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The Women of Birkenau

Dissertation
Author: Sarah M Cushman
Abstract:
The Women of Birkenau is a social history of the women's camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Several groups of women existed: SS employees (guards--Aufseherinnen , telecommunications specialists-- Helferinnen , and nurses--Schwestern ); prisoner functionaries who ran the camp in exchange for privilege; and average prisoners, mostly Jews, who struggled to survive. Grounded in archival work in Germany, the United States and Poland (inter alia: the Bundesarchiv in Berlin and a private collection in Hamburg; the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington; and the archives of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum), this dissertation analyzes these groups discretely, in comparison to men, and in interactions with each other. The small percentage of women admitted to the camp responded variously to German annihilation plans. Conditions erased social distinctions and forced transgression of convention. The moral and psychological impact of limited personal space and sleep deprivation have gone unexamined. Integrity and honor became visible and measured by action and behavior; one's moral stance existed only in its physical manifestation. Lack of sleep decreased the ability to respond. Prisoner functionaries supervised, interacted more frequently than camp personnel with, and often were violent to common prisoners. Perceived as camp employees, their position exacerbated the fracture of prisoner society and masked the violence of the SS. Yet, functionaries had goals like those of other prisoners. While their behavior seemed erratic and inexplicable, it reflects efforts of women to survive and to help family and friends. Women camp guards (Aufseherinnen) were murderous genocidal accomplices. Their actions were shaped by context: where, when, and with whom they interacted. Aufseherinnen related more coherently and less violently with prisoners who worked inside than with those outside, whose lives were obviously expendable. Aufseherinnen found opportunity and constraint. High levels of pay and power, and opportunity to meet men attracted women, but comforts were few; corruption flourished. Witnesses viewed women functionaries and guards as more violent than their male counterparts. Two factors influenced this distorted perception: expectations that women are not brutal resulting in elevated perceptions of violence, and taboos against male mistreatment of women. Helferinnen were not violent, but they facilitated genocide. Voluntary and committed participants, they held higher positions in camp and racial hierarchies than women guard. There is virtually no scholarly analysis of these women before now. Sexual violence toward women, including medical experiments and sexual slavery, was one of many means of dehumanization. Some prisoners, however, sought comfort through sexual relations. Women prisoners resisted and attempted escape. They focused on mutual aid. Women's escapes were numerically insignificant, but relatively successful. The society that grew up in Auschwitz was a stripped down version of that which existed outside the barbed wire confines of the camp. Women's experiences as guards, functionaries and prisoners add nuance to our understanding of the way genocide is carried out and how people respond to it.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction Chapter 1 Life Before Chapter 2 Arrival Chapter 3 Camp Conditions and Prisoner Society Chapter 4 Varieties of Prisoner Experience Chapter 5 SS Women Chapter 6 Men, Gender, and Sexuality Chapter 7 Resistance Chapter 8 Ordinary Women Bibliography 1 26 58 88 144 194 253 298 335 369 VI

1 Introduction The Women of Birkenau is a social history of the women's camp in Auschwitz and Birkenau. The Auschwitz camp complex evolved as the war progressed. Ultimately a location of death on a massive scale, Auschwitz changed and grew as the priorities of the SS, led by Heinrich Himmler, shifted. Long relegated to the margins of historical enquiry, the women's camp was a key component of that complex. Dehumanization is a significant part of the genocidal process, and it is a gendered phenomenon. Dehumanization began with attempts to isolate and alienate Jews from the general population almost immediately upon Hitler gaining the position of Chancellor. Chapter One outlines four strands of history - women in Nazi Germany, women in the camps, the evolution of the Holocaust, and shifting functions of the Auschwitz camp - that came together in 1942 with the founding of the women's camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. For most Jews in Europe, dehumanization started with invasion and occupation by Germany or its allies. My goal is to lay bare the process of dehumanization as it operated in the women's camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which I examine in the Chapter Two. Starting with women's experiences prior to arrival, including experiences under several occupation regimes, then moving on to transit, arrival and the admission ritual, I look at the narrowing of experience as women neared, and then arrived at, Auschwitz. The men's camp provides an opportunity for comparative analysis. What aspects of the process were similar for men and women, or unique to each? How did women experience the process and what aspects emerge as more significant or traumatic for them? How do survivors interpret their lives beforehand as being a part of the dehumanization process? What did

