Visiting Ravensbruck Where My Mother Survived
by Ellen Mains, Boulder
The next day we visited Ravensbruck, the women’s camp an hour north of Berlin, in the town of Furstenberg. Just before leaving for the train station, I sent an email to the general Ravensbruck email address, saying I was the daughter of a survivor and would be arriving there at mid-day, in case they might have any information about my mother.
It was a pleasant one half hour walk from the train station through the sleepy, quiet town. Sue had read in her guide book to concentration camps that the large homes lining the street to our right, across from a forested area, had been the residences of SS officers. One or two signs directed us in the general direction and eventually we found out way, first coming upon a large and poignant sculpture of three emaciated women, a child clasping the thigh of one of them. They carried another in a stretcher. We stopped there, taking photos, magnetically drawn to it as if the sleepy town had just coughed or gasped.
The camp was also quiet. In the newer building which housed the visitors’ information center, I asked if there was an archive on site and let them know I was the daughter of a former inmate of the camp. A quick phone call was made and I was told they had received my email and were expecting me at the main camp building. There a very kind woman showed me one or two pieces of paper with my mother’s name, also a date “18-8-1944” next to the word “Auschwitz”. And another name which I vaguely remembered hearing somewhere in my childhood: “Berlin Neukolln” – presumably a transfer station, or possibly the site of a munitions factory in Berlin where my mother had performed slave labor in between Auschwitz and Ravensbruck. The woman suggested that I contact the International Tracing Service, to try to gather further details.
As had happened before, this bit of human contact and paperwork which documented in some minimal yet explicit way my mother’s history and former presence here, had a palpable affect on me. It was a door of entry, bringing me completely into my heart, and completely present.