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Thread: Nurse Mary YOUNG , - Scottish heroine of WW2 :

  1. #31
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    Sep 2007

    Re: Nurse Mary YOUNG , - Scottish heroine of WW2 :

    Ravensbrück Concentration Camp

    With thanks to:-

    Susan Benedict, CRNA, DSN, FAAN
    Professor of Nursing
    Medical University of South Carolina
    99 Jonathan Lucas Street
    Charleston, SC 29425
    Associate Chief Nurse/Research
    Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
    Charleston, SC 29425

    The site of Ravensbrück concentration camp is just outside the town of Fürstenberg, Germany and is 55 miles from Berlin. The area is secluded but has excellent rail connections to Berlin and is known as a boating resort. Perhaps these geographical features, in addition to new housing, were an enticement to the SS (Schutzstaffel [storm troopers]) to work at Ravensbrück.

    In 1938, 500 male prisoners from Sachsenhausen concentration camp were sent to construct Ravensbrück. On May 18, 1939 the first prisoners for Ravensbrück arrived and consisted of 860 female German political prisoners and 7 Austrian women. These 867 women had previously been imprisoned in Lichtenburg concentration camp. Ravensbrück consisted of 14 living barracks, 2 administrative barracks, 2 Revier [hospital] barracks, 1 bath house with 20 showers, 2 circular showers for 100 prisoners, and 1 bunker (punishment block). Each of the living barracks was designed to hold about 200 women. The capacity of Ravensbrück was supposed to be a maximum of 4,000 inmates.1 Many nationalities and ethnic groups were represented, including English, Norwegian, and even American.

    There were a number of specialized barracks or Ablocks. Block 10 housed the prisoners with tuberculosis and the mentally ill. Block 17 held the prisoners known as the Aguinea pigs - the girls and young women used in the medical experiments - and Block 32 held the mothers with infants.2 By 1940, there were 4,200 prisoners in Ravensbrück. The camp population increased from 5,000 to 14,000 inmates in the years 1940 through 1942. In 1942, twelve new blocks were added to accommodate the increased inmate population.3

    Much of the population of Ravensbrück was used for slave labor for corporations including Daimler-Benz, Siemens, and Dachalier Industries. The corporations had to pay Ravensbrück two Reichmark (approximately $.80) per day for each prisoner employed.4 Additionally, Ravensbrück provided the women who were forced to be prostitutes in the bordellos in the men's concentration camps at Mauthausen, Buchenwald, Neuengamme, and Dachau. Before World War II ended and after the evacuation of Auschwitz, Ravensbrück's population grew to 108,000 and conditions were deplorable.5

    Rations were of meager quantity and poor quality. In the mornings, the prisoners were given a cup of coffee and 350 grams of bread. This amount decreased to 150 grams by the end of the war. At lunch they were given .75 liter of watery soup with cold potatos and, in the evening, another portion of watery soup. Later, the soup was made from potato peelings and occasionally included 30 grams of sausage which was usually spoiled.2

    Until 1943, the Revier was run by two SS physicians and several nurses employed by the National Socialist (Nazi) party. One hundred fifty prisoners also were employed in the Revier.2 The Revier, which originally consisted of two blocks or buildings, was greatly expanded in 1943. In 1943, the number of beds in the Revier blocks increased to 2,000 and the personnel numbered 200.2 At that time, the duties of the SS physicians were largely transferred to prisoner-doctors. In 1944, approximately 20 prisoner-physicians worked in the Ravensbrück Revier to provide care for more than 75,000 prisoners. Most medical specialities were represented among these physicians.5 The Revier then consisted of seven blocks, each of which held 300 or more patients. It was common for 4 or even 5 patients to share two beds. In February, 1945, there were over 3,000 patients in the Revier with up to 50 deaths per day6 and at the end of the war there were nine Revier blocks.7

    Each Revier block consisted of one large examining room, one doctor’s room, one room for the Head Nurse, an apothecary, and a kitchen. One small room held three beds for birthing. Workers in the Revier were priviledged. Most lived in a separate block which was less crowded than the others. They did not have to stand for the lengthy daily roll calls and were able to move throughout the camp. They wore distinctive armbands.8 A former inmate, Sylvia Salvensan, describes the Revier:

    I cannot find the words to describe the conditions there. I am taking you into the room where the women were with deep wounds. These smell terrible because the bandages were changed only twice a week. Naturally they consisted only of paper which already slid about on the first day. It was terrible. All of the wounds were septic; it all ran into the bed...In the infectious disease ward things were 10 times worse. The floor was covered with sick people. All used one toilet.7

    A Dutch nurse-inmate, Neeltje Ejpker, further described a Revier block:

    There were boards instead of beds. There were about 200 prisoners in my room, and it was so tight that no one could sit down. The beds were set up threefold on top of each other. The hygienic conditions were terrible. We often had no water, there were no toilets, only latrines: one large bucket with two long handles on each side. All of us had diarrhoea and nobody could help us to the latrine. One time I saw a huge pile of corpses which was then picked up by a large car.9

    This contrasts greatly with the description of the Revier provided by one of the SS nurses, Martha Pauline Haake, who was later imprisoned for her crimes:
    The medical treatment was good. The food in Ravensbück concentration camp was at least as good and the same quantity as in this Internment Camp. The treatment of the prisoners in Ravensbrück concentration camp was good. I cannot remember that ever anybody was punished in the Revier, this refers to all sick-blocks. I have never beaten a prisoner or kicked him with feet, nor have I seen that ever anybody was beaten or kicked with feet in Ravensbrück concentration camp. Medicines were plentiful and plenty were distributed to the patients. In civilian hospitals less medical supplies were available than in Ravensbrück concentration camp for the prisoners. Every patient had his own bed. In the end the sick-bay was overcrowded and it happened that 3 patients had to lie in two beds. The bed had palliassos, and in winter every patient had 3-4 blankets. All beds were covered with linen, a white sheet, chequered bolstors and coverlet.

    Only prisoners who had temperatures of 39 degrees Celsius (102 F) or higher were admitted to the Revier.2 Sick prisoners lined up in the corridor every morning to be seen by the camp doctors. They usually had to wait at least two hours in the line.11 Prisoners who were judged to eventually be able to return to work were afforded some level of care. Prisoners beyond the ability to work were doomed. They were provided no care and were often sent to a special block that would be periodically evacuated to a nearby mental hospital, Bernburg, to be gassed. The death rate at the Revier increased from a few a day to 727 in December 1944.12 The crematoria in the town of Fürstenberg were unable to keep up with the deaths and corpses pilled up behind the Revier. In 1943, a crematorium with two ovens was built at Ravensbrück.13

    Treatment for usual medical disorders and obstetrical care were virtually nonexistent. Before 1942, pregnant women were sent away from Ravensbrück to be delivered and then returned to the camp without their infants. These babies were placed in Nazi orphanages. After 1942, deliveries were done in Ravensbrück and many of the babies were strangled at birth by one of the prisoner-nurses.5 Prisoner-nurse Gerda Quernheim burned them in the boiler room.2

    In 1944, the policy changed, allowing women to give birth in Ravensbrück and to keep the babies. Between September 1944 - April 1945, 551 children were born in Ravensbrück, the majority to Polish political prisoners who arrived at Ravensbrück in various stages of pregnancy. A maternity ward was established with a prisoner nurse as midwife. Many of the babies died after a few days. The mothers had to shortly return to work so the newborns had to go the entire day without a feeding. One female physician inmate, Dr. Helene Goudsmit, testified:

    One, amongst others, of the consequences of the bad hygenic conditions was the systematic death of ALL new-born children, whose mothers were unable to feed them because of their own undernourishment; this of course refers to the period during which I was at the camp. I myself saw German women (who had been interned for Rassenschande - relations of a child by a non-German) who had been pregnant and undergone an abortion by [Dr.] Orendi. It was customary to wait on purpose until the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy before carrying out the abortion; this greatly increased the risk during the surgical intervention because of the delay of this intervention and because of the bad general physical conditions of the women due to their internment.14

    In February and March 1945, all children and pregnant women were transported out of Ravensbrück. Hundreds of children ranging in age from infants to teenagers were sent by train, many to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Most died of the subzero temperatures during the train ride. Those few who survived the transport died of starvation soon thereafter.15

    The care in the Revier was supervised by the SS nurses and was abysmal. There were insufficient medicines and bandages and what was available was unfairly

    distributed by the nurses. The distribution was overseen by the Oberschwester [Head Nurse] Marschall who gave most to the prisoners working in the bordello and to other Aasocial prisoners.5