2 they bring to the experience that helped them to resist dehumanization, if they were indeed able to resist? Was the dehumanization process in fact complete? Did women survive despite complete dehumanization or, paradoxically, did it facilitate their survival? I use the process of arrival to examine questions related to differences and similarities, to frame issues related to hierarchy and dynamics, and to introduce the concept of gender as a tool to analyze experience within the camp. Inhuman and brutal conditions permeated all aspects of daily existence in Birkenau, characterized as it was by filth, hunger, disease, and physical and psychological violence. All of these were exacerbated by isolation and overcrowding. In Chapter Three, I analyze the day-to-day existence and the moment-to-moment, usually unsuccessful, struggle to survive. Several concerns loom large: work, food, zahlappel (roll call), close friends and family, the hospital, and selections. These events, routines, sites, and relationships were fraught with danger, yet the prisoners were sometimes able to eke opportunity for rest, food, or camaraderie from them. What was a typical day for the average prisoner? How did women respond? Did they develop physical or psychological strategies?- Did these differ significantly from those of men? Did religion or faith have a role in this? How did women try to protect themselves and others? Forced labor was the overwhelming constant of daily existence. At first, when the women's camp was at the main Auschwitz camp, the work involved demolition and construction in areas that would become Birkenau. Later, forced labor included the operation of the camp itself, processing goods from incoming transports, and working on Aussenkommandos (outside word details), which performed tasks related to Nazi goals of

3 "Germanizing" the area, including agricultural and drainage projects.1 Some jobs were preferable to others: they were less strenuous, offered a degree of protection from the arbitrary violence of the guards, or provided opportunities to smuggle food and goods that could be traded for other necessities within the camp. How permanent were work assignments? Did such work differentiation foster animosity among inmates and exacerbate social differentiation? Did it create hierarchies of power, prestige, or attitude that allowed one group of workers to disdain others? What type of relations existed between and among women in the camp? In the women's camp at Birkenau, as in other concentration camps, the level of brutality was increased through distinction of the prisoners. This was achieved partially by exacerbating already existant social divisions through identification symbols (yellow, red, green, and black triangles for example) and by the imposition of a prisoner hierarchy, which privileged and empowered certain prisoners over others.2 This division and hierarchy was evident from the very beginning of the women's camp. German "criminal," "asocial," and "political" prisoners were transported along with SS women guards from Ravensbriick to Birkenau the same day that the first transport of Jewish women from Slovakia arrived in the camp. The German prisoners were sent for two reasons: to relieve overcrowding at Ravensbriick and to fill camp functionary roles at Birkenau.3 Prisoner 1 Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt, Auschwitz 1270 to the Present (New York: WW Norton and Company, 1996, 193-196. " Sofsky, Order of Terror: The Concentration Camp (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 118 and 123. 3 Irena Strzelecka, "Women," in Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, eds. Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1994), 393.

4 functionaries, the subject of Chapter Four, were essentially the camp administrators. They were responsible for the daily operation of the camp. These prisoners had power, but only vis-a-vis the other prisoners and only backed by the SS. It was the functionaries who decided who worked where; who filled the ranks of the infirmary; who disciplined work commandos; who controlled sleeping quarters and food distribution; who counted and recorded the number of dead and living at roll call each day; who filled office positions of all kinds; and who delivered materials from one part of the camp to another. Along with the functionary role came better food rations, sleeping quarters, clothing, and access to the necessities of camp life. These types of privileges aided survival, but women used their privileges to other ends as well. Functionaries used their power to help or harm and sometimes both, but their actions always had to have at least the appearance of furthering the ends of the SS. What these women did and how they did it is an important piece of the history of the camp. It determined, to some degree, individual experiences of the camp. It was at the hands of camp functionaries that many inmates met their deaths, rather than directly through the hands of the SS. All of these women were prisoners and therefore, in some way, viewed as anathema to the German state. What were their motivations for either helping or abusing their fellow prisoners? Did their brutality emerge from the camp environment or did the Nazis channel it to their own ends? How did other prisoners view them and what kind of interactions did prisoners and functionaries have? This set of relationships was particularly complex, and it lies at the center of the operation of the Nazi system within and without the camp.

