Women in the Camp SS

The Camp SS celebrated what SS leaders regarded as real masculine traits: toughness, ruthlessness, aggression. However, although women were denied full SS membership, the Camp SS recruited thousands during the war, to keep step with all the female prisoners: by early 1945, there were almost 3,500 female guards. Initially, many women had volunteered. But from 1943, the authorities also drafted many women as guards. Female guards were generally less violent than male ones. They often slapped and kicked prisoners, but committed fewer murders. Still, they went through the same process of hardening as men. As the political prisoner Margarete Buber-Neumann later recalled, even women who had initially abhorred the camps soon got used to them.

025 – Margarete Buber-Neumann on female guards in Ravensbrück

Ravensbrück now held many thousands of women prisoners and more and more wardresses were necessary to control them. Ordinary recruitment was not sufficient to supply the demand, and so Camp Leader Bräuning used to go out on recruiting drives to factories and other places where there were many women. He would have the women workers called together and then address them in glowing terms on the wonderful career that awaited them in the rehabilitation centres – he never mentioned the words “concentration camp”. As the pay was good and the food ample, recruits soon began to come in, for the work in war factories was hard and conditions difficult. After every such campaign Ravensbrück would receive a score or so of young working women as wardresses. […]

many of them changed out of all recognition

[D]uring the first week almost half of them would come weeping to Frau Langefeld [the senior camp supervisor] and ask to be allowed to go home. She would explain to them that only the Camp Commandant could release them once they were enrolled, and that they must therefore go to him. Very few of them had sufficient courage to do so. They were afraid of being dressed down by an SS officer, and so the great majority of them stayed on and got used to the new profession. After all, it was, as they had been promised, light work, and well paid, and their food and quarters were good. And many of them changed out of all recognition once they got into uniform. Top boots and a forage cap stuck at an angle on their heads gave them a feeling of confidence and superiority.

The Commandant and the SS Camp Leader instructed them in the practical side of their work. From the beginning they were taught to stifle any sympathy with the prisoners, who were always presented as morally degenerate and worthless, and in addition they were threatened with dire punishments if they violated the service regulations […]. Day after day these new recruits had strictness and severity drilled into them, and they were always accompanied by the worst of the old wardresses, all brutal, bullying, reporting, ear-boxing types. And during their free hours to only male companions were SS men. Again and again one could observe the same transformation: these young working women were soon every bit as bad as the old hands, ordering the prisoners around, bullying them and shouting as though they had been born in a barracks. There were, of course, exceptions, but not many.

Source: M. Buber-Neumann, Under Two Dictators (London, 2008), pp. 232–3