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Simons says: “There was one woman who was French who had the surname Churchill."The Germans thought she might be related to Winston Churchill although in fact she wasn’t."They gave her a terrible time, including taking her to the gas chamber and pretending to execute her.“There was another German, I think she was the cook, who used to spend her days off going to look at all these women who were suffering and laughing at them."It gave her pleasure.“Many of the women were forced to be sterilised – those who were mothers had their babies taken away – they weren’t even allowed to breastfeed them.”There were seven separate war crimes trials connected to the six years of savagery at Ravensbruck camp.Many were doctors and nurses who participated in the medical experiments and oversaw the systematic murder of thousands of prisoners.When the few survivors who had not died gave evidence at the war trials, the disability and deformities were apparent.Simons recalls some of the evidence.“I remember one doctor who was involved in the killing of prisoners,” she says.“He explained why he did it, saying that otherwise he would have been sent to the front."He was saying he would rather kill other people in the camps than go to the war.“This was a doctor who was meant to be helping humanity and here he was killing people.”Armed resistance was impossible at Ravensbruck but the women did find ways to fight back.Others were the cruellest overseers and guards or SS staff who had been trained at Ravensbruck before “graduating” and moving to other camps.
Now a German researcher has probed the dark subject -- and has revealed the meticulous cruelty of the so-called "special buildings." Kicking them with his boots, the SS soldier drove Margarete W. Through the plastic window in the truck's canvas side, she watched as they drove into a men's camp and stopped in front of a barracks with a wooden fence. The barracks were different from the ones Margarete W., then 25, knew from her time at the Ravensbrück women's concentration camp. It was the fourth of a total of 10 so-called "special buildings" erected in concentration camps between 19, according to the instructions of Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS.
For Daily Express reporter Judith Simons, the incident was one of the horrors that remains in her mind, especially on Holocaust Memorialy Day today, 70 years after she covered the trials of the guards and doctors who ruled the camp.“This woman had told the prisoner she was doing well and had been so well-behaved,” she says.“She promised her dinner and then poisoned her at the table."How could she do that?
” Simons, now 89, was in her early 20s when she was drafted on to Die Welt, a new national paper for Germany set up by the British occupying forces in 1946 with the aim of providing a quality newspaper.“I had learnt German at school and I got the job through the Foreign Office."They said they had a nice job working in the agriculture section."I said ‘I don’t want that, I want to do news’.“The Ravensbruck trials were in Hamburg where we were based."It was exciting and interesting and we were doing a job but I thought they were truly terrible people.”The barbarity of the Nazis at concentration camps such as Belsen and Auschwitz has been well documented, but the degradation that more than 130,000 women suffered at Ravensbruck, just 50 miles north of Berlin on the picturesque banks of Lake Schwedt, has remained largely untold.
Prisoners were forced to work 12 hours per day, often making weapons, munitions and explosives for the war effort, including working on German V-1 and V-2 rockets.
As the war went on and more women arrived, conditions became desperate, the women starving, sleeping three or four-to-a-bed or rough on the floor in disease-ridden huts, barely one toilet to 200 prisoners.