Mauthausen nazi concentration camp : Women Struggle for memory and recognition

Feminist Caravan in Mauthausen concentration camp

Decades have past since Second World War has finished but still feminists and lesbians from Austria and Germany are visiting concentracion camp sites in these countries, to commemorate all those who were “unfortunate“ to be different and unsuitable and thus were killed by atrocities of Nazi regim. Women struggle so that these monstrocities never become forgotten.
One of these places is Mauthausen concentration camp located near Linz in Austria, and we women activists from Feminist caravan went this year with our sisters to support them in their struggle and to pay our respect.20150509_112132
Mauthausen contentration camp was considered as one of the fiercest camps and classified as a so called category 3 camp, which meant that those who ended up there will not get out alive.
Over seven years, from 1938 till 1945, around 200,000 women and men were imprisoned in this camp, and about 120,000 died mostly of starvation, disease and hard labor. In the beginning, during its first year the camp received prisoners from Dachau – mainly convicted criminals but also so called „ asocial elements“- lesbians, homosexual men, political prisoners and many others and later it became detention center for all who were against Nazi regime. For all inmates there was kind of an official instruction “Rückkehr unerwünscht”  which meant return not desired and they were beaten, starved, used for medical experiments and most difficult work, like in quarries.
Many facts have been already said about fascist atrocities outside and in all of Nazi camps were people were stripped off last bits of dignity and tortured in unimaginable ways till they died. In decades that followed people from both countries faced with fascist past and have done huge work in taking responsibility. However there are some things that remain untold, some of her stories which patriarchy doesn’t want to be heard and is working hard to keep them deeply buried. One of these is a story about women who were prisoners in Mauthausen concentration camp.
We went with our sisters on the 8th of May, one day before the official liberation ceremony to learn about the history of this notorious place and particularly about faith of women imprisoned there. Mauthausen was consisted of 32 barracks surrounded by electrified barbed wire, high stone walls and watch towers. One of the barracks, barrack 1 was used, we learned that day, for prostituting women inmates. Women that were brought to this camp were “offered” by Nazis to be used for prostitution and in return they “promised” them freedom after six months. Women were used by everyone, male inmates because Nazis claimed that it is a good strategy to increase productivity of prisoners by providing what they perceived as “entertainment”, than by plain soldiers and at the end by high ranked SS officers.
Every year hundreds and thousands of people from all parts of Europe pour to the site to be part of the official liberation ceremony to commemorate the victims, to remember the crimes and to celebrate the liberation of Europe from fascism. But they don’t talk about crimes committed against women in this camp and in other camps, they don’t stop in front of the barrack 1, they don’t know what was happening there, what were women subjected to and how many of them didn’t survive. This is not part of history, it is not in books, newspapers or websites. The state never recognized the status of civil victims of war to those women who survived nor they ever received any kind of compensation for the terrors they have experienced, if such things can at all be compensated.

Feminists and lesbians are putting a memorial plaque every year in front of this barrack 1. A plaque that says what happened there. And every year it is removed by the administration of the camp since it is not officially approved to make these atrocities against women known and visible. And one cant help but to conclude that even if people are aware and fight against fascism, racism and antisemitism, misogyny is so rooted in them that they will keep neglecting, denying and forgetting crimes against women and their suffering even if it happened seventy years ago, let alone in the present days.
When our sisters came back the next morning to the official ceremony the plaque of course wasn’t there but they argued with men from administration of the camp and managed to convince them to put it back. So, the big wooden plaque was there and it certainly caught the eye of all visitors who came there for the central event even if it was just for a moment.
It might seem like little, but considering the fact that that we are today witnessing same old forms of fascism which we thought we conquered seventy years ago, that we are still living in a highly misogynist world which denies women dignity, humanity, voice ; we may proudly say this is a victory!

Jodie Roy

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