Buber-Neumann, Under two Dictators, New York, 1950, pp. 162–166
               (first published in German as Als Gefangene bei Stalin und Hitler, Munich, 1949);
               Hans Schafranek, Zwischen NKWD und Gestapo: Die Auslieferung deutscher und
               österreichischer Antifaschisten aus der Sowjetunion nach Nazideutschland
               1937–1941, Frankfurt am Main, 1990, pp. 110f.
            3. Margarete Buber-Neumann, Milena, London, 1989 (first published in German
               in 1963).
            4. Later we found that lists of Ravensbrück survivors existed in several countries;
               although the overwhelming majority of these women had been arrested and
               deported to Ravensbrück either directly or via Auschwitz as Jews, they usually
               were listed as “anti-fascists”, without mention of their being Jewish. In the US
               about 1200 Jewish women (and some men) who had registered with the
               Washington Holocaust Registry had mentioned Ravensbrück as one of their
               camps.

           NB. Dates of documents are recorded here as in the originals: day,
           month, year.

				
DOCUMENT INFO
Shared By:
Categories:
Stats:
views:36
posted:3/8/2010
language:English
pages:7
Description: THE ORIGIN OF THE PROJECT MY PERSONAL INTEREST IN RAVENSBRüCK