Empty Houses – Alma Franzén

We meet outside. Our teacher counts us, checks so that everyone is there before we go in. At Kulturen Museum, memories from women who were imprisoned at Ravensbrück are shown for the public to see. Their belongings are kept there and small parts of stories can be read…

Empty houses - only a few faces can be seen. We march through town, people wonder who we are with crosses on the back of our coats and our striped dresses. 

We are women prisoners from Ravensbrück who Gestapo took for no reason at all! 

We are Poles!

     We were transported to Ravensbrück. They took all of our belongings and stole the beautiful hair from our heads. It was the first transport of Polish women, 130 of us. They had put us in block 16 with no windows and no contact with the outer world. My hair turned white. We wore thin summer dresses and, even though the block was small and we were stuffed together, it was still cold. The security guards would always scream and bully us. 

     After a little more than two months we were transferred to block 15. Our order was to clean the entire block. Now we were not 130 anymore, now there were 270 of us. When July began we started to work. The Polish teachers were picked out for kitchen duty which included vegetable peeling in the cellar. We worked from 4 am to 8 or 9 pm in a room where there was not enough light so that our eyes were hurting, our throats burning with every breath.  We were not allowed to eat the vegetables. If you did you would be punished. We were so hungry that everything went black before our eyes.

     They made us give blood to the German soldiers and all you got in return was another half-litre of skimmed milk, a small piece of bread and some butter.  I never gave blood. I hid myself in the toilets until everything was over. We wore those summer dresses all year around and went barefoot until October, not even allowed to wear a piece of paper under our feet. When someone tried to escape the whole block was punished. We were forced to stand outside without any food until the escapee was caught - we could stand outside whole nights. When the guards would catch the person who had run away, they would punish her. Once a woman was beaten with kettle covers. Her bones were broken and then they pulled her to a bunker where she died the day after. 

     A two-shift labour routine was introduced. Because of the lack of space half of us would work when the other half slept, one shift being 12 hours long. We would sleep three or four women in the same bed. Soon disease started to spread, rheumatism and bladder infections. We got new clothes with stripes on so that it would be harder for us to escape but also showing that we were not normal humans. 

     The food we were given consisted of one and a half slice of bread and a half a litre of soup for the whole day.  Later, that ration was cut in half because of lack of resources. If the hunger had been bad before, it was even worse now.

     One day the white buses came. They took us to Sweden. We were free. I asked the driver several times if this was real, if we really were free? Not all of us made it to Sweden. Many of my friends had died and had been burned to nothing more than ashes with no grave, no place to visit. All that was left of them were my memories of them before the camp sucked the life out of their bodies. On our way to Sweden, German soldiers who were ill wanted a lift but we denied them that. Many of us became sick from over-eating. The reception was so good we could not believe it and on the 25th of April we arrived in Malmö, Sweden.

As I leave Kulturen I leave with the picture of hundreds of women who are now safely in heaven, laughing and enjoying themselves. I feel a need to tell the world their stories and to show the conditions they lived under. Not all of them made it and that is why it is so important that the stories that did make it are told.  

     The ones who made it to Sweden were the lucky ones, but the ones who did not are the ones we remember and cherish. Their stories will never be told, and if they could hear us now they would know that I am writing this so that the world never will forget the horrible things that happened in the camps during the Second World War. 

     I do hope that humanity has learned from this and that these women did not suffer for nothing. I hope that the people in the camps will be the last ones to ever experience that kind of horrible, inhuman treatment. When I and my friends left Kulturen we all felt the same. What happened was horrible but somehow we feel that all the women had an object which gave them hope and happiness, so the feelings when you are at Kulturen are mixed. 

Alma Franzén

© Katedralskolan