    Some prisoners, aware of the conditions in the Revier, tried to avoid going even when sick. Others were rejected for care from the Revier as not being sick enough. For these inmates, there was a chance for some care and medicine being obtained from fellow inmates. In fact, there was an illegal trade in medicines that were smuggled into the camp or were stolen from the SS infirmary. An additional and valuable source was the local pharmacy in the town of Fürstenberg which was owned by a woman who was anti-Nazi.16

    The extreme crowding and poor hygiene provided the perfect setup for a variety of epidemics. Lice were everywhere and uncontrollable, leading to outbreaks of Typhus. In 1945, 30,000 inmates were immunized against Typhus but many patients died because their bodies were so malnourished and were unable to produce antibodies.2 Attempts were made to isolate prisoners with tuberculosis in one block but many cases went undiagnosed and untreated. Patients who were isolated were without treatment and either spontaneously recovered or died. Psychotic prisoners were locked up and their meager food ration was cut in half. They were considered incurable and most were later transported to one of the euthanasia centers, Bernburg, to be killed in the gas chambers.

    The Medical Experiments

    The first medical experiments were done in 1941 under the direction of Dr. Gerhard. One hundred twenty women between the ages of 18 and 30 were selected upon their arrival at Ravensbrück in a transport from Lublin, Poland and 75 were used for the experiments. They were admitted to the Revier and had surgery to emulate injuries to the legs similar to those received by soldiers at the front lines. The wounds of these women's legs were then intentionally infected with bacteria including gas gangrene and tetanus.2 Ground glass and wood particles were rubbed into the wounds. Postoperatively, some women received treatment with a sulfonamide drug whereas others received no treatment at all. The women were cared for only by SS nurses to maintain secrecy about the experiments. Later surgeries were carried out in the blocks without use of an operating room and without any preparation. Sixty of these 120 women lived until 1945 and some were later witnesses against the Ravensbrück Revier personnel. One prisoner-nurse, Violette LeCoq, testified:

    In November, two women operated on by Dr. Treite were brought to the block room. They were not insane. The one, a Russian student, had a head surgery. The other, a young woman, was operated on her arm. The arm was totally open and not sutured. One could see the muscles and nerves. The arm was open from the elbow to the wrist. She died the next day. In March 1945, I saw young and old gypsies sitting on the floor of the examining room. They were screaming and rolling all over the floor in agony and pain. In front of the door was the female Czech police. In the room were head nurse Marschall, and Drs. Treite and Trommer.17

    In August 1942, the bone and muscle experiments began. In some instances, in the operating room, the bones of the lower leg were smashed into many pieces with a hammer and repaired with and without clamps as a comparison. Casts were applied but removed within a few days, leaving the legs to heal without a cast. In the bone transplantation surgery, entire sections of the fibula were removed, some with and some without the periosteum. In one case, the arm and scapula of a prisoner was removed to be transplanted into a private patient who had lost his scapula, clavicle, and humerus to sarcoma. In the muscle experiments, several surgeries were done on each prisoner. Portions of muscle and nerve were removed each time. 2

    A second type of experiment done at Ravensbrück was done in January 1945 by Dr. Schumann. He selected girls between the ages of 8 and 18 and injected contrast medium into the uterus and Fallopian tubes. The stated purpose of that experiment was to assess the development of female reproductive organs. Mostly gypsy girls were used and the study involved 120-140 girls. Many died of infections.5 Girls as young as 8 years old were used as subjects.18

    The Role of Nurses

    In 1943, in an attempt to alleviate some of the burden of the Revier blocks, each barrack was assigned a nurse. She was to administer first aid and take care of bandage changes and minor health problems. It was the block nurse who then was

    authorized to send an inmate to the Revier for treatment or admission. A major duty of the block nurse was the delousing.19 However, not all nurses provided care to the sick and injured:

    I was able to ascertain that the German nurses had never actually had any professional activity; they looked on the misery of the sick with the greatest indifference and even sarcasm and never did they make any effort whatever to help them even though it was possible for them to do so. It was a perfectly moral thing for the Schwester [nurse] to beat the sick, indeed I have seen Schwester Lisa beating sick women without any reason at all.20

    Schwestern Marschall, Salvequart, and Quernheim

    The actions of three nurses, one SS-employed nurse and two prisoner-nurses are described. These nurses were selected because there is extensive information about them as a result of their post-war trials.

