By Roderick Miller
At least two women — and possibly three — from the Channel Islands were imprisoned in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp (Konzentrationslager Ravensbrück, KZ Ravensbrück) in the town of Fürstenberg/Havel in the German state of Brandenburg, about 47 miles north of Berlin. Ravensbrück Concentration Camp was founded in May 1939, with the first transport arriving there from Lichtenburg Concentration Camp. The camp’s population expanded rapidly with the increased numbers of women political prisoners in Nazi-occupied territories. Most of the women in Ravensbrück were either Eastern European forced labourers who had been sent to Germany and committed some infraction of the law or a breach of discipline, or women deported there by the SS as political prisoners. There were also an ever-fluctuating number of Jewish women in the camp. At least 881 children are also listed as having arrived in the camp with their mothers, but very few of them survived.
Many of the prisoners performed forced labour for an SS-owned textile factory on site. Other prisoners were forced to work for an agricultural company or were hired out to local privately-owned farms. From 1942 onwards, several thousand prisoners worked for Siemens & Halske in armaments production, a typical Nazi violation of the Geneva Convention which prohibits prisoners from working in weapons manufacturing. By 1943, Ravensbrück had become a transit camp for a large number of sub-camps. Originally all of the women’s camps in Germany were under Ravensbrück administration, but this changed in 1944, with many camps then falling under the supervision of other camps nearer to them. By 1944, Ravensbrück still maintained control of around 40 sub-camps. Ravensbrück also had a separate smaller camp for around 2000 men, mainly used to supply the camp with skilled craftsmen.
From August 1943 onwards, pseudo-medical experiments were carried out on the female prisoners by SS doctors, with experiments on bone removal and the purposeful introduction of gangrenous infections into wounds, and in early 1945 experiments on sterilization were carried out on 120 to 140 Sinti and Roma women. Many women died directly as a result of the experiments or were killed soon afterwards. Some women in Ravensbrück were forcefully recruited as prostitutes in a number of men’s camps. Executions for alleged sabotage and spying were regularly carried out in the camp as well. The Nazi ‘T4’ euthanasia program, which was a state sponsored program to murder the physically and mentally ill (including German citizens), was also implemented using Ravensbrück as a transit camp to extermination facilities in places like Bernburg, Hartheim/Linz, Auschwitz, and Majdanek.
Julia Barry, an emigrant to the Channel Islands from Hungary, was transported from Fort de Romainville Internment and Transit Camp in France and arrived in Ravensbrück on 18 May 1944, where she was given the prisoner number 39237 (or 39785; both numbers are found in contemporary German documents). Barry was able to conceal her Jewish ancestry from the SS — she was a practicing Christian — just as she had successfully concealed the fact in Nazi-occupied Guernsey. Given that around 20% of the camps’ prisoners were German and an additional 8% from Hungary, the fact that Barry spoke fluent German and Hungarian — not to mention English — put her at a great advantage over most of the other prisoners, and she was recruited to be a prisoner functionary for the Nazis.
Capos, or Anweisungshäftlinge (‘instructionary prisoners’) as prisoner functionaries were officially called in Ravensbrück, often fully collaborated in the Nazi brutality of the camps, and many of them were placed on trial for crimes against humanity after the war. Some capos, however, are known to have risked their lives to help other prisoners survive. It may never be known precisely what role Barry played as a capo in Ravensbrück, though surviving Ravensbrück inmate Olga Quant gave a sworn testimonial in 1961 that she knew Barry in Ravensbrück. The statement was given to Barry to help her be recognized as a victim of Nazi persecution. Quant states that Barry worked for the ‘camp police’, but there is no mention of any brutality on the part of Barry in this testimony, and it seems unlikely that Quant would have made a statement to help Barry out if Barry had, to Quant’s knowledge, committed any acts of violence against the prisoners. By Barry’s own accounts, she had the many of the same privileges as the SS guards, and had the opportunity of saving many men and women from the gas chambers. ‘I tried everything to save them… but as the order was to destroy a certain percentage they had to do so.’  It is interesting how between these two adjacent sentences Barry changes from the first person ‘I’ to the third person ‘they’.
Channel Islander Louisa Gould was deported from Fort Hatry Prison in France on 1 September 1944 and arrived in Ravensbrück three days later. She was given the prisoner number 62871. Survivors who knew Gould in the camp later wrote to the family that she had become severely ill and murdered in the camp gas chamber in February 1945, a date confirmed by Julia Barry more specifically as 13 February 1945.
