To Whom It May Concern… – Oscar Kölfors

The unbearable smell of sweat, muddy clothes and rotting wounds made her eyes tear; everyone in this godforsaken place seemed to reek of it. As she looked at them she could not help but noticing that they were dressed from head to toe in a striped uniform. There were two groups that were dressed in uniform in this camp; one were the inmates, the other one the guards. The latter would wear black uniforms looking like suits, while inmates were dressed in rags. 

The queue moved on.

She was devastated, but did not want to show any signs of weakness, not in front of these women who have been through worse. The guards in the watch towers would point and laugh at every inmate tripping and falling, getting told off by another guard and being punished. They seemed like cruel people.

The queue moved on.

She was now amongst the first in line to receive her uniform and prisoner number. She then put on her uniform. After changing, the women were instructed to wait in the square of the camp. They sat there for 48 hours before being assigned to barracks. This was the first time she saw the true living conditions of the inmates. As inmates did not receive socks and the floorboards were contaminated, they could easily have their sore feet infected. The sanitary possibilities were not good, for one to wash was almost an impossibility. Four women had to share a bunk bed, two persons per bed, and there were not enough blankets, resulting in the nights being very cold. 

The queue moved on.

Every morning there was a roll call. The prisoners would state their individual number, in numerical order. She had been assigned number 52 633, and she had been taught by the veterans of this camp how to say it in German. If you would not - or could not - say it in German you would be punished and sometimes, if you took too long, the Commandant would start over from the first number. 

After the roll call she was put to work. They would dig ditches from sunup to sundown. In the beginning her hands would bleed and have blisters but after some time her hands got used to it. She was very careful about where she put her hands as long as they had open wounds, she knew an infection could kill her. After work the women would be served dinner, a thin version of mashed potato soup.

The queue moved on.

Her mental health wore out quickly. There was no getting out of the camp, two women tried and were found out. They were given a series of beatings and had to endure a couple of days without food. There was no escaping work either. If your tempo would be too slow, you were beaten.

A couple of months later she was a seasoned inmate and knew the tricks of the guards, the secret ways to clean clothes and food and how to avoid punishment. Life in the camp was hard but after some time one would adjust and it would become as natural as anything. To survive you would have to outsmart the others, which was easier said than done as they would try to do the same thing to you. There would be a sense of community amongst the different nationalities, but rivalry often erupted between two or more nationalities.

They now worked more for the German war effort instead of doing meaningless work, solely to tire them. Working for the German war effort certainly was tiring, but at least it served a purpose. Food had become scarce, and the quality of it had worsened. Not only the living conditions had become crueler, but so had the guards. They would now issue punishments for nothing, merely for their enjoyment. 

Not only the guards were cruel, but also some of inmates. As soon as an inmate would receive some privileges they would be willing to ‘sell’ anyone to the imprisoners, especially the ones working at in the kitchen.

During her time in Ravensbrück she had learned one thing, and that was that some people will go to any extent just to survive, and those people could not be trusted. Early on she realized that to make it out of this place they would have to have a sense of community, even between different nationalities. While a sense of community did exist it was not as strong as she had wished it should have been. Some people just follow their own path, and the camp guards preyed on those who did just that, as they were lonely and easy to isolate and break down.

The queue moved on.

She shoved away some other inmates to get to the fence, or at least as close as possible. She could see an orange light in the distance, slowly expanding over the horizon. They had heard the bombardment the previous day, but had not been able to see it until that day. As the prisoners could hear shelling in the distance during work, they knew that liberation was near and they were excited to perhaps be released, but they all also knew that the guards would have the last laugh, and they had not had that one yet. 

The following day the guards organized a march. She was put in a column of other prisoners and they started marching out the gates of the camp. Only the sickly and malnourished ones were left in the camp. After a couple of hours of walking they were set free by a Soviet Scout Unit.

The queue moved on.

She was now next in line to board one of the buses. She was going somewhere safe, she did not care where it was as long as it was safe. She was told she was going to Sweden, which delighted her. She knew this was the beginning of something good and that she would get on with her life even though she was traumatized. She felt like she could do anything after the time in the concentration camp.

Oscar Kölfors

© Katedralskolan