Hamburg Ravensbrück trials

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1st Ravensbrück Trial 1947: The Sentencing
Female prisoners at Ravensbruck in 1939
Female prisoners gathered when the Red Cross arrive to Ravensbrück in April 1945. The white paint marks shows they are prisoners.[1]

The Hamburg Ravensbrück trials were a series of seven trials for war crimes against camp officials from the Ravensbrück concentration camp that the British authorities held in their occupation zone in Germany in Hamburg after the end of World War II. These trials were heard before a military tribunal; the three to five judges at these trials were British officers, assisted by a lawyer. The defendants included concentration camp personnel of all levels: SS officers, camp doctors, male guards, female guards (Aufseherinnen), and a few former prisoner-functionaries who had tortured or mistreated other inmates. In total, 38 defendants were tried in these seven trials. 21 of the defendants were women. Executions relating to these trials were carried out on the gallows at Hameln Prison by British hangman Albert Pierrepoint.

The trials[edit]

All seven trials took place in the Curiohaus in the Hamburg quarter of Rotherbaum.

First Ravensbrück Trial[edit]

The first Ravensbrück trial was held from December 5, 1946 until February 3, 1947.

Defendant Function Sentence
Johann Schwarzhuber (de) Deputy camp leader Death
Gustav Binder Warden Death
Heinrich Peters Warden 15 years imprisonment; released May 18, 1955
Ludwig Ramdohr Gestapo inspector Death
Martin Hellinger Medical doctor 15 years imprisonment; released May 14, 1955
Rolf Rosenthal Medical doctor Death
Gerhard Schiedlausky Medical doctor Death
Percy Treite Medical doctor Death; committed suicide on April 8, 1947 before the sentence could be carried out
Adolf Winkelmann Medical doctor Died during the trial on February 1, 1947
Dorothea Binz Assistant Chief warden (Oberaufseherin) Death; executed May 2, 1947
Greta Bösel Labor Department Head (Aufseherin) Death; executed May 3, 1947
Margarete Mewes Jail Warden 10 years imprisonment; released February 26, 1952
Elisabeth Marschall Nurse Death; executed May 3, 1947
Carmen Mory Inmate; Kapo Death; committed suicide on April 9, 1947 before the sentence could be carried out
Vera Salvequart Inmate; Kapo Death; executed on June 2, 1947
Eugenia von Skene Inmate; Kapo 10 years imprisonment, released December 21, 1951

The death sentences (except for Salvequart) were carried out on May 2—3, 1947, in Hameln.

Two more defendants, camp leader Fritz Suhren and "work leader" Hans Pflaum, escaped from prison prior to the trial. They were apprehended under assumed names in 1949 and handed over to French authorities, who were conducting another Ravensbrück trial in Rastatt at the time; both men were sentenced to death in that trial and shot dead by a firing squad on June 12, 1950.

Second Ravensbrück Trial[edit]

In the second Ravensbrück trial, which lasted from November 5 to 27, 1947, the only defendant was Friedrich Opitz, a factory leader in the concentration camp. Opitz had escaped from prison along with Fritz Suhren and Hans Pflaum before the first trial began. He received a death sentence, which was carried out on February 26, 1948.

Third Ravensbrück Trial[edit]

In the third Ravensbrück trial, the so-called "Uckermark trial" that took place from April 14 to 26, 1948, five female camp officials of the Uckermark extermination camp, were indicted on four charges:

  1. Mistreatment of Allied women in Uckermark
  2. Participation in the selection of Allied women for the gas chamber in Uckermark
  3. Mistreatment of Allied women in the Ravensbrück concentration camp
  4. Selection of Allied women for the gas chamber in the Ravensbrück concentration camp

Uckermark was about one mile from the Ravensbrück concentration camp. It had been opened in May 1942 as a prison or concentration camp for girls aged 16 to 21 who were considered criminal or just difficult. Girls who reached the upper age limit were transferred to the Ravensbrück women's camp. Camp administration was provided by the Ravensbrück camp. In January 1945, the juveniles camp was closed and the infrastructure was subsequently used as an extermination camp for "sick, no longer efficient, and over 52 years old women".[2]

