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Exhibit opens on prostitution in concentration camps

A new exhibit tells the story of women whom the Nazis forced to become sex-workers.

“Sex-Slave Labour in the Nazi-Concentraion Camps,” opened Oct. 31 and runs through Jan. 18 at the Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg. It was curated by researchers at the memorial at Ravensbrueck, the former concentration camp for women, from which most of the forced prostitutes were taken. The exhibit includes interviews with eyewitnesses, photographs and contemporary documents.

Using mostly Germany women taken from Ravensbrueck, Nazi guards set up a whorehouse at Neuengamme. The women were not permitted to leave the premises, which were visted by privileged male prisoners who were considered racially superior. SS cheif Heinrich Himmler hoped the brothel would make prisoners more productive.

Many surviving women have not spoken of the experience, sixty-five years after the bordello was set up. According to the exhibit organizers, from 1944 until the end of the war, 12 women were forced to work there at any given time.

Researcher and author Christa Paul, who has written about the forced prostitution centers, told reporters that many women who became prostitutes did so because they thought it would save their lives. But some of their fellow prisoners suspected them of having volunteered. This was not the case, Paul said.

According to researcher Robert Sommer, about 220 women were forced to do similar work in ten concentration camps.

In an interview in the German press, Paul said that research on this subject has lagged, as many Holocaust survivors and directors of memorials feared it would give a false impression of daily life at the camps. After sexual violence was offiically recognized in 2002 as a crime against humanity, and a war crime, researchers began tackling the theme in earnest.

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