5 If the issue of women's power and brutality emerges in an analysis of prisoner functionaries, it looms large for women SS guards who, unlike the prisoners, had chosen, in one way or another, to work at Birkenau. And they inflicted mortal harm in the cause of genocidal mass-murder. These women are frequently portrayed as violently inhuman or as victims of the Nazi system. My research showss that they were both. Some women volunteered for camp guard duty, but most were conscripted into service from normal factory work.4 Yet, survivor testimony speaks of them as fiends who far surpassed their male counterparts in brutality and sadism. Chapter Five addresses a range of questions. Is the perception of women guards as more brutal accurate and, if so, why did these women become so enthusiastically violent? If they were not more violent than the male guards, why were they perceived to be so? Was there a greater discrepancy (from the survivors' point of view) between expected and actual behavior than for men? Then too, perhaps already violent women found their way into the system. Had truly sadistic women, women who enjoyed inflicting pain, self-selected in the recruitment process? Were all of these women equally brutal, and at all times? Gender, in short, shaped the experience of victims and perpetrators alike. The loss of femininity may be a shared phenomenon. Could it be indicative of a parallel process of dehumanization (symbolized by, or manifested as, defeminization) of the female perpetrators that is necessary for them to commit atrocity and violence, and to participate in genocide? Is dehumanization necessary for fostering perpetrator behavior? And was this process similar or different for men and women? How did understandings of gender Daniel Patrick Brown, The Camp Women: the Female Auxiliaries Who Assisted the SS in Running the Nazi Concentration Camp System (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military Histroy, 2002), 16.

6 influence those processes? Were new and different constructions of femininity employed to encompass women camp guards and to allow them to remain "feminine" members of German society? Unlike the women SS - who were not "women" - male SS are never characterized in survivor memoir or testimony as emasculated by their roles in the camps or in genocide. Several scholars have attempted to identify homosexuality as underpinning Nazism, but rarely effeminacy.5 The women's camp at Birkenau offers an opportunity to look at constructions of gender in the implementation of violence and genocide and to contrast these to "normal" constructs of gender. The violence of women during the Holocaust has been elided by the sheer magnitude of male violence. Yet the brutality of women shaped the Holocaust too, perhaps especially at Birkenau, and thus it too demands our attention. Most of the women camp guards arrived in the camps in mid-1944. How much did their experiences of war, both directly and indirectly, shape their willingness to participate in mass violence? Were they violent prior to becoming camps guards? Was there camaraderie of violence and perpetration among the women as there was among the male camp personnel?6 How did men in similar positions respond to them as women and/or as "fellow" camp guards? The women's camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau was an almost exclusively female environment, yet a number of women prisoners either worked in close proximity to male prisoners, personnel, or civilians or sporadically came into contact with men in other 5 See for example, Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams, The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party (Keizer, OR: Founders Publishing Corporation, 1995). 6 Sofsky, Order of Terror, 103-105.

7 contexts, usually related to work. These contacts brought different dynamics into play. The dynamics between women prisoners and various men within the camp are the subject of Chapter Six. How did interactions with men change women's experience of the camp? How did these interactions differ from those with female prisoners, personnel, and civilians? Can the "gray zone" apply to these interactions and these populations? Did sex and sexuality enter into these relationships? Women responded in a variety of ways to the Nazi policy and practice of annihilation. When they had the opportunity, some opposed the policy as they could. Can efforts towards personal survival be viewed as resistance? What about helping friends or loved ones? Other women chose or were in a better position to opt to participate in more active resistance. What types of activities did the prisoners consider resistance? What roles did women play in resistance? Did they initiate resistance or respond/cooperate with male initiatives? These questions and others related to collaboration and resistance are examined in Chapter Seven. The final chapter of The Women of Birkenau is an analysis of the three broad categories of women in the women's camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The primary question is how ordinary women, regardless of the position they held in the camp, responded to the conditions in which they operated within the camp. None of the women who arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau was extraordinary. All had normal lives at some time before their arrival, whether they were average prisoners, functionaries, or female personnel. How have historians come to view these women and their culpability and responsibility for the Judeocide? How have they come to view themselves? How did various constraints on them

