Characterized by its author as a “compendium of horrors,” this disquieting book took an intense sixteen years to complete. While it is supported by 1,056 footnotes and 314 citations, “it reflects just the tip of the iceberg of this aspect of the Holocaust.”
At the book’s core is the story of 160 sexually abused Jewish children who experienced some of the “worst genocidally-based emotional and physical abuse the world has ever imposed.” The author insists that there is “no way to tell these stories gently … ”
Much to the author’s credit, the book fills a major knowledge gap; for as of 2020, there was no comparable text about “a hidden horror that was far more prevalent than we would ever like to acknowledge.” Indeed, due to academic uneasiness, child-focused abuse stories have “often been ignored, suppressed, or hidden, leaving the children’s experiences unrecognized and their perpetrators unscathed.”
The book models the way that future academic investigations into the subject should go. First, Chalmers brings perplexing surprises to the surface. For example, although child sexual abuse was illegal under laws of the Third Reich, it was conveniently overlooked before, during, and even after the war.
Second, the book goes on to name all known Jewish and non-Jewish perpetrators — not just the notorious ones like Dr. Josef Mangele. We now learn that the head of the judenrat in the Lodz Ghetto, Chaim Rumkowski, allegedly raped Jewish children. Similarly, so-called “Child Mascots,” or brain-washed young Jewish boys in the camps, were “turned against their own people and exploited to murder Jews themselves.”
Third, Chalmers gives recognition to Jewish upstanders who tried to prevent or alleviate child abuse. Typical were mothers who disguised their pretty daughters by “disfiguring their faces and clothes with dirt or some kind of paste“ in the hope they would be less vulnerable if less attractive. Likewise, sex slaves in camp brothels secretly slipped sweets given them by German soldiers to nearby starving children.
Finally, the entire subject is situated in a global perspective. War-based sexual brutality is not unique to the Holocaust and WWII, but it can be found today, in war-torn regions including Burundi, Northern Uganda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda.
Betrayed asks readers to be upstanders when it comes to matters of sexual violence. They must hold perpetrators to account, thereby “heed[ing] the children who had the courage to reveal their sexual abuse.”
Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Professor Arthur B. Shostak is the author in 2017 of Stealth Altruism: Forbidden Care as Jewish Resistance in the Holocaust. Since his 2003 retirement from 43 years teaching sociology he has specialized in Holocaust studies.