In the beginning, SS commander Heinrich Himmler used Ravensbrück, the largest women’s-only concentration camp in the Third Reich, as a show camp. There were flowers in the window boxes, birdcages and a beautiful road lined with trees. Himmler would show it to the international Red Cross to prove he was treating the prisoners well.
Then came 1945… In Ravensbrück, the inmates – largely Catholic but also Protestant and Jewish – were now starving, sick, and struggling to survive day-to-day in the camp known as “Hitler’s Hell for Women.” Many had lost husbands, children, and other beloved family and friends; all had lost their countries. In this hell, prisoners created Christmas parties for the children, organized education classes, wrote plays, shared food and clothing and protected the sick. And these women, from over 20 different nations, found a way to come together and risk their lives to save 63 young Catholic Polish inmates, many of whom were high school and college students, who had been horribly maimed by Nazi experimental surgeries on their legs and slated for execution.
Not only did this international group of women pull off one of the most amazing large-scale concentration camp rescues of the war, but they ensured that the young Polish students, known as the “Rabbits” because of the way they developed a distinctive habit of limping—“hopping”—around camp on their wounded legs, survived to testify at the Nuremberg Trials against their Nazi doctors. It took the courage and cooperation of thousands of women of varying countries, religions, and political beliefs, but in the end - and against all odds - they saved the Rabbits of Ravensbrück.
Ravensbrück is a camp relatively unknown because it doesn’t fit the typical Holocaust narrative. Every single Rabbit was Catholic. The hundreds of survivors’ stories in this account bear witness to the terrifying heterogeneity of Nazi crimes. (more...)