Women at Auschwitz | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 26.03.2002
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Women at Auschwitz

An exhibition at the Auschwitz concentration camp museum commemorates the plight of female prisoners.


Female inmates are lined up for a hard labor assignment

On March 26, 1942, close to 1000 Jewish women were taken from the Ravensbrück concentration camp to Auschwitz. A few hours later, another transport arrived. Again, it was made up of almost 1000 Jewish women. This time, however, the women were from Slovakia.

Throughout the following years, the Nazis registered more than 130,000 women in the camp. Most of them were Poles or Jews. And most of them died from starvation, illness and the reign of terror in the camp.

Synonym for genocide

Words fail to describe the horrors of Auschwitz. Auschwitz was a manmade hell. It was the largest concentration camp the Nazis built. More than one million people were murdered at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

The Nazis established the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1940 in the Polish city of Oswiecim – or Auschwitz as they called it. The camp was originally meant for Polish prisoners. But it became a death factory once the Nazis began with the systematic mass murder of Jews.

The new women's camp

From 1942, it wasn't only men who had to suffer at the death camp. On March 26 of that year, the first women prisoners arrived. A brick wall two meters high ( ft.) had been put up in the camp to separate the new women's section from the men's camp.

"Auschwitz was hell for the men. But for the women it was even worse," says Miroslaw Obstarczyk of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.

A temporary exhibition in the lobby of the Reception Building at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp now commemorates their suffering. The show titled "Women in Auschwitz Concentration Camp: The Sixtieth Anniversary of the Women's Camp" was opened on Tuesday.

The plight of female inmates

On average, female prisoners at Auschwitz survived only half as long as male prisoners.

Women at Auschwitz had to do the same hard physical labor as men. They were subjected to the same psychological terror. And female SS guards were sometimes even more gruesome in torturing the prisoners than the men of the SS.

Women inmates were also used for medical experiments. SS doctors like Josef Mengele conducted their pseudo-medical research on living human beings. They sterilized female inmates with X-rays or chemical substances and conducted experiments on pregnant women and on twins.

The temporary exhibition at the Auschwitz Museum now draws attention to this chapter of the Auschwitz history. On display are photographs and historical documents from the Auschwitz Museum archives. The exhibition will be open to visitors through the end of the year.

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