women’s division (Frauenabteilung), reporting to the office of the commandant of Ravensbrueck, was set up when the first women’s transport arrived. It became an autonomous camp, under the direction of Auschwitz Concentration Camp, in July.
The late Danuta Czech, an Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum historian, wrote that the Nazis placed the women in 10 blocks that were separated by a wall from the rest of the camp. The functionary cadres—the block supervisors and capos with authority over other prisoners—were recruited from among the women criminals and asocials. Joanna Langefeld became camp director.
Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess held an exceptionally low opinion of the women functionaries. “I think that, at Ravensbrueck, they picked what was indeed the worst element among the prisoners [and sent them to] Auschwitz,” he wrote. “They surpassed the male criminal prisoners in their meanness, vulgarity, and backwardness. For the most part, they were prostitutes with multiple convictions, often downright repulsive women. It was predictable that such beasts would mistreat the women prisoners under them, but there was no way of avoiding this.”
The Jewish women from Poprad in Slovakia were the first recorded transport sent to Auschwitz by the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) as part of the “final solution of the Jewish question.” After arrival, they were dressed in uniforms left behind by Soviet POWs who had been murdered.
127 political prisoners from Tarnów prison and Montelupich prison in Cracow made up the first transport of Polish women to Auschwitz. They arrived on March 27, 1942, and were given camp numbers 6784 to 6910.
At the beginning of August 1942, the Auschwitz commandant’s office decided to move the women’s division to Auschwitz II-Birkenau, still under construction. After the morning roll call on August 6, the women prisoners formed a column. The Germans marched them to Birkenau.
The women’s division in Birkenau existed until the day the camp was evacuated in January 1945. On the morning of January 18, SS guards escorted columns, each numbering 500 women and children, out of the camp at short intervals—a total of 5,345 prisoners. Over 4,500 women and children remained behind in the camp.