Hamburg Ravensbrück trials

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Hamburg Ravensbrück trials
Ravensbrück 1 2.tiff
In civilian clothing, Ravensbruck Aufseherinnen surrounded by uniformed Allied guards at trial, Hamburg 1947
CourtCuriohaus, Hamburg, Germany
StartedDecember 5, 1946 (1946-12-05) (Rotherbaum case)
November 5, 1947 (1947-11-05) (Friedrich Opitz case)
April 14, 1948 (1948-04-14) (Uckermark trial)
and more
DecidedJuly 21, 1948 (1948-07-21) (Rotherbaum case)
The first Ravensbrück trial, 1947.[1] The sentencing, Hamburg, Rotherbaum

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.[1] 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.[2] Executions relating to these trials were carried out on the gallows at Hamelin prison [de] by British hangman Albert Pierrepoint.

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

First trial[edit]

The first Ravensbrück trial was held from December 5, 1946 until February 3, 1947 against sixteen Ravensbrück concentration camp staff and officials. All of them were found guilty. One died during trial. The death sentences (except for Salvequart) were carried out on May 2—3, 1947, in Hamelin prison.[3]

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

Percival Treite, a half-British medical doctor at Ravensbrück, was defended by a dozen former female prisoners, including Special Operations Executive agent, Yvonne Baseden, who wrote letters to the court favorable to him. Ex-prisoner Mary Lindell testified in favor of Treite at the trial saying that Treite "was the only man who was human, the only man who looked after the sick people as a doctor should look after them." The outspoken Lindell also criticized the judge advocate, "who was partial and objectionable, had taken on the cross examination of witnesses himself and prevented other questions from being put which might have been [answered] in favour of the accused." Nevertheless, Triete was sentenced to death.[4]

Three more defendants, the camp leader, Lagerkommandant Fritz Suhren, along with "work leader" Hans Pflaum and Schneidermeister Friedrich Opitz (below, see the Second Ravensbrück trial), escaped from prison prior to the first trial. The first two of them were apprehended under assumed names in 1949. They were handed over to French authorities, who were conducting another Ravensbrück trial in Rastatt at that time; both men were sentenced to death in that trial and executed by a firing squad on June 12, 1950. Opitz faced trial in November 1947.[5]

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.[6]

Second Ravensbrück trial[edit]

In the second Ravensbrück trial, which lasted from November 5 to 27, 1947, the only defendant was Friedrich Opitz age 49,[5] a clothing factory leader in the camp employed there from June 1940 till April 1945.[5] He was recaptured after his earlier escape from prison along with Fritz Suhren and Hans Pflaum (see above). During trial, he was convicted of beating women with truncheons, belts and fists, starving them for missing the quota, keeping them outside in very long roll-calls, and sending them to the gas chamber for (what he called) "being useless", as well as of kicking at least one Czech female inmate, causing death. He also encouraged his guards to do the same. Opitz received a death sentence, which was carried out on January 26, 1948.[7]

Third Ravensbrück trial[edit]

In the third Ravensbrück trial, the so-called "Uckermark trial" which took place from April 14 to 26, 1948, five female camp officials of the satellite Uckermark concentration camp, were indicted for the mistreatment of women and the participation in the selection of women for the gas chamber.[8]

The Uckermark subcamp was located about one mile from the Ravensbrück concentration camp. It was opened in May 1942 as a prison or parallel concentration camp for teenage girls aged 16 to 21 dubbed criminal or "difficult" by the SS. Girls who reached the upper age limit were transferred back to the Ravensbrück women's camp. Camp administration was provided by the Ravensbrück main camp. In January 1945, the prison for juveniles was closed although the gassing infrastructure was subsequently used for the extermination of "sick, no longer efficient, and over 52 years old women" from Ravensbrück .[9]

Defendant Function, Title 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 outside the remit of 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, Title 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[citation needed]

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[citation needed] 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, Title 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, Title 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, Title 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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Jewish Virtual Library (2014). "Ravensbrück Trial (1946-1947)". Cyber encyclopedia of Jewish history and culture. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
  2. ^ Kretzer, Anette (2009). NS-Täterschaft und Geschlecht. Der erste britische Ravensbrück-Prozess 1946/47 in Hamburg [Nazi perpetrators and gender. The first British Ravensbrück process 1946/47 in Hamburg]. H-Soz-Kult-Zentralredaktion - Humboldt-Universität. Reviewed by Ljiljana Heise, Friedrich Meinecke Institute of the Free University of Berlin. Berlin: Metropol Verlag. ISBN 978-3-940938-17-6. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
  3. ^ Ulf Schmidt, Patricia Heberer (ed.) (2008). The Scars of Ravensbrück. Atrocities on Trial: Historical Perspectives. U of Nebraska Press. pp. 139–145. ISBN 978-0803210844. Retrieved 6 January 2015.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Hore, pp. 233-236
  5. ^ a b c Silke Schäfer (6 February 2002). Zum Selbstverständnis von Frauen im Konzentrationslager. Das Lager Ravensbrück [On the self-image of female prisoners in the concentration camp environment. The camp Ravensbrück] (PDF). Doktorin der Philosophie Dissertation. Fakultät I Geisteswissenschaften der Technischen Universität Berlin. pp. 35, 65, 253. Archived from the original (Internet Archive) on November 13, 2014. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  6. ^ Margarete Buber-Neumann, Under Two Dictators. Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler, ISBN 9781845951023: "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)
  7. ^ Michael J. Bazyler, Frank M. Tuerkheimer (2014). The Hamburg Ravensbrück Trials. Forgotten Trials of the Holocaust. NYU Press. p. 148. ISBN 9781479886067. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
  8. ^ Bazyler, Michael J.; Tuerkheimer, Frank M. (2014). Forgotten Trials of the Holocaust. NYU Press. pp. 147–149. ISBN 978-1-4798-8606-7. Retrieved 2019-01-11.
  9. ^ Ebbinghaus 1987, p. 287.