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Number card for female prisoners in the sub-camps of Buchenwald

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HäftlingsnummerVor- und NachnameRussinPolte Magdeburg26.10.1944Tag/Befund, besondere Vorkommnisse Befund/Krankmeldung

These number cards were used for managing female prisoners in the sub-camps of Buchenwald. At first glance, the cards look very uniform and there are only minor differences between them. For example, different sub-camps can be noted on them, and some cards list transfers to other camps. The cards are all very similar because no distinctions were made based on the women’s prisoner category or nationality.

These number cards were used for managing female prisoners in the sub-camps of Buchenwald. At first glance, the cards look very uniform and there are only minor differences between them. For example, different sub-camps can be noted on them, and some cards list transfers to other camps. The cards are all very similar because no distinctions were made based on the women’s prisoner category or nationality.

Background information on concentration camp documents

Further examples

Questions and answers

  • Where was the document used and who created it?

    Until the early 1940s, most concentration camps in Germany primarily held male prisoners. The Nazis had established separate concentration camps for women: first the Moringen concentration camp (1933 to 1937/1938), then the Lichtenburg camp (1937/1938 to 1939), which had previously been a men’s camp, and finally Ravensbrück, established in May 1939. In the last years of the war, however, the number of female prisoners rose considerably. Especially from 1944 onwards, more and more Jewish and non-Jewish women from Hungary and Poland were sent to Germany via Auschwitz. They were supposed to work in sub-camps for the German armaments industry.

    Some of the sub-camps of Ravensbrück which held women were placed under the administration of Buchenwald in September 1944. Female prisoners therefore entered the Buchenwald camp system for the first time in the autumn of 1944. Separate number cards were kept for them. These had the same function as the number cards for male prisoners which were issued in the Buchenwald main camp. On these cards, the prisoner number that had been assigned to each woman was noted, as well as when the prisoner had arrived at which sub-camp.

    It has not yet been clarified whether the number cards for women were filled out and filed in the Buchenwald main camp or directly in the individual sub-camps. Both theories have been proposed by researchers. However, the very similar handwriting on the cards and the fact that the sub-camps did not always have their own administration and camp registry offices suggest that the cards were probably all processed in the main camp. Additionally, if they had not been collected centrally, it is unlikely that so many cards from the individual sub-camps would have reached the ITS after the war.

  • When was the document used?

    Number cards for female prisoners of the Buchenwald sub-camps were filled out starting in the autumn of 1944. The entries continue into 1945, until the sub-camps were liquidated. For example, a card was created for Elli Ullmann, a Jewish woman from Czechoslovakia, when she arrived at the Raguhn sub-camp on March 21, 1945 – barely two and half weeks before the camp was cleared.

  • What was the document used for?

    When sub-camps that had previously belonged to the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp were taken over by Buchenwald in September 1944, a large number of women entered the Buchenwald administrative system for the first time. Their number grew rapidly, and in January 1945 around 25,500 female prisoners had already been registered. They accounted for around 30 percent of all prisoners in Buchenwald’s sub-camps.

    Buchenwald had a total of 27 sub-camps in which female prisoners were held. The Leipzig factory of Hugo-Schneider Aktiengesellschaft (HASAG), an armaments company, was the largest women’s sub-camp of Buchenwald, with over 5,000 prisoners. This was followed by the Polte-Werke Magdeburg, with nearly 3,000 Jewish and non-Jewish women. Other camps mentioned on the number cards for women include Allendorf (Dynamit-Nobel AG), Altenburg (HASAG), Hessisch Lichtenau (Sprengstoffwerke Hirschhagen), Meuselwitz, Schlieben, Taucha and Wolfen (all part of HASAG). The women had to perform dangerous work in these armaments factories, such as producing shells and rocket-propelled grenades or filling mines with dynamite. They often came into contact with poisonous chemicals without wearing protective clothing. Since the work was also physically very strenuous and the shifts were up to 12 hours long, there were high rates of sickness and death among the women.

    Just like the male prisoners of Buchenwald concentration camp, the women in the sub-camps were recorded on number cards. To create these number cards, the responsible prisoner clerks used sick bay cards that were no longer needed, which they cut in half and wrote on. They noted the most important information about the women on these cards: personal details such as the prisoner’s name, number and nationality, as well as the name of the sub-camp and the date on which the woman had arrived. Number cards were kept so that the prisoner functionaries could quickly see which number had been assigned to which woman. This was important because many administrative procedures were carried out using only the women’s prisoner numbers.

  • How common is the document?

    Since all female prisoners of the sub-camps of Buchenwald were registered with a number card, the Arolsen Archives have tens of thousands of these cards. Most of them are old sick bay cards, which can be identified by the yellowish color of the paper. But there are also versions on red or green paper. The red cards were written on the back of certificates of receipt. The green cards are personal effects cards that were no longer needed.

    It has not yet been determined whether the different colored cards were used for different purposes. It is worth noting, however, that only one of these three cards exists for each prisoner in the Arolsen Archives; there were never multiple cards in parallel. Researchers therefore assume that all of these cards are number cards.

  • What should be considered when working with the document?

    On documents such as the Prisoner Registration Cards for female prisoners in the sub-camps of Buchenwald, there is often no indication that these women were in a sub-camp. The number cards can therefore help determine in which sub-camp they were imprisoned. On the prisoner registration cards for women, Buchenwald is always listed as the issuing camp, but this does not mean that the prisoners were actually housed in the main camp. This is because these women, most of whom were transported directly to a sub-camp, were officially considered to be prisoners of Buchenwald. Therefore, whenever a number card has been preserved, it is important to check whether a sub-camp is mentioned, and if so, which one.

    Unlike the number cards for male Buchenwald prisoners, the cards for women do not indicate in which concentration camp they had been previously imprisoned. Additionally, only a few number cards for women have information about where the prisoner was transferred to later on. Other documents are therefore needed to trace these prisoners’ paths of persecution.

    Finally, it should be noted that, for many years, these number cards were referred to by the ITS – historically incorrectly – as Frauenkarten 1 (“women’s cards 1”). Documents referred to internally by the ITS as Frauenkarten 2(“women’s cards 2”) have also been preserved, but their function is no longer known. Both terms can also be found on the individual document envelopes for female prisoners from Buchenwald concentration camp. This is not the official name of these documents, however, but rather terms used only by the ITS in the past.

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