Wednesday, September 2, 2015


"White Buses" refers to an operation undertaken by the Swedish Red Cross and the Danish government in the spring of 1945 to rescue concentration camp inmates in areas under Nazi control and transport them to Sweden, a neutral country. Although the operation was initially targeted at saving citizens of Scandinavian countries, it rapidly expanded to
include citizens of other countries.

On April 22 a column with 15 Danish ambulances departed from Friedrichsruh to collect women prisoners at Ravensbruck. When the column arrived at the camp, it was in chaos as it was to be evacuated due to the advancing Soviet forces. They were told to collect all French, Belgian, Dutch and Polish women, a total of more than 15,000, even though this was more than three times as many as
the White Buses could carry.

Two new columns arrived: one departed on April 23 with 786 women (mostly French), the second collecting another 360 French women. The last columns arrived in Ravensbruck on April 25.

The situation within Germany was rapidly deteriorating, with frequent attacks on the transports as the Allied forces continued advancing. In the camp, a total of 706 French, Belgian, Dutch and Polish women were loaded onto a column with Danish ambulances and lorries from the International Red Cross. On the way to Padborg, this transport was attacked by Allied fighter planes killing at least 11 and severely injuring 26. [The final number of fatalities was estimated at 25.]

Women at Ravensbruck
marked with "X"
to identify them as
The column rested during the night and was unsuccessfully attacked by fighter planes, It arrived in Padborg on 26 April 1945. This was the last Swedish transport before Germany capitulated. The Swedes were fortunately able to use a train - 50 goods wagons with 80 female prisoners in each wagon. The train departed Ravensbrück on April 25and arrived in Lübeck on April 29. After the passengers had been fed, the train moved on to Denmark. A total of 3,989 female prisoners were rescued by this method. Within a few days around 7,000 female prisoners were evacuated from Ravensbrück to Denmark and then on to Sweden.

All told, the operation removed 15,345 prisoners from mortal peril in concentration camps; of these 7,795 were Scandinavian and 7,550 were non-Scandinavian (Polish, French, etc.). In particular, 423 Danish Jews were saved from the Resienstadt concentration camp inside German-occupied territory of Czechoslovakia, contributing significantly to the fact that casualties among Danish Jews during the Holocaust were among the lowest of the occupied European countries.

On April 30 the two Swedish ships Magdalena and Lillie Matthiessen sailed from Lübeck, the former with 223 female prisoners, the latter with 225. The transport had been organized by the Swedish doctor Hans Arnoldsson with the assistance of Bjørn Heger. The last group of female prisoners traveled from Copenhagen to Malmö by ferry on May 4.

The term "white buses" originates from the buses having been painted white with red crosses, to avoid confusion with military vehicles. Click HERE for more detailed information on the White Bus evacuations.

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