German soldiers entering a Soldatenbordell in Brest, France (1940). The building is a former synagogue.

Military brothels (German: Militärbordelle) were set up by Nazi Germany during World War II throughout much of occupied Europe for the use of Wehrmacht and SS soldiers.[1] These brothels were generally new creations, but in the west, they were sometimes expansions of pre-existing brothels and other buildings. Until 1942, there were around 500 military brothels of this kind in German-occupied Europe,[2] serving travelling soldiers and those withdrawn from the front.[3][4] According to records, a minimum of 34,140 European women were forced to serve as prostitutes during the German occupation of their own countries along with female prisoners of concentration camp brothels.[1] In many cases in Eastern Europe, teenage girls and women were kidnapped on the streets of occupied cities during German military and police round ups called łapanka in Polish or rafle in French.[3][4][5]

Eastern Europe

Further information: Nazi birthing centres for foreign workers

The Foreign Ministry of the Polish Government in Exile issued a document on May 3, 1941, describing the mass kidnapping raids conducted in Polish cities with the aim of capturing young women, as young as 15,[5] for sexual slavery at brothels run by the German military.[5] On top of that, Polish girls as young as 15 – classified as suitable for slave labor and shipped to Germany – were sexually exploited by German men.[5] In Brandenburg, two Polish Ostarbeiter teens who returned home to Kraków in advanced stage of pregnancy, reported to have been raped by German soldiers with such frequency that they were unable to perform any of the worker's designated labour.[5]

Łapanka, 1941 kidnapping raid in Warsaw's Żoliborz district. Selected young women were later forced into military brothels.

The Swiss Red Cross mission driver Franz Mawick wrote in 1942 from Warsaw about what he saw: "Uniformed Germans ... gaze fixedly at women and girls between the ages of 15 and 25. One of the soldiers pulls out a pocket flashlight and shines it on one of the women, straight into her eyes. The two women turn their pale faces to us, expressing weariness and resignation. The first one is about 30 years old. 'What is this old whore looking for around here?' – one of the three soldiers laughs. 'Bread, sir' – asks the woman. ... 'A kick in the ass you get, not bread' – answers the soldier. Owner of the flashlight directs the light again on the faces and bodies of girls. ... The youngest is maybe 15 years old ... They open her coat and start groping her with their lustfull paws. 'This one is ideal for bed' – he says."[5]

Conditions in brothels were brutal. The women were often raped by up to 32 men per day; the visiting soldiers were allocated 15 minutes each at a nominal cost of 3 Reichsmarks per "session" between the hours of 2 p.m. and 8.30 p.m.[5] Those who were visibly pregnant were sometimes released, but would not go back to their families, so as not to shame them.[5]

In the Soviet Union, women were kidnapped by German forces for prostitution as well; one report by International Military Tribunal writes: "in the city of Smolensk the German Command opened a brothel for officers in one of the hotels into which hundreds of women and girls were driven; they were mercilessly dragged down the street by their arms and hair."[6]


Although it contradicted the ideals of Aryan "moral strength and purity", the brothels were justified as acceptable sexual outlets for Nazi soldiers. The Nazis believed that they were a better alternative than having sexual relations with local foreign women and forced laborers. They also believed that interacting with prostitutes was no different than interacting with naked female prisoners in Nazi camps. [7]

Escape attempts

According to an exposé by the Polish Wprost magazine,[5] the women forced into sexual slavery by the Nazi German authorities sometimes tried to escape. In one such instance, a group of Polish and Soviet women imprisoned at a German military brothel located in Norway escaped in 1941. They found refuge in the local Lutheran Church which offered them asylum.[5]

Occupied France

The Wehrmacht was able to establish a thoroughly bureaucratic system of around 100 new brothels already before 1942, based on an existing system of government-controlled ones – wrote Inse Meinen.[8] The soldiers were given official visitation cards issued by Oberkommando des Heeres and were prohibited from engaging in sexual contact with other French women. In September 1941, Field Marshal von Brauchitsch suggested that weekly visits for all younger soldiers be considered mandatory to prevent "sexual excesses" among them. The prostitutes had a scheduled medical check-up to slow the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.[9]

