Today I visited the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, outside of Berlin. The camp’s watchtower appears in the photo at right. I learned many things on this visit – among them, that the camp had a brothel for the male prisoners. The women working in Sachsenhausen’s brothel were slave laborers from the nearby all-female Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.
Earlier this year, the Daily Mail (UK) carried this article on the still-being-uncovered history of the abuse of women in the Sachsenhausen Camp:
[A female slave's] ‘clients’ were prisoners like her, worked until they dropped, starved, beaten and in constant danger of death. But for ‘good behaviour’ — if such a phrase can be used about the twisted morality of those terrible camps — these slave labourers would be rewarded with vouchers and the chance to have a woman.
Though it might mean abusing another human being in just the way they were being abused, the men usually grabbed the opportunity. * * *
On pitiful rations, [women in the Ravensbruck Camp] slaved away in work battalions before returning to overcrowded, lice-ridden barracks. Disease was rife, death commonplace. ‘Everything seemed calculated so that the prisoners die without actually being killed,’ she decided.
But it was from this sad reservoir of humanity that hundreds were picked out, flattered, fattened up, groomed and allowed to grow their hair before being sent as sex slaves to other concentration camps.
The brothels they went to were sanctioned personally by Heinrich Himmler, the demonic head of the SS. He saw offering rations of sex to male prisoners if they worked hard as another way of controlling and manipulating them. The rabidly homophobic Himmler also believed these facilities would stop love-starved men resorting to homosexuality.
There was a ready supply of women at Ravensbruck to fill the bedrooms he ordered built, first at Mauthausen, then at Buchenwald and eventually at ten camps in all. Some women had to be coerced, others were deceived, but there can be little doubt that some volunteered. They grabbed at what they thought was a lifeline. * * * It is the fact that some women collaborated and went willingly to become sex slaves that makes this subject controversial. Sex in the camps has always been a difficult area for survivors to talk about and for historians to discuss.
‘Hardly any other part of concentration camp history has been so repressed and so tainted with prejudice and distortion,’ says the Ravensbruck museum director, Insa Eschebach.
More information on Sachsenhausen is available here from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies.