Uckermark Youth Camp

The Nazi regime established so-called youth protection camps for young people who were alleged to have strayed from Nazi norms and ideals. Among these camps was the Uckermark camp for female youths. 

Intended to hold young women ages 16 to 19, and later women up to age 21, the Uckermark youth protection camp (Jugendschutzlager) opened as the first concentration camp for young females in June 1942. Since the Moringen Jugendschutzlager opened in August 1940, the SS had urged leading officials in the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt (RKPA) to establish a comparable site for females. Like Moringen and the Polen-Jugendverwahrlager Litzmannstadt, the Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Police) directed Uckermark, but its forced labor fell under the jurisdiction of the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps (IKL) in the SS-Business Administration Main Office (WHVA).1 Like Moringen, Uckermark’s inmates, called “pupils” (Zoglinge), were classified as criminals due to sexual promiscuity, membership in the “Swing Youth” (Swing-Jugend), relationships with prisoners of war (POWs) or “non-Aryans,” refusal to work in arms production, or political opposition. There were also inmates whom the Nazis deemed “racially inferior,” such as Jews and Gypsies (Sinti and Roma). Many Zoglinge were dispatched to Uckermark from “asylums” and juvenile institutions. Some prisoners were Slovenian.2

In mid-May 1942, the SS-Kriminalratin Lotte Toberentz became Uckermark’s commandant, with staff drawn from Ravensbrück. Initially, Uckermark had only 2 accommodation barracks, one for Zoglinge and the other for female “educators.” Male prisoners from Ravensbrück completed a new barrack before the arrival of each additional transport. The first group of prisoners consisted of about 10 females. By August 1942 there were four blocks for  approximately 200 Zoglinge. By early 1945, there were around 17 barracks holding 1,200 prisoners.

Ravensbrueck concentration camp, 1945

Ravensbrueck concentration camp, 1945 - US Holocaust Memorial Museum

The new arrivals were sent first to Ravensbrück, not Uckermark, where they underwent a demeaning admission procedure. Stripped naked, they surrendered personal belongings, and their hair was shorn. Following a cold shower, they were examined by SS doctors, fingerprinted, photographed, issued prisoner clothing, and introduced to camp procedures. A few days after this “introduction,” the young girls were transferred to Uckermark.

As in Moringen, the admission criteria were based upon the obscure criminal-biological theories of Dr. Robert Ritter and his assistant, Dr. Eva Justin, of the Kriminalbiologische Institute (KBI). KBI ascertained the young prisoners’ alleged “criminal propensities” and “inherited inferiority” and correspondingly assigned them to different blocks after six months’ observation. Although Uckermark’s block system was not as elaborate as Moringen’s, each block had its own corresponding “educational” methods. Comparatively few were admitted to the higher, “educable” blocks, while most were dispatched to the lower and middle blocks for the “questionably educable” or “hopeless” Zoglinge. A special block for Gestapo prisoners and partisans’ children was isolated from the others.

According to Commandant Toberentz, an essential reason for the differentiated treatment of female juveniles concerned their alleged proclivity for sexual promiscuity. This assessment about the female asocials’ special “nature” reflected welfare administrators’ attitudes dating back to Imperial Germany, when Zoglinge were consigned to workhouses for “unseemly” behavior. Euphemistically, the authorities, such as Paul Werner from RKPA, described youth forced labor as fundamentally educational.

Constant torment and hard labor marked daily life. The day began at 5:00 A.M. After a cold shower and clad in underwear, the prisoners went barefoot to “early sport,” regardless of season. After dressing, they made their beds, which consisted of straw sacks and simple blankets. The female block leaders and Toberentz inspected the blocks, punishing the disorderly. A simple breakfast and roll call preceded the work assignments.

Under constant SS supervision, the girls generally worked between 10 and 12 hours. If they collapsed or did not reach the daily work quotas, they were punished for sabotaging work. One labor detachment in Uckermark was used for moor cultivation, terrible work that resulted in   psychological and physical exhaustion. Many prisoners brought in the harvest at neighboring manors and farms. Others worked in armament firms, such as Siemens, which had opened branches in Ravensbrück and at Uckermark. The Jugendschutzlager had a tailor shop and a workshop; the latter made dolls and toys for the children of fallen SS men. Especially difficult was Holzmachen, where 16-year-olds dragged felled trees to the camp, which were then cut into smaller segments.

Conducted back to camp, all Zoglinge assembled for evening roll call. Supper consisted of a piece of bread with spreadable cheese. Twice a week there was sausage or soup. The soup was a thick brew with cabbage or beets but rarely contained meat. The meals were totally inadequate for growing youngsters, with the result that the prisoners soon wasted away. After eating there was an hour of sport, cleaning, or roll call. Completely exhausted, the Zoglinge were permitted to shower and sleep. But even during the night there was no peace, as Toberentz made nightly inspections and collectively punished the blocks at the slightest opportunity.

The prescribed punishments were warnings, food deprivation, arrest, postal bans, and the withholding of privileges. The Zoglinge were also forced to do hours-long military drill. Pursuant to Heinrich Himmler’s order, the camp rules forbade the beating of females, but the Zoglinge nevertheless suffered blows from male and female SS. A daily torment was the absolute talking ban. Under threat of severe punishment, the inmates were not allowed to talk when eating, working, or at night. Recaptured escapees were harshly punished. Former prisoners reported that vicious dogs were set upon escapees. One Zogling was mauled on the calf, and another’s nose was torn to pieces.

The poor food, heavy labor, and inadequate clothing caused severe illnesses. In winter, the inmates were given only a scarf for protection, not pullovers or gloves. Working in primitive wooden shoes wounded their feet. The sick and injured were sent to the Ravensbrück infirmary, which had a police doctor and two prisoner nurses. This facility’s minimal aim was to return the Zoglinge for labor. Toward the end of 1943, Uckermark obtained an infirmary, but its medical standards were also poor. Although cases of forcible sterilization have not yet come to light, it can be assumed that because Uckermark was run similarly to Moringen that the authorities’ negative assessment resulted in sterilization.

Based upon Ritter’s and Justin’s decisions, some Zoglinge were murdered at concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, or Ravensbrück. Others were sent to “asylums,” where they were murdered as part of the “euthanasia” program.

In June 1944, Uckermark’s dissolution began with the opening of the Dallgow-Doberitz transit camp, which was led by Uckermark staff. Of its first transferees, 49 girls were deployed in an armaments firm. Another 58 worked in homes in Uckermark’s immediate vicinity; 22 Zoglinge described as “pathologically degenerate” were sent to an asylum, and another 71 youths to Ravensbrück.

In January 1945, the RKPA urged Uckermark’s accelerated dissolution because the SS needed the barracks for evacuated concentration camp prisoners. Four Uckermark barracks were separated from the rest for 20 underage political Zoglinge. In the emptied portion of Uckermark, under the command of Ruth Clausius from Ravensbrück, approximately 4,000 weakened female evacuees were murdered or died. The killing methods included strychnine poisoning, starvation, and gassing.3 On April 20, 1945, Commandant Toberentz fled before advancing Allied troops with the remainder of the Zoglinge. On April 30, the Red Army liberated Ravensbruck and Uckermark.

Postwar trials scarcely touched the Uckermark camp personnel. In the Ravensbrück III Trial at the Hamburg Curio-Haus, April 14–26, 1948, the British acquitted Toberentz of involvement in the murder of “Allied nationals” but condemned Clausius to death.4 During the 1950s and 1960s, the West German judicial authorities did not categorize Jugendschutzlager detention to be a National Socialist crime.

Sources

Information on Uckermark may be found in the following published sources: Martin Guse, “Wir hatten noch gar nicht angefangen zu leben”: Eine Ausstellung zu den Jugend-Konzentrationslagern Moringen und Uckermark 1940–1945, 4th ed. (Moringen, 2001); Martin Guse and Andreas Kohrs, “Zur Entpadagogisierung der Jugendfursorge in den Jahren 1922 bis 1945,” in Soziale Arbeit und Faschismus, ed. Hans-Uwe Otto and Heinz Sunker (Frankfurt am Main, 1989), p. 234; Guse and Kohrs, “Die ‘Bewahrung’ Jugendlicher im NS- Staat: Ausgrenzung und Internierung am Beispiel der Jugendkonzentrationslager Moringen und Uckermark” (Diplomarbeit, Fachhochschule Hildesheim, 1985); Hans Hesse and Jurgen Harder, “Und wenn ich lebenslang in einem KZ bleiben musste”: Die Zeuginnen Jehovas in den Frauenkonzentrationslagern Moringen, Lichtenburg und Ravensbruck (Essen, 2001); Michael Hepp, “Vorhof zur Holle: Madchen im ‘Jugendschutzlager’ Uckermark,” in Opfer und Taterinnen: Frauenbiographien des Nationalsozialismus, ed. Angelika Ebbinghaus (Frankfurt am Main, 1996), pp. 239–272; the exhibit catalog by Viola Klarenbach, “Wir Durften Ja Nicht Sprechen. Sobald Man Kontakt Suchte mit Irgendjemandem Hagelte es Strafen”: Das ehemalige

Konzentrationslager fur Madchen und junge Frauen und spatere Vernichtungslager Uckermark (Berlin, 1998); Katja Limbacher, Maike Merten, and Bettina Pfefferle, eds., Das Madchenkonzentrationslager Uckermark (Munster, 2000).

Primary sources for the Jugendschutzlager Uckermark begin with documentation in BA-DH (KL/Hafta/Sammlung Nr. 25/Uckermark). On the relationship between Uckermark and WVHA camps, see Nuremberg document R-129, reproduced in TWC, vol. 5. Portions of the  Ravensbruck Trial III (also called the Uckermark Trial) testimony are reproduced in Ebbinghaus, pp. 191–216, and are based upon PRO, WO 235/516. Fragmentary records of this proceeding are also available in USHMMA, RG 59.016 M Acc. 2001.114, PRO, WO 235/516, JAG Offi ce War Crimes Case Files, 1945–1953, Reel 19. Extensive interviews with former Slovenian Zoglinge of Uckermark are reproduced in Limbacher, Merten, and Pfefferle, eds., Das  Madchenkonzentrationslager Uckermark

 

 

Further Reading

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945. Vol 1, Early Camps, Youth Camps, and Concentration Camps and Subcamps under the SS-Business Administration Main Office (WVHA), ed. Geoffrey Megargee. Bloomington: Indiana University Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2009.