College of Arts and Sciences


Master of Arts in History - Thesis (MA)


David Snead


Ravensbrück, concentration camp, sexual violence, Weimar Republic, women, Holocaust




The Ravensbrück concentration camp located in northern Germany acted as the only Nazi concentration camp designated exclusively for women following the closure of the Lichtenburg camp. Beginning in 1939, women held in other camps, ghettos, prisons, and sanatoriums across the Reich were transported to Ravensbrück, “the women’s hell”. Until recently, Holocaust scholarship has largely overlooked the history of Ravensbrück as well as the complicated demographics of prisoners in the camp. A majority of the female prisoners at Ravensbrück were asocials or political and religious dissidents. The distinction of asocials as a separate prisoner categorization was not invented by the Nazi Party. Rather, scientific thought related to eugenics was popularized during the Weimar Republic. Asocials, such as prostitutes and lesbians, were also subject to indefinite imprisonment for their criminal activity. The Weimar Republic had created a more liberal Germany with the end of state-regulated prostitution and increased leniency regarding homosexuality. Nazi policy regarding sexuality largely functioned as a conservative reaction to the liberalizing laws of the Weimar era. The conservative backlash against the liberal Weimar era resulted in the persecution of many different groups of women. Nazi perceptions of race, criminality, and female sexuality not only allowed for incarceration, but also the perpetration of sexually violent acts against women. This violence, historically both underrepresented and misrepresented, is integral to an accurate account of the Holocaust. Grounded in primary source memoirs and interviews, the seven categorizations proposed in this thesis provide a more accurate examination of the crimes perpetrated against women during the Holocaust. Constructing categorizations such as sexual humiliation, molestation, bartering and sexual extortion, forced prostitution, medical experimentation and reproductive mutilation, abortion and infanticide, and rape, allows for a more thorough acknowledgement of individual suffering. Specific categories of sexual violence prevent both a value comparison between different forms of violence, as well as ahistorical projections of morality on actions taken by victims. Due to criminal histories, leftist political affiliations, and outsider social status, the women imprisoned at Ravensbrück have been especially vulnerable to scholarly dismissal. Ravensbrück concentration camp demonstrates the impact of government perception of sexuality as well as the severity of sexual violence against women.

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