Birth, Sex and Abuse: Wom­en’s Voic­es Under Nazi Rule

  • Review
By – December 17, 2015

There are many Holo­caust sur­vival nar­ra­tives and auto­bi­ogra­phies that deal with broth­els and forced sex in the camps. But Birth, Sex and Abuse: Women’s Voic­es Under Nazi Rule by Bev­er­ley Chalmers stands alone. It is not about one broth­el, but many; not one instance of forced sex, med­ical exper­i­ments, sex­u­al cru­el­ty, but of all that could pos­si­bly have occurred in such envi­ron­ments. A com­bi­na­tion of med­ical, his­tor­i­cal, and social sci­ence, it is more than a ref­er­ence book; it is about women as sex objects pro­vid­ing relief to sol­diers; about women giv­ing birth and view­ing the mur­der of their live babies; and on and on. It is based on 12 years of study that incor­po­rates women’s his­to­ry, Holo­caust stud­ies, social sci­ences, med­i­cine, and record­ing the per­son­al nar­ra­tives of women who expe­ri­enced, observed, or read about this. It is the secret knowl­edge of those who had the courage to hold on to such a mem­o­ry with­out going insane in order to tes­ti­fy, to per­mit all that had been wit­nessed to be record­ed for pos­ter­i­ty. The book was writ­ten by a doctor/​sociologist who has ded­i­cat­ed her life to study­ing women’s expe­ri­ences of giv­ing birth in dif­fi­cult social, polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, and reli­gious envi­ron­ments. Her exper­tise encom­pass­es both the med­ical and social areas. The print is small and the space between lines minis­cule, but each word, each bit of infor­ma­tion is pre­cious and unlike­ly to be found else­where with such clar­i­ty and com­pre­hen­sive­ness. Many of the books quot­ed as ref­er­ences are read­i­ly avail­able, but this book has col­lect­ed the line or two, the scat­tered para­graphs deal­ing with this sub­ject, into a cen­tral repository.

It is a library with­in a library — where tragedies and exam­ples of courage are orga­nized by top­ic and gath­ered in one book.

Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

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