Initially, conditions inside Ravensbrück were very difficult but bearable. Prisoners slept in three tiered wooden bunks, and each barrack had one washroom and three toilets. In 1940, prisoners’ clothing and bedding were changed regularly and while food was not plentiful there was ‘just about enough’. [Nik Wachsmann, KL, A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps (Great Britain: Little, Brown, 2015) 227].
Prisoners inside the camp were forced to work, and in late 1939 large tailors’ workshops were created where prisoners made uniforms. Although prisoners had to work long hours, jobs were often indoors and not as physically exhausting as construction or quarry work. As a result of these conditions ‘almost all women survived Ravensbrück during the early war years’ [Nik Wachsmann, KL, 228].
In 1942, the number of people imprisoned in Ravensbrück increased. The camp became severely overcrowded and conditions inside became significantly worse.
By June 1941, approximately 5,000 people were imprisoned in Ravensbrück – almost double the camp’s initial capacity. In 1943, 10,000 new prisoners arrived, and by January 1944 approximately 17,300 prisoners were imprisoned in the camp. By the start of 1945, the camp’s population rose to as many as 50,000 people.
As prisoner numbers increased, food rations decreased and food became extremely scarce. Disease was widespread because of the unsanitary conditions, and in January 1945 a
epidemic broke out.
Between August 1942 and August 1943, 86 prisoners were also subjected to forced medical experiments. SS doctors carried out procedures such as amputations, bone transplants, sterilisation and chemical treatments on the women. The procedures were generally very painful and sometimes fatal. Some female prisoners from Ravensbrück were also sexually exploited and forced to work in camp brothels.
In January 1942 an extermination programme known as ‘14f13’ began. Once selected, prisoners were transferred to
in Austria and murdered in gas chambers. In total, during the spring of 1942, approximately 1900 prisoners from Ravensbrück (1600 women and 300 men) were murdered through this programme.
In early 1945, a
was built just outside of Ravensbrück. Between January 1945 and the camp’s liberation in April 1945, the Nazis used this gas chamber to murder between 5,000 and 6,000 prisoners. Other prisoners were also murdered at Ravensbrück in shootings.