    Before describing their actions, it is important to point out that there were many women, including nurses, who no doubt acted in kind and moral ways. However, because they were not a part of post-war trials, their identities and stories remain largely unknown.

    Elisabeth Marschall

    Elisabeth Marschall was the Head Nurse [Oberschwester] at Ravensbrück. Elisabeth Marschall had been a nurse since 1909. In 1931, she joined the Nazi party because she believed, as she stated, that Aonly Hitler could save Germany from its misery@.21 Prior to working in Ravensbrück, she was employed as the Oberschwester at the Hermann Göring Werke in Braunschweig. There she was accused of providing two French prisoners with food. She was interrogated by the Gestapo and was accused of Ataking food away from the German people@. As a result she was sent to Ravensbrück against her will.21

    It was Elisabeth Marshall who, the night before an execution, would go to the Reviers card file to choose the names of the condemned, she who kept the secret records of the murders, she who set up medical supervision of Dr. Gebhardt's experiments@.22 According to one witness, AThe Head Nurse Marschall is co-responsible for the death of thousands of women in the camp. The same witness stated that she felt Agreat compassion that a woman who could have represented the Red Cross in Germany sank to such depths.7

    Oberschwester Marschall, along with Dr. Treite, sat on top of an examining table and selected more than 800 women to be shipped to Auschwitz where most perished.23 Marschall also provided some post-operative care to the patients having the medical experiments. At her trial, she testified that she prepared the beds for the patients and gave them injections of morphine twice a day for the first day or two, then once daily, and then gave oral pain medication.21 One prisoner-nurse testified that Marschall had 50 prisoners with newborn infants loaded into a cattle car without water, food, or milk. All perished.

    The first children who were born in camp remained in Revier I, packed in laundry baskets. Later on they were all brought into a small room. When they increased in numbers, they went into the office of Block 11 and later on they went with their mothers to Barracks 32. Back then, there were about 100 babies. Very few babies survived the first 4 weeks. The conditions under which they had to live were such that they had to die. The mothers did not receive any additional food and were unable to nurse their children. They were chased to work away from their children. Marschall forbade us to organize diapers and linens and designated two anti-socials [prisoners] in block 11 as caregivers for the infants, although we had plenty of experienced people in camp. All my pleading for more food for the children was ignored by Marschall and Treite. In 1944, we had to accept the fact that there was no milk. But in 1945, many Red Cross packages arrived and then there was so much milk, sugar, and oatmeal that we could have fed twice as many infants than we had. I have seen these items for myself in the room of the Head Nurse, and later on in a special room which was created for the packages. Even during that time Marschall did not release sufficient nutrition for the newborns.24

    Another prisoner-nurse, Hildegard Boy-Brandt, described a fellow prisoner still holding her dead baby. AShe showed her empty breasts as if she wanted to emphasize that she was innocent of her infant's death. From where was she to take the strength

    for a second life when there was not even enough for her?6 Of the 380 babies born in January 1945, most died during the first 14 days and all but one was dead by 3 months.25

    Toward the end of March 1945, Oberschwester Marschall decided that all pregnant women and women with newborns had to work. She sent a group of five guards with whips to the block to enforce her edict. Everyday she demanded a precise count of the number who went to work.

    Needless to say, Elisabeth Marschall provided a more humanitarian portrait of herself at her trial. She stated that she had never given a lethal injection, that she never selected anyone for extermination, and that she tried to obtain extra food for the mothers and infants. She also stated And, by the way, I was not a member of the German master race@. When asked to respond to witnesses portrayal of her as cruel and indifferent, she replied, AI was not very nice, but when you think of the people who came into the camp and who did not always behave properly, then it is very possible that I wasn’t very nice. But I can say that I always listened to them and tried to be as fair as possible.28

