Anyone who has read memoirs by women survivors of the camps, the lager, knows that Jewish women were the special targets of Nazi abuse. If they had young children, they were immediately consigned to the flames or shot; if they were pregnant or became pregnant in captivity, they were doomed — their newborn infants sacrificed by empathetic doctors to save their mothers’ lives; and women were used for experiments on their sexual organs and breasts. What intrigues me about this book is that in the prior Holocaust memoirs written by women of the camps, of hidingin a Christian home, of flight, and of working with the Resistance or Partisans, I seldom noted them describing forced sexual contacts— other than what happened to other women, but not to themselves. According to this book, however, women were regularly used as sex tools by kapos and Nazi guards, especially gypsies or former prostitutes, but also any still attractive women. As noted above, women were experimented upon sexually; and if they were sheltered by or participated in the activities of the Partisans, it was usually in exchange for sexual favors. This book explores venues and topics in detail that previously had only been touched upon tangentially, including chapters on: Aspects of Sexual Abuse; Rape of Jewish Women; Assaults on Motherhood; Sexual Violence in Literature and Cinema; and The Violated Self. It includes testimony by many women who had never written previously, and insightful work by social scientists as they examine the phenomena and the postwar effects among Christians as well as Jews and the children of both. In Saidel’s previous work in this genre, The Jewish Women of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp (Terrace Books, 2006), which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, one perceives the impetus for the book under review. The present book uses testimonies, Nazi documents, and memoirs to expand comprehension of Jewish women’s experiences of rape and other forms of sexual violence during the Holocaust, going far beyond previous studies.
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.