Forced prostitution

A 1977 German report by a neoconservative revisionist historian from Baden-Württemberg,[10] Franz W. Seidler, contended that the foreign women who were made to register for the German military brothels had been prostitutes already before the war.[11][12] Ruth Seifert, professor of sociology at the University of Applied Sciences in Regensburg, on the other hand, maintained that women were forced to work in these brothels by their German captors, as shown during the Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg in 1946, further confirmed by the 1961 book published by Raul Hilberg.[13]

There were some prostitutes primarily in Western Europe who volunteered to work in the brothels, rather than to be sent to a concentration camp.[14][15]

See also


  1. ^ a b Nanda Herbermann; Hester Baer; Elizabeth Roberts Baer (2000). The Blessed Abyss: Inmate #6582 in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp for Women. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. pp. 33–34. ISBN 978-0-8143-2920-7. Retrieved January 12, 2011 – via Google Books. (in English)
  2. ^ Helge Sander, Barbara Johr (eds.), Befreier und Befreite - Krieg - Vergewaltigung - Kinder, Frankfurt am Main 2005
  3. ^ a b Leon Yudkin (1993). "Narrative Perspectives on Holocaust Literature". In Leon Yudkin (ed.). Hebrew Literature in the Wake of the Holocaust. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. pp. 13–32. ISBN 978-0-8386-3499-8.
  4. ^ a b Lenten, Ronit (2000). Israel and the Daughters of the Shoah: Reoccupying the Territories of Silence. Berghahn Books. pp. 33–34. ISBN 978-1-57181-775-4.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Cezary Gmyz, Wprost magazine (Number 17/18/2007), "Seksualne Niewolnice III Rzeszy". 2007-04-22. Archived from the original on May 13, 2008. Retrieved 2016-02-14. (Sex slaves of the Third Reich), pp. 1–3 via Internet Archive (in Polish). Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  6. ^ War crimes against women: prosecution in international war crimes tribunals by Kelly Dawn Askin, page 72. ISBN 9041104860.
  7. ^ Chalmers, Beverley (2015). "Jewish women's sexual behaviour and sexualized abuse during the Nazi era". The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. 24 (2) – via University of Toronto Press.
  8. ^ Inse Meinen, Wehrmacht und Prostitution in besetzten Frankreich. (in German)
  9. ^ Joanna Ostrowska, Marcin Zaremba, "Do burdelu, marsz!" (Marching on to the brothel). Polityka magazine, No 22 (2707), May 30, 2009; pp. 70-72. (in Polish)
  10. ^ Richard A. Etlin (2002-10-15). Art, Culture, and Media Under the Third Reich. p. 254. ISBN 978-0226220871.
  11. ^ Christl Wickert: Tabu Lagerbordell (Camp Bordello Taboo), in: Eschebach/Jacobeit/Wenk: Gedächtnis und Geschlecht (Memory and Gender), 2002, p. 54
  12. ^ Franz W. Seidler, "Prostitution, Homosexualität, Selbstverstümmelung - Probleme der deutschen Sanitätsführung 1939-1945 (Prostitution, Homosexuality, Masturbation - Problems of the German Medical Service, 1939-1945); 1977, p. 154
  13. ^ Ruth Seifert. "War and Rape. Analytical Approaches1". Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Archived from the original on 2008-05-29. Retrieved January 13, 2011 – via Internet Archive. International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg 1946; Trial of the Major War Criminals, testimony of Jan. 31, 1946, Vol. 6:404ff; Vol. 7:456f; see also Hilberg 1961:126ff; Brownmiller 1978:55ff.
  14. ^ Milano, Vincent. "Wehrmacht Brothels / der Erste Zug". Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  15. ^ Röger, Maren (2014). "The Sexual Policies and Sexual Realities of the German Occupiers in Poland in the Second World War". Contemporary European History. 23 (1): 1–21. doi:10.1017/S0960777313000490. ISSN 0960-7773.