Sex­u­al Vio­lence Against Jew­ish Women Dur­ing The Holocaust

Sonia M. Hedgepeth and Rochelle G. Saidel, eds.
  • Review
By – September 1, 2011
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.

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