Sixty-six years ago this week the Danish government and the Swedish Red Cross evacuated 7,000 female prisoners from the concentration camp at Ravensbrück, most likely saving their lives. The women traveled by the famous White Buses or train to ferries that took them to Sweden, where they were nursed back to sufficient health to return to their homes in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Poland after the war ended in Europe in early May 1945.

The evacuation from Ravensbrück was part of an effort to evacuate Scandinavians from the prisons and camps of the Third Reich that began in March 1945. At first the Germans would only allow neutral Swedes to come in, but by the end most of the personnel and matériel were Danish. They took the Dutch, Belgian, French and Polish women to safety because, to their surprise, the commandant of Ravensbrück said they could. (For the full story click  here)

Ravensbrück was a harrowing place, not an extermination camp but a concentration camp designed to work and starve political prisoners to death. It was meant as a women’s camp although men were imprisoned there as well in the final chaos of the Third Reich.

At least eighteen women who had done their utmost as part of Dutch-Paris to help others escape from the Germans were deported to Ravensbrück from France and Belgium. At least five of them did not survive, including John Weidner’s sister Gabrielle. A few of them returned so broken in health that they didn’t live many years after the war.

It seems fitting that Danish and Swedish volunteers risked their lives to go into a war zone to rescue these women who were being so cruelly punished for rescuing others. But sobering to think of the seemingly endless chain of volunteers risking their own lives to rescue other good people.