Exhibition reveals secret history of Nazi sex slaves

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There are no photographs and no names, just scores of faded brown index cards with anonymous prisoner numbers, dates of birth, and the hideously functional term "brothel woman" handwritten in black ink on the bottom right-hand corner of each form.

The files, stacked on desks in a former garage for SS guards at the Ravensbrück women's concentration camp museum in Germany, provide evidence about one of the most sordid but least known aspects of Nazi rule. They recall how hundreds of women, written of as "antisocial elements" by the Hitler regime, were arrested, dispatched to camps and forced to work as prostitutes for slave labourers during the Third Reich.

The plight of the hundreds of women who suffered this fate is the subject of an exhibition which opened last week at the former Ravensbrück camp's museum, north of Berlin. It breaks a taboo on an issue which has remained a virtual secret since the end of the Second World War.

"Hardly any other part of concentration camp history has been so repressed and so tainted with prejudice and distortion," said Insa Eschebach, the museum's director. "The women prisoners who were forced to work as prostitutes remained silent after 1945. Hardly any applied for financial compensation because talking about their experiences was too degrading for them."

Yet with the help of testimonies by former Ravensbrück prisoners, excerpts from Nazi SS files and accounts by camp guards, the exhibition manages to capture the horror and degradation suffered by the Third Reich's sex slaves.

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