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“We have the lists, you the stories”

Sixteen members of the Lagergemeinschaft Ravensbrück / Freundeskreis (Ravensbrück Camp Community / Circle of Friends) visited the ITS on September 30, 2016. This first visit culminated in the presentation of document copies to the descendants of concentration camp inmates, the viewing of original documents, and a tour of the archive rooms in which documents on the Ravensbrück concentration camp, among others, are kept.

When Bärbel Schindler-Saefkow looks through lists drawn up by the Nazi bureaucracy in conjunction with deportation, imprisonment and murder—documents now kept in the International Tracing Service (ITS) archive—, names turn into human beings. Virtually all her life, the historian and daughter of Anton Saefkow, a member of the resistance against the Nazis who was executed, and Aenne Saefkow, who was in custody in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, has been researching the resistance groups from her parents’ circle and fighting for the commemoration of the “women of Ravensbrück.” As her finger traces the list of names, she sketches biographies and recalls fates. “Marianne Gundermann! She was a well-known women’s rights activist in the circle of illegal party groups. I wish someone would write down her story. She was among the women who were subjected to severe torture. And under torture she revealed names; that was later held against her. As a Jew, she was liberated from Ravensbrück with the white busses.”

ITS staff member Monika Leithäuser explained to Bärbel Schindler-Saefkow what type of documents she was holding and showed her originals. Leithäuser was impressed: “We have the lists of names; you have the related stories.” But Bärbel Schindler-Saefkow was no less impressed: “I’ve never seen ninety percent of the documents, although I’ve always looked for documents. I had to work hard for everything I wanted to know about my father.” Referring to the benefit of the information for the Lagergemeinschaft, she said, “Now we have a lot more new names!”

The visit from the Lagergemeinschaft Ravensbrück / Freundeskreis took place within the context of this organization’s annual conference. At the ITS, the event was preceded by intensive research: in the hope of finding more answers, the guests had sent inquiries on the fates of relatives and female members of the resistance. In the case of Bärbel Schindler-Saefkow alone, three folders containing document copies were discussed and handed over. Like other members of the Lagergemeinschaft, the historian had made inquiries with the ITS earlier, but at a point in time at which only summaries of persecution histories were provided. Back then, the inspection of the original documents was prohibited. The guests moreover used the ITS database to carry out further research, gain deeper insights into the archive holdings, and enable themselves to better assess the significance of the archives in connection with former political inmates as one group of persecutees.

In conclusion, Bärbel Schindler-Saefkow emphasized that, among other things, it had proven possible to find more information on the founders of the Lagergemeinschaft: “The Lagergemeinschaft was built up by strong figures such as Erika Buchmann, women who saw to it that Ravensbrück – the terrible Ravensbrück – became something beautiful through solidarity. Today, we as a Lagergemeinschaft would like to talk about people like her.”