8 as women of various "races" and religions shape their behaviors and responses in the camp? What can this tell us about dehumanization, mass murder, and genocide, and the participation of all types of people in its perpetration? The history of the women's camp at Birkenau is one that has been relegated to the sidelines. The Women of Birkenau brings into focus daily life and the daily struggle in the women's camp and illuminates the diverging experiences of men and women victims on their converging path towards destruction. But a history of the women's camp also elucidates the actions and behaviors of women perpetrators, which furthered the ends of a regime that considered women's roles in society limited and did much to proscribe their public activities. Their active participation appears a contradiction. The role of the prisoner-functionaries has proven complex and difficult for both historians and survivors. A look at these functionaries in the context of the women's camp helps to unravel some of the complexities and challenge myth and representations in popular culture with history. The twentieth century has come to be viewed, by historians as well as others, as a bloody and most brutal era. Those of us who study the Holocaust and other genocides search for ways to prevent, or at least reduce, the chances that the twenty-first will repeat such violence. The twentieth century was also one in when women in western societies achieved a visible presence in the public realm and opportunities to wield power. Men were largely responsible for the violence of the era, yet the participation of women in supporting roles is undeniable; they have repeatedly aligned themselves with "their" men against the "other." In more recent genocides, women have taken an even more active role in violence, most notoriously in Rwanda. This speaks to societal assumptions about

9 "essential" characteristics of women as more peaceful and cooperative, and less nationalistic and combative. Feminist scholars have examined closely these assumptions over the past twenty years and have posited that these characteristics, while possibly widespread, are not essential, but learned. This has an impact on attempts to prevent a wide array of inter-group violence. A closer look at women's active role in genocidal violence and their motivations, as well as an examination of the motives of women who chose different paths, including resistance, may lead to a better understanding of the processes necessary to produce mass murderers or socially responsible citizens. Both appear to be learned responses, not innate qualities, which is an essentially hopeful prospect. Camp Administration Administratively, Auschwitz was organized in the same manner as other concentration camps: it had five administrative sections that resembled other Nazi hierarchies in that they were "a combination of a multilinear hierarchical system with a functional division of labor."7 In other words, there were overlapping circles of power and responsibility that fostered conflict and prevented the concentration of too much authority in the hands of one person. Department I, the commandant's office, held overall responsibility for the camp. Department II, known as the Politische Abteilung (Political Department), was the camp Gestapo. It kept files on prisoners and camp personnel. The Protective Custody Camp, Department III, took charge of prisoner labor and the internal operation of the camp. The two functions had different SS-leaders. Camp administration fell to Department IV, which 7 Sofsky, Order of Terror, 106.