London-born Channel Island resident June Sinclair is supposed to have been deported from Jersey after having slapped a German officer. The only document that is known to exist regarding Sinclair is a photograph taken by Jerseyman Joe Mière’s mother that is supposed to be of Sinclair on a Jersey beach. Apparently Mière’s mother received a letter after the war from a Ravensbrück survivor stating that Sinclair was also a Ravensbrück prisoner and was gassed there. There is, however, not a single known document on the island with June Sinclair’s name on it confirming her existence and her personal data, and no documentation has yet been found in the French or German archives. The records for the women’s section of Ravensbrück were largely destroyed when the Nazis fled the camp. Sinclair’s name is on the Cherche-Midi Prison memorial in Paris-Creteil, but this is likely based on testimonials from Mière and it is highly unlikely that Sinclair was ever imprisoned there. Sinclair’s name also appears as a victim in the Ravensbrück Memorial Book, though the memorial centre that published it is uncertain of the source .
Julia Barry published a series of newspaper articles in the Guernsey Evening Press in July 1945, where gave a detailed description of Ravensbrück:
The first month we remained in quarantine but had to get up at 4 a.m. and at 4:30 we had to stay for roll call, very often three hours… we had no underwear, no stockings, nothing on the head, only the short-sleeved dress and wooden shoes. We stood hours in rain, wind, snow, or frost and there was not a roll call when we didn’t pick up a few dead… we were transferred to another hut and started to work 12 hours a day. We worked in different places. Most of us were rolling sand in wheelbarrows from one place to another.
The huts in the camp were roughly constructed of wood, plenty of windows but no glass. In winter, when we were 40,000, half of us had no blankets at all, no pillows, and of course, never a sheet… The food was gradually worse and less. So we knew it must soon come to an end… The SS women’s cruelty grew worse and worse. A young SS girl, not more than 20 years of age, commanded old women to kneel down, keep their hands above their heads with two heavy stones, while she herself stood on a table and poured buckets of cold water on them… The two chimneys, like two huge candles, were burning skywards night and day. High flames illuminated the dark nights and spread the smell of the crematorium over the camp. I don’t think that ever in my life the memory of this smell will ever leave me.
Ravensbrück became an extermination camp itself in January 1945 with the installation of a gas chamber near the camp crematorium. A former youth camp in Uckermark, about a mile from Ravensbrück, became a ‘death zone’ for ill and dying prisoners. During roll call alone, 50 prisoners were dying there on a daily basis. By this date Ravensbrück held over 46,000 female and nearly 8,000 male prisoners. The extreme overcrowding and unsanitary conditions meant shortages of food and shelter and the rapid spread of disease, leading to constant selections for death in the gas chambers and deportations to other camps with equally poor conditions. In the 6 years of its existence, over 123,000 women had been imprisoned in Ravensbrück, and nearly 26,000 of them died there.
The SS personnel abandoned Ravensbrück on 29 April 1945 and Soviet troops liberated the camp the next day. Trials of the Ravensbrück guards and administrators were carried out in seven stages by British military tribunals in Hamburg between 1946 and 1948, and in a French trial in Rastatt in 1950. Fifteen of the Ravensbrück personnel, seven of them women, were executed by hanging in Hamelin Prison. Two more were shot by a French firing squad in 1950.
A memorial to Ravensbrück was erected outside of the site in 1959 by the government of the communist German Democratic Republic, and a museum was made in 1984 in the camp commandant’s building, but the actual Ravensbrück site was not publicly accessible until 1993, as it had been used by the Soviets as a military base. The current Ravensbrück Memorial was founded in the same year under the umbrella of the Brandenburg Memorial Foundation.
Julia Barry was the only Channel Islander to survive Ravensbrück. After liberation, she was taken to Sweden where she recovered for several months before returning to the UK. It is likely that she, like most survivors, suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of her life.
 Julia Brichta, ‘I was condemned to death’, see Sources below.
 Email on 14 June 2016 from Cordula Hundertmark at the Mahn- und Gedenkstätte Ravensbrück to Roderick Miller.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Péry d’Alincourt, Jacqueline: Surviving Ravensbrück. Link.
Barry, Julia: ‘I was condemned to death’, 18 July 1945; ‘Holding a pink ticket might mean death’, 20 July 1945; ‘From Ravensbruch [sic] to Guernsey’, 17 August 1945; all in the Guernsey Evening Press.
Megargee, Geoffrey P. (editor): Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945, Vol. 1 , Part B. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum , Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2009, pp. 1188-1191.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO 950/999 (Barry [Chapman])
TNA FO 950/2700 (Gould)
The Wiener Archive, International Tracing Service:
Documents on Julia Barry, reference numbers 3935211, 110298403, 13944001