Ravensbrück – Hannah Persson Ekholm

Before I came to Ravensbrück, me and my sister were arrested and taken to the Gestapo. I did not know about the transportations yet but on my last day an officer promised me that I would be destroyed and never again return to Poland.

That was what I thought about during the transport to Ravensbrück. The train ride was horrible. 135 people were crowded in a cattle wagon and during the first four days we had no food and very little water. When arriving at the train station in Ravensbrück, the brutality which met us was terrifying. The Germans chased us with dogs, pushed us, beat us. I broke two ribs that day.

We walked to the camp in rows of five and I noticed all the women were sorted according to their different nationalities. All were dressed in striped uniforms with different kinds of triangles on their sleeves. After having arrived at the camp we were robbed of everything we had, shaved and then divided into our blocks. Mine was block 13. My sister was sent to another, since she was not able to work because of an injury to her leg. In block 13 we lived under very hard conditions with prostitution and starvation. Block no. 15 was the block of death and the conditions there were even worse than ours. It was very dirty. Every fourth week, the clerk came with a list of 1012 people who were doomed to the chambers. I was terrified that they would send my sister there. 

After a while everyone got into their own routine. My mornings would begin at 5 o’clock sharp, the guards would rush in and shout for us to wake up. The weak ones, who barely could stand, would be dragged up and be beaten. We had to go out for a roll call which would last for about an hour. When the roll call ended we had to get into our work groups to do our daily labour. We had to work until late in the evening. It was hard work and our clothing was too thin and fragile. Exhaustion quickly came to be a regular part of my day.

My job was to carry away snow in the winter and when the spring came I went over to working with fertilizers.  But, around spring 1942, starvation began and we were all kicked into survival mode. I remember meeting many people, tired and out of hope.

I fainted three times out of hunger and I managed to get over to the column working outside the camp just to get something to eat. That work was very hard, even harder than what I had done before, but thanks to that we got a lot of potatoes that I could share with my companions.

I strongly recall the day I saw my sister in a pile of corpses. She was not dead, but about to be. The SS cleared out the weak ones in the camp, and they were often left to starve to death. 

I was operated on in February 1943. The experimental operations had begun already in July 1942 and in most cases minors were taken. I was taken to the infirmary and given a shot which made me lose consciousness immediately. I later woke up on a stretcher with a terrible pain in my legs. I could not feel or move them. I also had a severe fever for a couple of days. The physical pain was tough but nothing compared to the pain caused by knowing I was part of a physical experiment, controlled and managed by my enemies. We asked the doctor why he was torturing us. What could our sentence be since we deserved such inhumane treatment? We were then given what they must have thought was a simple answer: we were bandits. This was not true. “We are only Poles” we told them.

There were six other women who went through the same experiment as I did. I was in the bone operation group. My legs remained the same on the inside, but the scars left from having been opened and then sewn together multiple times left difficult scarring. To this day the stitches still itch and hurt. Some women were operated on in their muscles, pieces were cut out and sewn back again. Because of bacteria and unsanitary medical equipment, some of these women cultivated bacteria in their undressed wounds. This made their muscles decompose and the women were left severely crippled and with high fever. Five women died from those procedures.

In late February 1945 we arrived at Bergen-Belsen. We were transported there by train in cattle cars, each one holding about 100 people. The camp was divided into fields, separated by wires. The barracks were dirty and the sight of the men’s work groups was a depressing one because they were not people, they were shadows of people dressed in rags. I will never forget their facial expressions: dull, apathetic and resigned.

Corpses were constantly carried from around the camp to the place where they were burned. The hygienic conditions were beyond description, there was no water and we would lie on the dirty stone floor because our block did not have any bunk beds. Sickness spread like wildfire and typhus and diarrhea raged. We were served dirty water which was supposed to be soup. Due to the terrible lack of food, people were desperate for anything to eat. Once a man tried to take a swede and was shot on the spot. We watched as others suffered but our own suffering was no less. In our block we would lie next to corpses each morning. Many people never got up again.

I found myself on the floor among those corpses, really ill with typhus, and when the English liberated us, I had already been ill for two weeks. I had been lying there for two weeks on the floor, without a blanket and in my clothes, waiting for the beautiful moment when I would be free.

I became free but I lost my faith. The God I believed in would never have let this happen.

Hannah Persson Ekholm

© Katedralskolan