10 oversaw maintenance and repair, and supply and distribution of goods and materials that came to and left the camp. Finally, Department V provided medical services and included doctors, nurses, orderlies who worked in both the SS and prisoner infirmaries.8 Auschwitz was established in 1940. Rudolf Hoss was the commandant of the entire Auschwitz complex as it grew and expanded until November 1943. H6ss left Auschwitz at that point, but returned in spring 1944 to coordinate the Hungarian Action. His long experience in Auschwitz had qualified him as one of the few with the expertise to carry out such a large genocidal operation.9 In November 1943, the Auschwitz complex was split into three administrative entities in, each with its own Kommandant. Auschwitz I included the main camp, its expansion (in 1944), and the gas chambers and crematoria (although situated in Birkenau). SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer (lieutenant colonel) Liebehenschel took over as Commandant. Auschwitz II-Birkenau encompassed the men's and women's camps at Birkenau and the agricultural estates and experimentation stations within the camp's zone of interest. SS- Sturmbannfuhrer (major) Friedrich Hartjenstein became commandant of this section. SS- Untersturmfuhrers (second lieutenant) Johann Schwarzhuber and Franz HoBler took charge of the men's and women's camps respectively, while Oberaufseherin (Head Overseer) Maria Mandel remained responsible for deployment of women's labor. Later Josef Kramer moved into HoBler's position at the head of the women's camp. SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer 8 For more on the administration of Auschwitz, see Aleksander Lasik, "Organizational Structure of Auschwitz Concentration Camp," in The Establishment and Organization of the Camp, vol. 1 of Auschwitz 1940-1945: Central Issues in the History of the Camp, ed. Aleksander Lasik, et al. (Oswiecim, Poland: Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 2000), 145-280. 9 See Dwork and van Pelt, "Ambition and Perdition," part 2 of Auschwitz, 163-353, for a discussion of the growth and expansion of Auschwitz and its evolving role in the Holocaust.

11 (lieutenant colonel) Dr. Joachim Caesar continued as head of the agricultural section and oversaw the sub-camps that fell under the auspices of Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Auschwitz III-Monowitz, under the leadership of SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer (captain) Heinrich Schwarz, included the Buna factory and other industrial sub-camps throughout Upper Silesia. SS- Unterscharfuhrer (sargeant) Zappe coordinated security for all three camps however, he relegated discipline and other personnel related issues to the Commandant of the camp to which a particular unit was assigned.10 In this study, we shall focus on the women's camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the local sub-camps, primarily agricultural estates that fell under the administration of Auschwitz II-Birkenau. A significant number of women inmates were forced to labor at these camps; their story is part of the history of the women's camp. Locations of the Women's Camp The Main Camp and Birkenau The main camp at Auschwitz was never intended as the location for the women's camp; yet, there was never a time after March 1942 when the main camp did not house at least some women. For the majority of its duration, the women's camp was located in Birkenau, which belonged administratively to the Auschwitz complex, and most women were housed in Birkenau. Construction of this largest sub-camp of Auschwitz always ran behind 10 Danuta Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1989), 22 and 24 November 1943, notes for Czech refer to dates rather than page number, except for text or footnotes as noted; Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Archives, D-AuI-1, Camp Chancellery Records, Records Generated by Department 1 (Office of the Camp Commandant), Kommandantur Befehlen (Camp Commandant's Orders), 1/56, 4681.

12 schedule, however, with the first transport of women prisoners due to arrive on 26 March 1942 and no place to put them in Birkenau, male prisoners were detailed to wall off an area of the Stammlager (main camp, Auschwitz I) around barracks 1-10 to quarter them." That transport consisted of one thousand German and Polish (mostly gentile) women prisoners from Ravensbruck concentration camp, the central women's camp in Germany, which initially held responsibility for the operation of a women's camp. Several transports of Jewish women from Slovakia soon followed. That first summer, the camp quickly became overcrowded with transports (mostly Jewish women) arriving from Slovakia, Poland, and western Europe (primarily France, the Netherlands, and Belgium).12 The camp population strained the capacity often barracks. The camp administration placed temporary wooden structures between the stone buildings and set up an infirmary and quarantine area in barrack 3.'3 11 Irena Strzelecka, "Die Frauenabteilung im Stammlager," Hefte von Auschwitz 20 (1997), 9. 12 Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle, see numerous entries for summer 1942. 13 Strezlecka, "Stammlager," Hefte von Auschwitz 20 (1997), 33-34.

