Date of Award

Spring 2020

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Dr. Andrew Wiest

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Allison Abra

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Brian LaPierre

Committee Member 3 School



The Polish women who would later come to be known as the kroliki or “rabbits” arrived at Ravensbrück with a death sentence. As a result of their work for underground organizations back in Poland, the camp administration planned to execute them within a few years. Because the women were already intended to die, they were chosen as the subjects of experimental operations in which muscles and bones in their legs were mutilated and many of them were injected with various diseases and bacteria. Most of the rabbits survived the experiments, though many were permanently crippled, and several suffered from additional medical issues.

The camp doctors later attempted to claim that the operations were an alternative to the death sentence, but the evidence suggests otherwise. The rabbits fought back by smuggling letters out of the camp, seeking to ensure their survival by making their plight known and asking that outside groups pressure the camp authorities. They also received assistance from other prisoners, who secretly acquired food and medicine for them and helped hide them when the authorities decided to round them up for execution. Between the rabbits’ efforts to ensure their survival and the support of the majority of the camp, most of the rabbits were able to survive and tell their story to the world. This thesis argues that the rabbits’ open defiance inspired large scale support in the camp, a story that is rare in the existing historiography and contributes to scholars’ examination of the meaning of resistance.