One year ago today I was in the middle of my week spent researching at Ravensbrück concentration camp for women.
I think a part of me is still there.
I’m standing on the edge of the camp, with the crematorium just behind me; it is so close I feel it’s phantom fires hissing on my neck.
In the distance you can see the steeple of the church in the neighboring village.
From the church you can see the chimney of Ravensbrück’s crematorium.
Below is an excerpt from my book about the camp, and the lake on it’s shore:
We drive north from Sachsenhausen, through the pleasant little town of Fürstenberg and along the road that winds beside the Schwedtsee, the lake Fürstenberg shares with Ravensbrück. We turn right at the KZ Ravensbrück sign and go up the road until a fork splits off; we take another right. There the road turns to cobbles that bump and jiggle your body as you drive over them.
The bump and jiggle are dark souvenirs of a road laid in winter by bare-fingered women. They were among the first prisoners who arrived at Ravensbrück in 1939, months before Germany began its invasions of other countries. Thick walls of trees rise as we pass the Soviet tank on the left, positioned as a memorial for the liberators of the camp and a stoic reminder of the scope of world war. Fragile remains of pitch-roofed SS barracks are nearly swallowed by overgrowth. And still, the bump and jiggle.
Some survivors have said the Schwedtsee was used as a dumping ground for the ashes from the crematorium. There are historians who dispute that claim, saying that couldn’t have been a regular occurrence because the wind constantly blows everything back to the western edge, where Ravensbrück sprawls, and the ashes would have blown right back onto the thrower and returned to the shore. It has also been said the Germans would not have contaminated their own water in such a way.
Either way, an estimated fifty thousand women died at Ravensbrück, often at the hands of the female guards, and many of their bodies were burned in the crematorium. After the war, a pit of ash was discovered just a short walk from the shore of the Schwedtsee, in front of the camp wall. It has been turned into a bed of roses in memoriam.
You can read more about my book HERE.
You can see the visual journal I created at and after Ravensbruck HERE.