13 Map 1. Auschwitz Main Camp. Initially, the women's camp resided in ten barracks along the bottom of the illustration from the first barrack left of the number 3 through the number 14. When the women's camp moved to Birkenau, some women prisoners were housed in a building just northwest of the main camp proper. US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Birkenau stood as the largest Auschwitz sub-camp. Shifting functions called for several plans to expand Birkenau, and the camp remained under continuous construction. Architects planned for Birkenau to encompass several segments, each of which combined several smaller units. The first part, Building Section I (BI), contained two subdivisions. The buildings of each mirrored one another across the main Lagerstrasse, which ran the length of the camp from north to south. Soviet POWs simultaneously lived in and built the first section, Bla. They continued to reside there while they built section Bib. Most of the Soviet POWs died during construction. Other male prisoners replaced them and continued to build. These men moved into section Bib when it was completed. The entire women's

14 camp transferred from the main camp into Section Bla immediately thereafter (August 1942), and that section remained the hub of the women's camp until mid-1943. Immediately after the women's camp transferred to Birkenau, the camp administration moved some women prisoners back to the vicinity of the main camp. These women worked in offices near or with camp personnel. Fearing the spread of disease, camp authorities provided these women with a clean living space. In fact, they resided in the basement of the Stabsgebaude (staff building) where women camp guards resided. Plans to expand the Stammlager began in 1943 and construction of 30 new barracks on the north side was completed in 1944. All of the women who had been housed within the Stammlager relocated into blocks 6 and 9 of the camp extension and eventually into all of blocks 1-7. There they remained until the evacuation of Auschwitz in mid-January 1945. When the women's camp expanded to encompass all of BI, men quartered in Birkenau Section BII, which they had built. BII contained several divisions, which quartered various populations of men differentiated by their health status and duration of incarceration in the camp. Blla became the quarantine camp for new arrivals; Blld turned into the regular men's camp; and Bllf came to be the infirmary camp. With the move of the men to BII, the women's camp expanded into Bib. Women who worked in Aussenkommandos (outside work details) remained in section Bla. Women who worked inside the camp (as prisoner functionaries or with jobs related to camp upkeep) relocated to Bib, which ultimately bordered on both the arrival ramp crematorium II.

15 Camp Perimeter: Enclosed by slectrifisd barbed T© Qswiacim Station | t\awl OswiBcim Town 1 SS Barracks Camp Administration AUSCHWITZ, 11 ^BlllkEXAU} CAMP SUMlvliil

16 habitable buildings to house women from Hungary. The overflow of women prisoners during the summer of 1944 was so great that women filled the barracks of camp section BIIc. Women also resided in two so-called "family camps" established in Birkenau in 1943, the "Gypsy Camp" in February in Section Bile and the "Family Camp" in Bllb in September. The Nazis viewed "Gypsies" as "sub-human" and culturally "anti-social," and had subjected them to imprisonment in concentration camps in German territory. A number, however, particularly those of the Sinti and Roma clans, were deemed "racially pure," and therefore of scientific interest. Scientific interest conflicted with desire to eliminate "sub-humans" among the Nazi elite, and their decision to deport "Gypsies" to Birkenau did not immediately result in murder.14 Initially, the SS used Auschwitz as a type of holding pen for "Gypsies." To this end, they housed "Gypsies" in family groups and worked and abused them to a lesser degree than most other prisoners. Conditions in the "Gypsy Camp," however, were not substantially better than in the rest of the camp; many people died from starvation and rampant epidemics.15 The second family camp, the "Theresienstadt Family Camp," was composed of Jews deported from Theresienstadt near Prague. The Nazis used Theresienstadt, the so- 14 For more information on Nazi policy toward "Gypsies," see Sybil Milton, "Gypsies and the Holocaust," The Histoiy Teacher 24, no. 4 (Aug, 1991): 375-387; Milton, '"Gypsies' as Social Outsiders in Nazi Germany," in Social Outsiders in Nazi Germany, edited by Gellately and Stoltzfus (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001); Michael Zimmerman, Rassenutopie und Genozid. Die nationalsozialistische 'Losung der Ziguenerfrage' (Hamburg: Christians Verlag, 1996); Guenter Lewy, The Nazi Persecution of Gypsies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). The latter offers the problematic conclusion that Roma and Sinti were not victims of genocide. l5Rudolf Hoss, "Autobiography of Rudolf H6ss," 49-52; Pery Broad, "The Reminiscences of Pery Broad," 139-141, both in KL Auschwitz Seen by the SS, edited by Kazimierz Smolen et al., translated by Constantine Fitzgibbon and Krystyna Michalik (Warsaw: Interpress Publishers, 1991).