    Vera Salvequart

    Vera Salvequart, unlike Marschall, was a prisoner-nurse. Vera Salvequart was born in Czechoslovakia and was educated as a nurse. She was first arrested in 1941 for having a relationship with a Jewish man and for refusing to divulge his whereabouts to the Gestapo. She served 10 months in a prison in Flossenburg. In 1942, she was again arrested for having a relationship with a Jew which was prohibited in Nazi Germany. For this, she served two years in prison and was released in April 1944. It was only three months later that she was again arrested and sent to Ravensbrück. She came to Ravensbrück on December 6, 1944 after being arrested for helping five detained officers escape.28

    Salvequart testified that she was ordered to not talk about anything she saw when she arrived at Ravensbrück and that she would be shot if she did. Initially she was assigned to work in the Revier of the youth camp, Uckermark, of Ravensbrück which served as the Revier for the sickest prisoners. From here patients were collected for the transports to the gas chambers . The condemned women were taken to Salvequart's block where they were undressed and often had to stand naked from 3 PM until 11 PM, when they were put in a truck and driven to the gas chambers. Salvequart's job was to fill out the death certificates of the women and to extract the gold teeth from the dead bodies in the early morning.29

    In February 1945, she was reported to have given out a Asleeping powder@ to 50 extremely ill patients. By the next day, 5 had died, and 7 more the following day.30 AThe patients received a powder from Salvequart, which she pretended was a sleeping aid, and it killed them instead. If the patients refused to take the powder, lethal injections or dissolved poison was given@.2 One witness testified that she was present when Salvequart gave her friend a white powder and the friend died in her presence .9 Salvequart was also changed with having administered Ainjections in a very sadistic manner to sick prisoners, after which the victims died a horrific death.@21 When questioned about her poisoning patients, Salvequart testified,

    I remember that the sick had no trust in the beginning because they thought that I took part in the mass murdering. I must say that in their place, I would have

    had the same impression. I was locked up without interruption, couldn=t go anywhere alone, and all they knew about me was that I lived there where they murdered so many people. Additionally, the prisoners saw when I entered the wash room in the case of Schikovsky; they heard the woman scream and therefore assumed that I was part of the murder@.29

    She denied giving poision either as a powder or as an injection to any prisoner.29

    Inmate Lotte Sontag testified the following:

    I was told by Vera Salvequart herself that the women were partly killed by poisoning with a white powder by her and partly murdered by injections which were administered by the SS men Koeller and Rapp.31

    Salvequart described how she saved some women and infants from death by substituting their identification number with that of someone already dead, thus making them non-existent in the camp. She even kept one infant hidden and had male prisoners bring food and milk for him. When discovered, the infant was taken away by an SS guard who threw him into a cart filled with leftovers.29

    Additional good acts were also attributed to Salvequart. A male prisoner of Ravensbrück testified that she asked him to help her steal medicines, food, and wood for the patients. They stole the medications from the SS apothecary. In fact, this same witness testified that Salvequart told him that her patients in the youth camp Revier were in very bad condition and she asked him to help get as many necessary items as possible.32

    Salvequart did not get along with the two SS men who supervised her and at one time she was to be gassed herself. Several of the male prisoners came to her aid by

    disguising her as a male prisoner and hiding her in their section of the camp. She continued in hiding until the camp was liberated in April 1945. She left Ravensbrück still disguised as a male on a transport of 1,000 male prisoners to an American transit camp for refugees. There she gave an American officer the list she had been keeping of prisoners who had been gassed. In the transit camp, she assisted with of the medical care of the refugees. Interestingly, this witness stated that he and Salvequart were to be engaged at the end of the war. When asked if he would have helped her had he known she had killed people, he stated that he would not have.32

    Gerda Quernheim

    Gerda Quernheim also was a prisoner-nurse and midwife. She was born in 1907 and was a German national. She was first arrested in 1938 for making statements against the government and was imprisoned for one year. Following this she was taken to Ravensbrück where she remained until April 1944. In April she was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau where she was imprisoned until being transferred back to Ravensbrück in January 1945.33

    Although strictly forbidden, she became romantically involved with one of the SS physicians, Dr. Rudolf Rosenthal, and became pregnant.18 When she had an abortion, her affair with Dr. Rosenthal was discovered and both were sent to the bunker (punishment block). Ludwig Ramdohr testified:

    On searching the sick-bay, I myself discovered a human embryo in alcohol, which, according to Quernheim’s statement was her own. In a later interrogation Quernheim admitted, however, that she got rid of the embryos when they had been removed from other prisoners.34

