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Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
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  • Spiritual Resistance

    Spiritual Resistance

    Resistance at Ravensbrück often took the form of diminishing the suffering of friends and buoying the spirit of oneself and others by creating and offering small gifts, writing poetry and recipe books, making secret drawings, and sharing information.

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    doll made by inmateDoll made by Ravensbrück prisoner. Courtesy of MGR/SBG

    Despite their own suffering and the near impossibility of finding raw materials, the women in Ravensbrück made each other small gifts, wrote poems and even plays, and made drawings. They often presented tokens of affection to each other for such occasions as birthdays and holidays - a phenomenon that seems to have been much more common among women than men.

    Other forms of spiritual resistance at the camp included language, history, and geography classes; improvised theater and music; drawing the reality of camp life; and sharing recipes and preparing imaginary meals, Through such activities, the women helped each other survive. While there could not have been armed resistance under the circumstances of Ravensbrück, there was sabotage during production of rocket components at the Siemens factory, There were also efforts by prisoners who worked in the offices to keep secret records of arrivals, punishments, and deaths, During the early years of the camp, there was even a secret newspaper.

    Active resistance also took place by women inmates. Sabotage occurred in the Siemans factory, but also in any kind of work. Political prisoners, who had some experience in organization before they were arrested and brought to Ravensbreuck, made contacts working outside the concentration camp, in factories and on farms. This type of collaboration was possible because many of the inmates were not Jews. Through this process, the sent illegal correspondence, made secret lists of arriving prisoners, lists of victims of executions and operations, memorized names of Nazi doctors and guards. Thanks to cooperation with male prisoners from a Stalag in  Neubrandenburg, the world knew about crimes committed in Ravensbreuck long beofre the end of the war. The BBC from London read the list of the victims of medical experimentation by the nazi doctors, and the Red Cross send packages addresses to the "rabbits," according to author Wanda Kiedrzynska. The "rabbits" would not have survived had it not been for the help of the international community which helped them get extra food, while fellow inmates helped them change their appearance to avoid execution  Women of different nationalities would sometimes live in the same barrack and this had a chance to celebrate holidays together, read poetry, sing, perform, exchange political views, and give foreign language lessons. This was done, of course, in secret and in small groups.

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    artifactsArtifacts were given to Julia Terwilliger by Anna Marie Berentsen-Droog. Gift of Bert Alan Terwilliger to Florida Holocaust Museum.

    Anna Maria Berentsen-Droog, a survivor who is a member of the Dutch Committee of Women's Concentration Camp Ravensbrück gave Julia Terwilliger four artifacts made by Dutch prisoners in the camp. They are now a notable addition to the collection of the Florida Holocaust Museum.

    Recipe book: "If and when you are hungry you must all the time think of food;" Dutch survivor Anna Maria Berentsen-Droog said with regard to this recipe book that she wrote at Ravensbrück. She arrived at the camp on September 9, 1944 and was liberated by the Swedish Red Cross on April 24, 1945.

    Card: The small card with the drawing of an Easter bunny was made by Dutch prisoner Clarin Smeenk. She arrived in the camp on September 9,1944 and was liberated by the Swedish Red Cross on April 24, 1945. The card was on Anna Maria Berentsen-Droog's slice of bread on Easter, April 1, 1945. The card says; "Live to Learn, Learn to Live. Ravensbrück, April 1, 1945."

    Book cover: The black cloth book cover is embroidered with "JA" and "in stile uren." This literally means "in silent hours;" and implies, "when you have time on your hands." It was made by Brigitte Albrecht, a Dutch prisoner who arrived in the camp on September 20, 1941, and was liberated by the Swedish Red Cross on April 13,1945.

    Purse: The small purse was made as a gift from Dutch prisoner Brigitte Albrecht to a friend.

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    new year card

    "New Year Card." Drawing by Aat Breur. Courtesy of Dunya Breuer. (Original in Archive of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.)

    spiritual resistance

    Spiritual Resistance objects made in camp.

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