17 called model camp, as propaganda against rumors of ill treatment and the mass murder of Jews. The SS continued that ruse in Auschwitz. They isolated the Theresienstadt Jews from other prisoners. Permitted to keep their belongings, their hair, and their clothes, they lived in family groups. Unlike other Jews in Auschwitz, they could write postcards to and receive packages from the outside world. In addition to indicating to the outside world that rumors of mass murder were false, these privileges assuaged the fears of the Jews still in Theresienstadt, but scheduled for deportation to Auschwitz.16 The Germans liquidated the family camps in the summer of 1944, in conjunction with the Hungarian Action. They cleared out the Theresienstadt family camp in a series of operations. The first took place just before the start of the Hungarian Action to make room in Section BUb for prisoners in the transports to come. The SS again employed a ruse to secure cooperation and prevent resistance from this group of Jews whose families had remained somewhat intact until this moment, telling them that they would be transferred to German labor camps. The SS sent families into the quarantine section of the camp (Blla). Here they subjected them to debusing and disinfection, routine to a transfer out of Auschwitz. Then, the SS carried out a selection, tearing families asunder. Most people were loaded into trucks and transported the short distance to the gas chambers and crematoria. A minority was admitted to the general camp population.17 The second and final liquidation of the Theresienstadt family camp occurred on 11 and 12 July 1944. The site did not remain empty for long. Polish women and children arrested after the Warsaw 16 Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle, 485f. 17 Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle, 8 March 1944.

Full document contains 390 pages
Abstract: The Women of Birkenau is a social history of the women's camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Several groups of women existed: SS employees (guards--Aufseherinnen , telecommunications specialists-- Helferinnen , and nurses--Schwestern ); prisoner functionaries who ran the camp in exchange for privilege; and average prisoners, mostly Jews, who struggled to survive. Grounded in archival work in Germany, the United States and Poland (inter alia: the Bundesarchiv in Berlin and a private collection in Hamburg; the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington; and the archives of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum), this dissertation analyzes these groups discretely, in comparison to men, and in interactions with each other. The small percentage of women admitted to the camp responded variously to German annihilation plans. Conditions erased social distinctions and forced transgression of convention. The moral and psychological impact of limited personal space and sleep deprivation have gone unexamined. Integrity and honor became visible and measured by action and behavior; one's moral stance existed only in its physical manifestation. Lack of sleep decreased the ability to respond. Prisoner functionaries supervised, interacted more frequently than camp personnel with, and often were violent to common prisoners. Perceived as camp employees, their position exacerbated the fracture of prisoner society and masked the violence of the SS. Yet, functionaries had goals like those of other prisoners. While their behavior seemed erratic and inexplicable, it reflects efforts of women to survive and to help family and friends. Women camp guards (Aufseherinnen) were murderous genocidal accomplices. Their actions were shaped by context: where, when, and with whom they interacted. Aufseherinnen related more coherently and less violently with prisoners who worked inside than with those outside, whose lives were obviously expendable. Aufseherinnen found opportunity and constraint. High levels of pay and power, and opportunity to meet men attracted women, but comforts were few; corruption flourished. Witnesses viewed women functionaries and guards as more violent than their male counterparts. Two factors influenced this distorted perception: expectations that women are not brutal resulting in elevated perceptions of violence, and taboos against male mistreatment of women. Helferinnen were not violent, but they facilitated genocide. Voluntary and committed participants, they held higher positions in camp and racial hierarchies than women guard. There is virtually no scholarly analysis of these women before now. Sexual violence toward women, including medical experiments and sexual slavery, was one of many means of dehumanization. Some prisoners, however, sought comfort through sexual relations. Women prisoners resisted and attempted escape. They focused on mutual aid. Women's escapes were numerically insignificant, but relatively successful. The society that grew up in Auschwitz was a stripped down version of that which existed outside the barbed wire confines of the camp. Women's experiences as guards, functionaries and prisoners add nuance to our understanding of the way genocide is carried out and how people respond to it.