    Quernheim’s actions as a nurse in Ravensbrück included both good and evil. She is reported to have stolen medicine to help some prisoners and participated in the killing of others. One postwar witness described Quernheim helping Dr. Rosenthal with abortions on prisoners, often very late in the pregnancy, and disposing the newborns in the boiler room.6 Another former prisoner stated Aif children were born they were

    drowned immediately under the tender care of Gerda, a prisoner->nurse= who also had the duty of administering fatal injections to the gravely ill@.35

    Margarete Gahr, a prisoner, testified:

    I remember myself especially Gerda Quernheim, because she worked in the Revier as No. 1 Prisoner’s nurse under Dr. Rosenthal. Her cold-bloodness did let Gerda Quernheim become a multifold murderess. This my opinion I base of the following.

    From my working room, that means from the Revier kitchen, I could see direct to the so-called AStuebchen@, which was the room for the dying. I was very often a witness hereupon, that sick persons were brought into the AStuebchen@ and that a short time later Gerda Quernheim with an injection syringe in her hand went into the room for the dying. A few minutes after Gerda Quernheim had left the room, the women were carried dead out of the room. These events I myself observed very often. I am of the opinion that quite a number of those sick persons could have been saved.36

    Once, Dr. Rosenthal mixed up the files of two men with the same names, one of whom had died. When the error was found, he sent Quernheim to the Revier to give a lethal injection to the one still living, thus making the paperwork correct.6

    In another instance, Quernheim helped Rosenthal administer an anesthetic to a healthy young girl to have one of legs amputated. The leg was taken away to Hohenlychen, an SS research institution. Shortly thereafter, the young woman was killed by a lethal injection.37

    Quernheim’s description of her work differs considerably from these descriptions. She stated that her job consisted of providing treatments during clinic visits including bandaging, ear treatments, delousing, and venereal disease treatments. She stated that she did assist Dr. Rosenthal with surgery but Athese were medically necessary operations, and no one died from them.33 She made the following statement about her assistance with abortions:

    It was also my task at night to remove premature births of those women for whom the doctors had prepared this, through operations. At several of these operations (called medical preparation AMedizinische Einleitung@ [medical induction]) I was present and assisted by e.g. handling instruments, washing of the patients, etc. After the operation I had to give medicines to the women to accelerate the expulsion of the embryo.33

    The Consequences of the Nurse’s Actions

    Elisabeth Marschall was tried after the war before the British military tribunal in Hamburg, Germany. She was found guilty on February 3, 1947 of Akilling and ill treatment of allied nationals and was sentenced to death by hanging.38 She was executed by the British military tribunal.39

    Vera Salvequart was also a defendant at the same trial. She was found guilty on March 2, 1947 for her war crimes and was hanged on May 3, 1947.

    After the war, Gerda Quernheim was charged with committing two war crimes: Killing by injections foreign nations and killing at least one newborn baby.40

    Although Quernheim was initially sentenced to death, her sentence was changed to imprisonment on July 19, 1948.41 The prosecution stated that there were the following mitigating circumstances:

    1.Many of the ex-internees spoke well of her conduct in general.
    2.She herself was a prisoner.
    3.The role she had in giving lethal injections or preparation of prisoners for compulsory operations may well have been under a very heavy duress and possibly also under the influence of Dr. Rosenthal whose mistress she was at the material times.42
    4.Quernheim was released from prison in 1955, at age 47, after serving 7 years.

    Factors Influencing or Contributing to the Nurses’ Actions

    The hell of Ravensbrück is unimaginable despite many first-person accounts. Despair and disease affected all. Prisoners were never assured of another day of life; in fact, many did not want another day of life. Prisoners were subjected to every type of inhumanity that could be perpetrated - all in the name of National Socialism. It is profoundly sad that nurses were among the perpetrators and we can never fully understand why. Likewise, we cannot say for certain how we, as individuals, would have acted in that environment and under those conditions.

    It is logical to assume that nurses employed by the SS such as Elisabeth Marshall held beliefs congruent with those of National Socialism, hence ideological commitment may have been a strong force motivating their actions. Elisabeth Marshall, from her own statement, supported Hitler and believed that he could Asave Germany from its misery.21 The SS nurses would, because of their National Socialistic beliefs, hold in low regard prisoners who were Communist, Jewish, Polish, or Gypsy. These prisoners were of value to the SS only as long as they could work as slave laborers or subjects for medical experiments and, of course, illness limited their productivity. Care, if any, was directed at getting prisoners back to their jobs or toward the success of the so-called medical experiments. It is likely that the SS nurses caring for the subjects of the experiments saw merit and value in the experiments and believed that the results would be useful to the German military.

