The Uckermark Youth Concentration Camp (1942-1945)
The Uckermark Youth Concentration Camp for Girls and Young Women and Later Extermination Site was located right next to the Ravensbrück Women’s Concentration Camp near the city of Fürstenberg/Havel.
The concentration camp was designed for girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 21. It was built in the spring of 1942 by prisoners of the Ravensbrück Women’s Concentration Camp as ordered by Himmler, the Reichsführer-SS and Chief of Police. The Youth Concentration Camp answered to the Reich’s Central Office for Combating Juvenile Crime [Reichszentrale zur Bekämpfung der Jugendkriminalität]. Lotte Toberentz, a detective [Kriminalrätin] in the police department [Kriminalpolizei], was the camp commander. After the end of the war in 1945, Lotte Toberentz was given another leadership role in the police department.
The National Socialist term for this camp was “Jugendschutzlager” or “youth protection camp.” This kind of “youth protection camp” was one of the categories within the SS camp system. Although the term “youth protection camp” refers to the concept of protection, the young people in the camp were not the ones who were supposed to be protected – it was instead meant to protect the youth in the National Socialist community from those prisoners. There were three camps that belonged to this category and five satellite camps. The three main camps were Moringen for male youth, Uckermark for female youth, and Lodz, the so-called youth custody camp [Jugendverwahrlager] for Polish children and youth.
It was not until 1970 that the “youth protection camps” were officially recognized as “camps similar to concentration camps.” Before that, they were categorized as institutions that served to “safeguard problem youth who are difficult to educate” and were part of the welfare education system.
In order to enable the construction of the camps at Moringen (1940) and in the Uckermark (1942), the police brought together an entire toolbox of laws, regulations, and decrees that made it possible to arbitrarily commit the youth to these camps. The most important of these decrees in this context was in 1937 on preemptive crime prevention: “Any person will be deemed asocial who demonstrates through behavior that is adverse to society that he is not assimilating into society (even if it is non-criminal), […] and that he does not want to conform to the natural National Socialist state system.”
The collaboration between the criminal police, the welfare system, and the SS made it possible to stigmatize the girls and young women as asocial and criminal, thus facilitating their institutionalization in the camp.
Approximately 1200 girls and young women were imprisoned in the Uckermark camp between 1942–1945. They lived there under terrible conditions; they were tormented, abused, and forced into hard labor (at munitions factories and farms, for example). The majority of the girls were brought to the camp directly from welfare institutions. The reason given for their incarceration was that they were incapable of being educated. To take the strain off the welfare homes, the “pupils” were supposed to be “safeguarded” “economically” and “safely” all while exploiting their labor at the same time. Many of the imprisoned girls were discriminated against as “sexually depraved”: this label was attached to prostitution (either actual or alleged) but also to youth who were thought to have had (too much) sexual contact. “Sexual depravity” [sexuelle Verwahrlosung] was a label only ascribed to girls and women, there was no such term for male youth.
Some of the young women were sent to the camp because they defied the rules and norms of National Socialism. For example, someone could be sent to the camp for being a member of the Swing Kids [Swing-Jugend], or for associating with Jewish people or non-German forced laborers [Fremdarbeitern], or for being accused of refusing to work [Arbeitsverweigerung]. Many of the young girls and women or their families were convicted for random reasons, arbitrarily declared asocial or criminal.
A portion of the inmates were young girls and women who stood in opposition to the National Socialist regime and its members. Such as the group of Slowenian girls whose families supported the partisans of the resistance movement or who were themselves part of the resistance. For all of the young girls and women, their time in the Uckermark Concentration Camp was cruel and degrading. It must have been especially difficult for those girls who were stigmatized as “asocial” [asozial] or “sexually depraved” [sexuell verwahrlost] – even after the liberation. This group of prisoners were indirectly blamed for their own imprisonment; the only thing that was criticized was the particular way that the National Socialists persecuted them.
Even after the liberation, young girls often faced similar forms of social ostracism – and that has continued up until today in part. Fearing renewed discrimination after the war, these young, persecuted women often remained silent about their imprisonment in the concentration camp.
Find out more about the later Uckermark Extermination Site