About the Founding and the Activities of the International Ravensbrück Committee (IRC)
Cooperation among Ravensbrück women from many countries began in the immediate post-war period when they became witnesses at trials of Ravensbrück camp personnel. In 1948 former political prisoners from different countries met to make preparations for a museum and a memorial.
In November 1956, at a conference with participants from 13 countries, ideas for a museum and the first designs by artists were discussed. A call was made for international preparations for a Ravensbrück museum. The work was coordinated by a Provisional International Committee (1954 – 1959) leaded by Renèe Mirande-Laval, France. After the Memorial and the first museum were opened and the statue unveiled at Ravensbrück in 1959 this committee was no longer convened.
But activities began again after international camp committees were set up at other major Nazi concentration camps. On February 3 1965, at an organizational meeting of the IRC in Brussels, Belgium, it was decided to begin again with the work of the International Ravensbrück Committee (IRC). At a meeting commemorating the 20th anniversary of liberation, elections were held, a Basic Declaration was adopted and Renée Mirande-Laval (France) was chosen as president. National Ravensbrück committees in 17 European countries declared their willingness to participate in the IRC. Paris was designated as headquarters of the IRC and the town of Ravensbrück was chosen as symbolic center. The meetings of the IRC were to be held annually in all the member countries.
Plans for the first Ravensbrück Museum were discussed repeatedly in the International Ravensbrück Collective and cooperatively implemented. The basic idea, originating in the 1950s, was to install the museum in the former Cell Building (Bunker) and provide one room each for every national group. In the course of the years these rooms have twice been newly designed and may still be visited today. They include the following national memorial rooms: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Rumania, the Soviet Union, Spain, Yugoslavia and one international memorial room.
The meetings of the International Ravensbrück Committee have been held every year since 1965 in different member countries. Decisions were made on all questions raised, resolutions were passed, declarations publicized and letters sent to international organizations.
In addition to the joint conferences of the International Ravensbrück Committee with representatives from the national committees, there were a number of special meetings. At the initiative of the IRC there was a gathering for the children of Ravensbrück in July 1967, attended by 350 people from eleven countries. Another special occasion was the meeting of 178 former women prisoners in Steinhaus/Semmering, Austria, in November 1974.
In 1979, in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, Rose Guerin of France was elected president. Annette Chalut, also from France, was elected to this position in Mantua, Italy, in 1999.
In many countries former Ravensbrück prisoners founded national groups or joined organizations for all former concentration camp prisoners. They held meetings, organized exhibitions and their own monuments in Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Warsaw and other places. They publish newspapers and often participate in Internet.
At IRC meeting in Warsaw / Krakow, Poland, in 1971 the question of a written history of Ravensbrück was first raised. By now the number of such books in the world is in the hundreds, but it was the survivors themselves who first promoted this research. Among the most active in this field were Erika Buchmann, Wanda Kiedrzynska, Dagmar Hajková and Germaine Tillion.
At the IRC meeting in Hamburg in 1988 Rose Guerin announced that the International Ravensbrück Committee had been awarded the title "Ambassadors of Peace" by the UN. The document confirming this award was given to Cécile Lesieur of France in New York on September 15th 1987 in the name of the UN Secretary General.
In July 1991 it was learned that the Tengelmann chain planned a supermarket on the "Street of the Nations" in Ravensbrück. This street, a part of the camp territory, had been built by women prisoners. A widespread national and international protest movement developed to prevent this plan. A group of former prisoners from different countries arrived in order to speak with those responsible people. At the same time the ICR met in Ravensbrück in September 1991 to inspect the section of the camp occupied by the Soviet Army and made proposals for designing the original camp territory after the troops had left.
In this discussion the future of the Memorial, thus far uncertain, was newly determined. The Foundation of Brandenburg Memorial Sites was formed on January 1st 1993. The International Committee is on its International Advisory Council. Current members are: Ambra Laurenzi (Italy), Hanna Nowakowska (Poland) and Jeanine Bochat (Germany).
At IRC meetings the various activities are debated and the living conditions of Ravensbrück survivors discussed. There are reports from the different countries on such questions, on work with young people and on other topics.
In recent years members of the International Ravensbrück Committee often played a highly respected role in the democratic development of their countries and were honored with high awards and decorations. Their being "Women of Ravensbrück" always played a special role.
Dr. Bärbel Schindler-Saefkow secretary general of the IRC 2002-2019