    Ideological commitment is more difficult to support in the prisoner-nurses. Both of the prisoner-nurses, Vera Salvequart and Gerda Quernheim, were political prisoners. That is, they were imprisoned for having ideals and actions against the National Socialists. Many of the victims of these nurses were of similar national origin and were also political

    prisoners. Ideological commitment would seem to be absent or, at least, inconsistent in these nurses who had been imprisoned for defying the government of National Socialism.

    Certainly, many of the actions of some of the nurses were carried out under duress. Punishment for disobedience was frequent and often deadly. Under these conditions, it would have been extraordinary for one to actively resist. For some, such as Gerda Quernheim, the issue becomes more complex. As described, Quernheim has had both good and evil attributed to her. Certainly her romantic involvement with an SS doctor influenced her actions and was cited by the Prosecution as a mitigating factor in commuting her sentence from death to imprisonment. Yet, her cruelty was undeniably exemplified by the burning of newborn infants.6

    Vera Salvequart was a Czech citizen who twice had been arrested for her illegal relationships with Jews. She was sent to Ravensbrück for helping detained soldiers escape. In these actions, she did demonstrate a defiant and even a brave streak. Upon her imprisonment in Ravensbrück she was told that she would be shot if she talked about any of the events she saw while a nurse.33 She certainly saw many other women killed for lesser offenses hence, she no doubt feared for her life. Nonetheless, many of her actions seem inexplicably cruel. Salvequart, like Quernheim, had both good and bad actions attributed to her, confounding an understanding of her behavior.

    Ninety-two thousand women and children from 18 nations died in Ravensbrück concentration camp, some because of the neglect or direct violence of SS and prisoner- nurses.43 Research into the actions of nurses in the concentration camps will continue in the hopes that examples of compassion will be found. Certainly there were many but because they were not defendants in post-war trials, their stories are more difficult to discover.

  2. #32
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    Nov 2004

    Re: Nurse Mary YOUNG , - Scottish heroine of WW2 :

    I think it is now best for us to wait til the Sunday Post publishes its story on Sunday 14 March 2010 and see what response comes from that ...........

    Maybe a next of kin of Nurse Mary Young will contact the SP ...

  3. #33
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    Nov 2004

    Re: Nurse Mary YOUNG , - Scottish heroine of WW2 :

    The Sunday Post editor says that the article on Nurse Mary Young from Aberdeen should be in the papers on Sunday 21 March 2010 .

  4. #34
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    Nov 2004

    Re: Nurse Mary YOUNG , - Scottish heroine of WW2 :

    The Sunday Post Editor thankfully published the story in today's Sunday Post ( Sunday 21March 2010 ) . A good half page story with photograph of Nurse Young and Ravensbruck Concentration Camp .

    My friend , Donald John MacLeod has done a lot of research into this Scottish Nurse and it is good that he has brought the story to the attention of the readers of the SUNDAY POST as sadly she has been forgotten . As Donald John said there is a memorial to Nurse Edith Cavell in Inverness but there is not one memorial to Scottish Nurse Mary Helen Young .


  5. #35
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    Dec 2006

    Re: Nurse Mary YOUNG , - Scottish heroine of WW2 :

    A good article in the Sunday Post,can we find out more of what she was doing in Paris?
    What do you suggest Pat?

  6. #36
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    Jul 2004

    Re: Nurse Mary YOUNG , - Scottish heroine of WW2 :

    Originally Posted By: ARMAGHA good article in the Sunday Post,can we find out more of what she was doing in Paris?
    What do you suggest Pat?

