Information on the brothels of WWII concentration camps is scanty, but I found quite a bit in Brutality and Desire, edited by Dagmar Herzog. I knew the brothels existed, since my novel takes place in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp and the brothels were staffed with women from Ravensbruck, but the book gives details about how the women were selected and what Himmler’s motivation was in starting them. Turns out, faced with declining work output from his male slave laborers, Himmler wanted to use the brothels as an incentive for these prisoners.Between 300 and 400 women were forced to become sex workers in brothels in more than ten concentration camps, including Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Sachsenhausen.
In a chapter by Robert Sommer, Camp Brothels: Forced Sex Labour in Nazi Concentration Camps, he gives the backstory to this bizarre scheme: “In 1942, the SS, under the direction of Heinrich Himmler, opened the first concentration camp brothel at Mauthausen. While there are many speculatory suppositions as to why this was initiated, Himmler himself thought it would be an effective incentive to promote a hard work ethic. In a letter to Oswald Pohl, Himmler said: “I consider it necessary to provide in the most liberal way hard-working prisoners with women in brothels.” These bonuses were not, however, extended to every group of inmates — Jews in particular were excluded. Sommer says “only 15 minutes’ sex and the missionary position were allowed.” If the prospect of being on a timer wasn’t pressure enough, the SS had spy-holes to check up on them.”
According to Brigitte Halbmayr’s article Sexualized Violence and Forced Prostitution in National Socialism, “A particularly perfidious form of exploitation of women took place in this barrack. The SS’s concept was to offer male prisoners, whose work was particularly important, an additional incentive to perform their duties by giving them the possibility to have contact with women. Only a small group of men were afforded this privilege. At the same time, this was seen as a means of putting a stop to homosexuality among the male inmates. The political prisoners additionally considered it an attempt by the SS to intensify the hierarchical organization of the camp society, thereby weakening solidarity among the prisoners. Neither the prisoners, nor (certainly not) the SS, gave much thought to the fate of women compelled to perform forced sexual labor. It is also known that the SS were keen on sending lesbian women to the brothels for “re-orientation,” to put them back on the “right path” of heterosexuality through sexual contact with men.”
At the opening of an exhibit on concentration camp brothels at the Ravensbruck Memorial, director Insa Eschebach said: “Hardly any other topic from the history of the concentration camps has, on the one hand, been kept so quiet and repressed and is, on the other hand, so tainted with prejudice and distortion, as the forced prostitution of female camp inmates for male camp inmates by the SS.”