Defendant Function Sentence
Johanna Braach Criminal inspector; warden in the juvenile's camp Acquitted
Lotte Toberentz Camp leader of the juvenile's camp Acquitted
Elfriede Mohneke Assistant Chief warden of the extermination camp 10 years of imprisonment; released June 14, 1952
Margarete Rabe Warden of the extermination camp Lifetime imprisonment; reduced in 1950 to 21 years; released June 16, 1959
Ruth Neudeck Chief warden of the extermination camp Death; executed on July 29, 1948

Braach and Toberentz were acquitted because they had worked at Uckermark only while it was still a juveniles camp, and there were no Allied women there at that time; the camp was exclusively for German girls, whose fate or treatment was of no interest to the tribunal.

Fourth Ravensbrück Trial[edit]

The fourth trial was held from May to June 8, 1948. The accused were all members of the medical staff of the camp at Ravensbrück, including one inmate who had worked as a nurse. The charges again centered on mistreatment, torture, and sending to gas chambers of women of Allied nationality.

Defendant Function Sentence
Benno Orendi Medical doctor Death; executed September 17, 1948
Walter Sonntag Medical doctor Death; executed September 17, 1948
Martha Haake Nurse 10 years imprisonment; released on January 1, 1951 due to medical reasons
Liesbeth Krzok Nurse 4 years imprisonment; released February 3, 1951
Gerda Ganzer Inmate; Nurse Death

Ganzer had already stood trial for her activities in Ravensbrück in 1946 before a Russian military tribunal and had been acquitted. In Hamburg, she was found guilty, but her death sentence was commuted into lifetime imprisonment on July 3, 1948, which in turn was reduced to 21 years imprisonment in 1950 and then to 12 years in 1954. She was finally released on June 6, 1961.

Fifth Ravensbrück Trial[edit]

In the fifth trial, three SS members were accused of having killed Allied inmates. The trial lasted from June 16 to 29, 1948. The judgments were handed down on July 15, 1948.

Defendant Function Sentence
Arthur Conrad SS warden Death; executed September 17, 1948
Heinrich Schäfer SS warden 2 years imprisonment; released October 28, 1949
Walter Schenk SS warden 20 years imprisonment; released August 3, 1954

Sixth Ravensbrück Trial[edit]

This trial lasted from July 1 to 26, 1948. Both defendants were accused of having mistreated Allied inmates.

Defendant Function Sentence
Kurt Lauer SS warden 15 years imprisonment; released May 7, 1955
Kurt Rauxloh SS warden 10 years imprisonment; released September 26, 1954 due to medical reasons

Seventh Ravensbrück Trial[edit]

Finally, six Aufseherinnen (female camp wardens) were tried from July 2 to 21, 1948. The charges were mistreatment of inmates of Allied nationality and participation in the selection of inmates for the gas chamber.

Defendant Function Sentence
Luise Brunner Chief warden (Oberaufseherin) 3 years imprisonment
Anna Friederike Mathilde Klein Chief warden Acquitted due to lack of evidence
Emma Zimmer Assistant chief warden Death; executed September 20, 1948
Christine Holthöwer Chief Warden of Siemens Acquitted due to lack of evidence
Ida Schreiter Labor Department Warden Death; executed September 20, 1948
Ilse Vettermann Warden 12 years imprisonment

References[edit]

  1. ^ Margarete Buber-Neumann wrote in her book Under Two Dictators. Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler: "SS had no fabric for the production of new prison clothing. Instead they drove truckloads of coats, dresses, underwear and shoes that had once belonged to those gassed in the east, to Ravensbrück. / ... / The clothes of the murdered people were sorted, and at first crosses were cut out, and fabric of another color sewn underneath. The prisoners walked around like sheep marked for slaughter. The crosses would impede escape. Later they spared themselves this cumbersome procedure and painted with oil paint broad, white crosses on the coats." (translated from the Swedish edition: Margarete Buber-Neumann Fånge hos Hitler och Stalin, Stockholm, Natur & kultur, 1948. Page 176)
  2. ^ ((Ebbinghaus 1987), p. 287)

Literature[edit]