Soviet soldiers as prisoners of war at Ravensbrück

“During the night of February 26, 1943, many of the imprisoned women of Ravensbrück suddenly awake. It is bitterly cold and a severe northeastern wind sweeps across the roofs. Heavy snowfall, icy roads and tracks, empty squares swept clean by the wind… They are coming! – We don’t see them yet, hear only their steps, rhythmic, even – left, left, left, and left. Steady, calm, self-confident they are marching on the muster ground. No, they don’t march, they protest. They ignore the SS’s orders and react only to their sergeant‘s brief and barely audible commands. As calm as they arrived from the camp´s main road – in lockstep – just as calm and pointedly disciplined they left the square in small groups towards the registration office. They were wrapped only in blankets after they had to take off their uniforms beneath the open sky.”
Haftwinkel der Rotarmistinnen, hier von J. Klemm
Haftwinkel der Rotarmistinnen, hier von J. Klemm

This historical narrative tells of an event that many former prisoners of Ravensbrück remember particularly well. The majority of the about 500 women soldiers who arrived at the camp in February 1943 were part of the medical service of the Black Sea Fleet and the Coastal Army whose members were captured after Sevastopol had fallen to German and Romanian troops in early July 1942. After passing through the prisoner hospital camp of Slavuta in Western Ucraine they arrived at the transit camp in Rowno. From there the Wehrmacht transferred them in a closed transport to the regional labor office in Westphalia. But a group of 500 women represented by Evgenia Lasarevna Klemm refused to work in the German arms industry. As a result, the SS put these women in the concentration camp in Ravensbrück on February 27, 1943. Many former prisoners of Ravensbrück remember the arrival of these Soviet women. Survivors of different nationalities and political beliefs often described the Red Soldiers who distinguished themselves through strong cohesion and discipline as heroes. About one million women served in the Red Army since the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Some 60% of them were part of the medical service. According to the USSR’s Law of Defence women with a medical, veterinary or specific technical education were eligible for military service. Many volunteered. The Wehrmacht denied the Soviet prisoners of war their right to live; 60% of them did not survive imprisonment. Under the International Law of War the Soviet soldiers were combatants and deserved the protection of their lives. But in violation of such law their status of combatants was denied. Captured Soviet soldiers who refused to enter forced labor as so-called Eastern workers were put into concentration camps. The first of nearly 800 Soviet prisoners of war arrived in Ravensbrück already at the end of summer 1942. Antonina Aleksandrovna Nikiforova, a doctor, and Nina Pavlovna Baranova, a nurse, who both later became members of the International Ravensbrück Committee (IRK) arrived in the camp at the end of April 1944. They had been captured in different locations. They too refused forced labor in Germany and were brought to the concentration camp at Majdanek. During the course of the evacuation of that camp they were transferred to the one in Ravensbrück. The total number of female Soviet soldiers who were imprisoned in German concentration camps is unknown. At Mauthausen alone 621 of them were registered in 1944. 53 women were brought to Ravensbrück during the evacuation of Majdanek to escape the approaching Soviet Army. After the liberation there were many famished, sick and dying people in the camp. Soviet military doctors provided for their supply and care; the same in Ravensbrück where a military hospital was established in May of 1945.²

Christa Wagner, „Geboren am See der Tränen“, Berlin, 1987, S. 2009/2010 „Kriegsgefangene Rotarmistinnen im KZ. Sowjetische Militärmedizinerinnen in Ravensbrück“; Hrsg.: Deutsch-Russisches Museum Berlin-Karlshorst, 2016)