In the last year of the Second World War, Jenny-Wanda Barkmann was a young SS-guard in the German concentration camp Stutthof. Nicknamed ‘Beautiful Spectre’, she was infamous for her brutal treatment of the prisoners. Apprehended after the war, she was sentenced and publicly hanged in Gdansk.
Jenny-Wanda Barkmann was born in Hamburg in 1921. Little is known about her life, but it is a known fact that in 1944 she became- Aufseherin, a female-guard, in the women’s section of Stutthof concentration camp. Of all the guards in the nazi concentration camps 3.700 were women. Some of them enlisted voluntarily. The camp guards were expected to treat the prisoners ruthlessly, but even in the brutal reality of the Stutthof camp Barkmann became known for her exceptional cruelty. She did not hesitate to beat her victims to death and she did not flinch while selecting the women and children for the gas chambers. Because of the confusing combination of her attractiveness and her cruelty the prisoners nicknamed her ‘Beautiful Spectre’.
After the war she hid a few months in besieged Gdansk, hiding her wartime actions. But in May 1945 she was recognized and arrested. The first trial of Stutthof criminals, held in 1946 in Gdansk, saw her among 13 other defendants: six German female SS-guards, one SS-man and six Polish ‘kapos’, prisoners who supervised the forced labour in the camp. During her imprisonment and trials Barkmann still was concerned with her appearance – she wore a different hairstyle every day – and reportedly flirted with the prison guards. Barkmann was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, together with ten other defendants. The public hanging took place on 4 July 1946. Former Stutthof prisoners volunteered to serve as executioners. The event gathered innumerable crowds, according to some sources around 200.000. For humanitarian reasons, the authorities soon refrained from organizing further public executions. When Barkmann was hanged, she was 25 years old.
The Stutthof camp was planned long before the war broke out. It was built as a regional prison camp, but during the war the Nazi’s enlarged Stutthof and incorporated it in their overall camp system. Finally, Stutthof became a concentration camp that contributed in the attempted extermination of all European Jews.
Museum Stutthof is located in the former German Stutthof concentration camp. The museum preserves, researches and displays archival records and historical artefacts. Exhibitions and videos offer visitors a haunting insight into the lives of the 110.000 people that were imprisoned here during the Second World War.
In June 1944, the Germans transformed Stutthof from a prison camp into a concentration camp. Over 50.000 Jews were deported to Stutthof, mostly women from Poland, Hungary and the Baltic states. The vast majority died under horrible circumstances.
Nervous about the approaching Soviet Army, the Germans decided to evacuate the Stutthof concentration camp in January 1945. The prisoners, already hungry and weak, had to walk for days in severe winter conditions, almost without food. Thousands of them died from exhaustion or were killed by the German guards.