    Mary Young is mentioned in a book called "The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women". The write up on page 383 is the same as that which Al posted on page one of this topic

    <span style="font-style: italic">YOUNG, Mary Helen, born Aberdeen 5 June 1883, died Ravensbruck, Germany, 14 March 1945. Nurse and resistance worker, France. Daughter of Elizabeth Ann Burnett, and Alexander Young, grocer's clerk.
    The youngest of three children, Mary Young moved to Edinburgh with her family in 1884, after her mother's death. After school, she spent several years as a dressmaker in Jenners' department store, before training as a nurse at Kingston County Hospital, Surrey. In 1909, after qualification, she went to France as a private nurse. When war was declared in 1914, Mary Young volunteered for service with the Allied forces, working in the British Army zone in France. After the war she resumed private nursing in Paris, but returned regularly to Scotland and sent her sister money to help maintain the Aberdeen house where she intended to retire. She worked on in Paris during the Second World War, even after the Germans occupied the city. In December 1940, she was sent to a civilian internment camp in Besancon, but due to ill health was soon released. Back in Paris, although under Gestapo surveillance, she managed to harbour resistance organisers sent from London and provide a base for radio transmissions. The Gestapo arrested her late in 1943, on suspicion of helping British prisoners to escape, and she was sent as a political prisoner to the women's concentration camp at Ravensbruck. Small (4ft 11in), now aged 60, and already ill with heart trouble, she could not do the heavy work required of camp inmates, and conditions at Ravensbruck took their toll. Like thousands of her fellow prisoners, she perished.

    When news of Mary Young's resistance work and death reached Scotland in September 1945, newspapers hailed her as a second Edith Cavell. Preliminary investigations revealed that she had died in early 1945, possibly in the gas chamber; in 1948, the Court of Session adjudged that she had died on 14 March 1945. Letters produced in evidence referred to her courage and cheerfulness. A fellow inmate said 'she always kept her chin up'.

    I read about her at , noted the book and did a library search. The book is a reference only and the only copy was in Peebles Library. What a stroke of luck. Photocopied the details this morning.

  7. #37
    Senior Member
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    Nov 2004

    Re: Nurse Mary YOUNG , - Scottish heroine of WW2 :

    The Sunday Post was actually contacted by another friend, historian and published author , Donald M Fraser and he was the one who brought the story into the media's knowledge .


  8. #38
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    Dec 2006

    Re: Nurse Mary YOUNG , - Scottish heroine of WW2 :

    good site Chalky,some wicked woman!!!!
    Why was Mary young not awarded a bravery award????

  9. #39
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    Jul 2004

    Re: Nurse Mary YOUNG , - Scottish heroine of WW2 :

    Call to honour nurse for war bravery woman died in concentration camp

    By Ross Davidson

    Published: 22/03/2010

    A “COURAGEOUS” Aberdeen woman who supported the Allied forces during both world wars could be honoured for her bravery.

    Aberdeen North MSP Brian Adam has called for the city council to acknowledge the actions of Mary Helen Young when she lived in France.

    She was born in Aberdeen in 1883 and, after becoming a nurse, volunteered to serve with the British Army in France during World War I.

    She stayed in Paris during World War II to help until she was put into a civilian internment camp at Besancon.

    She was later released due to ill health, but still helped Allied forces by housing resistance fighters and providing a base for radio broadcasts until she was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943.

    She was taken to the Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp in north Germany, where she died in 1945.

    Mr Adam has now sent letters to Aberdeen City Council’s Lord Provost Peter Stephen and chief executive Sue Bruce asking for the war heroine’s actions to be honoured by the city.

    Mr Adam said: “After being told by a constituent about the courageous Mary Helen Young, it seemed right to me that Aberdeen, the city of her birth, should honour her in some way. I hope an award would give Mary Helen Young the recognition she deserves in her home city, and inspire pupils in Aberdeen to learn of her remarkable life.”

    Mr Adam added both Mrs Bruce and Mr Stephen had replied to confirm they will be looking into the idea.

    Read more:

  10. #40

    I was interested to come across this thread - I'm a freelance writer trying to find out more about the activities of Mary Helen Young. I followed up the P&J article, mentioned above, where there were calls for Aberdeen City Council to honour Young. This is the reply I recently received from the Lord Provost's office...

    'I have been in touch with the Office of Chief Executive on this matter and whilst there is a vague memory of the late Brian Adam having raised this matter with the past Chief Executive, Sue Bruce, there is no further information on record.'

    It would be great to hear if anyone has an update on this or has any other information about Mary.

    Lesley Proctor
    Last edited by Lesley Proctor; 2nd September 2013 at 16:48.

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