Category Archives: History

Rape and the Holocaust

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Recently on Jewniverse we featured information about Dr. Gisella Perl, a gynecologist who provided abortions to women in Auschwitz who would otherwise have been killed. One of the rather obvious implications here is that women were being raped in the camps. Some undoubtedly arrived pregnant, but others did not. Amazingly, there have never been any English studies or academic discussions of rape in the Holocaust until last year.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C has featured testimonials of rape survivors from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other conflict zones, but until recently they couldn’t feature the same kinds of testimonials from Holocaust survivors—those testimonials just didn’t exist. But a new book takes a look at some of the untold stories of sexual abuse in the Holocaust.

Jewish women were raped and sexually abused by Nazi guards, but also by liberators, people who hid them, aid givers, partisans and even fellow prisoners. Judy Weiszenberg Cohen, an Auschwitz survivor living in Canada, told the editors that the “fear of rape” was omnipresent in the concentration camp.

“The exact number of women who experienced sexual molestation during the Holocaust cannot be determined … and the rapists by and large did not leave documents testifying to their actions,” writes Nomi Levenkron, a human rights attorney in Israel, in an essay in the book. Most women who survived preferred silence, she said, fearing that they would be stigmatized in their communities.

“This is about all of our humanity. After I read the manuscript, I became kind of obsessed with it,” said Gloria Steinem, the renowned feminist writer and advocate, who sponsored two events in New York this year to draw attention to the publication. “I thought, ‘It’s 70 years later. Why didn’t we know this?’ For all of the people to whom it happened, to be victimized is one thing–to be shamed, as if it was your fault, is another profound and deep oppression.”

Read more and womensnews.org.

Posted on June 6, 2011

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Wise Fridays: We’re All in the Same Boat

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

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A man in a boat began to bore a hole under his seat. His fellow passengers protested. ‘What concern is it of yours?’ he responded, ‘I am making a hole under my seat, not yours.’ They replied, ‘That is so, but when the water enters and the boat sinks, we too will drown.’

–Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Leviticus Rabbah 4:6

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Posted on June 3, 2011

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A King Crowned by Birds

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The new book Folktales of the Jews: Tales from Arab Lands, edited by Dan Ben-Amos, collects hundreds of years’ worth of Jewish stories culled from all over the Diaspora. This is an excerpt, reprinted by permission of The Jewish Publication Society.

Remember Days of Old!

Told by Yosef Shmuli to Zvi Moshe Haimovits

jewish folktalesThere was a place in days of old where the custom was to crown a king according to the will of heaven. They had a special bird that they called the bird of happiness. Upon the death of the old king, they would let the bird fly and crown whoever’s head the bird came to rest upon.

One day, the king died, and the bird came to rest upon the head of a slave. This slave used to wear a cap of feathers and a belt made of sheep hooves. He earned his bread by dancing and drumming at weddings. When the slave was chosen to be the king and moved to live in the royal palace, he ordered the construction of a small house alongside the palace. Into this small house, he put all his possessions: the cap of feathers, the belt of hooves, and the drum. He also put there a large mirror.

The new king dealt with his people kindly and compassionately and was loved by all. Often, he would visit the small house alongside the palace. Once he left the door open, and the ministers saw their king put the cap on his head, strap the belt around his hips, and drum and dance before the mirror.

The ministers asked the king to explain his actions: “Are you not a king and must you not preserve your own dignity, even for yourself?”

The king answered, “I was a slave and was made a king. Daily, I wish to remember that I was a slave, so that I will not think better of myself than you and become proud-hearted.”

Posted on June 1, 2011

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Wise Fridays: The Free Will Problem

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“To act rightly or otherwise rests for the most part with man, but in each action Fate cooperates.”

Josephus Flavius

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Posted on May 27, 2011

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X-Men: First Class: New Holocaust Footage

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Fox Studios released four new clips from the new X-Men movie last night. If you’ve followed our coverage of Magneto’s history as a Holocaust survivor — or if you’ve seen the opening sequence of the first X-Men movie in 2000 — you’re aware of his loaded and complicated history. But what follows might be the creepiest rendition ever of the two words that, for many of us, defined growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust.

Is that wildly improper? Chillingly appropriate? Too intense and emotionally-loaded to simplify to one thing? I’m voting for a mixture of all three.

thanks to io9 for the tipoff!

Posted on May 26, 2011

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Obama, AIPAC & Republicans

This entry was posted in History, Israel on by .

The text of President Obama’s Middle-East address. (Los Angeles Times)

Akiva Eldar: “No American president or presidential candidate has ever told this large Jewish audience of supporters of Israel the truth”–including the fact that Americans will not support Netanyahu’s demand that the IDF control Palestinian territory. (Ha’aretz)

Although the “AIPAC crowd was strikingly appreciative,” David Horovitz points out that the speech included what many Israelis will regard as a problematic formulation that “there is a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations.” (Jerusalem Post)

Jewish Republicans aren’t thrilled with Palin. (Chicago Jewish News)

And the Republican Jewish Coalition seems pretty alarmed about Ron Paul too. (Jewish Week)

Meet Fred Karger, the first Jewish presidential candidate for the Republican party. (Jerusalem Post)

Posted on May 23, 2011

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A Rabbi On Jeopardy

This entry was posted in History, Practices on by .

A nice catch by Rabbi Jason Miller (and even nicer of him to record it and put it up on YouTube)…

This week, Rabbi Joyce Newmark, a Conservative rabbi from Teaneck, NJ, won $29,000 on Jeopardy. The next episode, Trebek even gave a shout out to her ordination anniversary and asked her what it’s like being a female rabbi. A cool video:

Posted on May 18, 2011

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JDate and a Holocaust Movie

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

Jdate is sponsoring a new program that’s something like a Jewish Film of the Month club. You can get a Jewish film sent to you on DVD or via streaming once every other month. Now, on the surface I can see how this seemed like a natural partnership. Jewish dating, Jewish movies, of course they go to together. Except that the second movie they plan to send out is:

Protektor,” a Czech film about a journalist who tries to safeguard his Jewish wife by working for a radio station that broadcasts Nazi propaganda.


Forgive me, but I just don’t think of Holocaust movies as being particularly conducive to dating. There’s the infamous Seinfeld episode where he makes out during Schindler’s List, and I’ve heard Kate Winslet is really hot in The Reader, but still, nothing gets me not turned on like Nazis.

As far as I know you can’t buy this club at the same time as you buy a Jdate membership, but I just want to remind everyone involved that it doesn’t bode well for relationships or dates to begin with SS guards. Word to the wise.

Posted on May 13, 2011

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Wise Fridays: Even Gnats and Flies

This entry was posted in History, Life on by .

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“The Rabbis said: Even though you may think them superfluous in this world, creatures such as flies, bugs, and gnats have their allotted task in the scheme of creation, as it says, ‘And God saw everything that God had made, and behold, it was very good.'”

B’reishit Rabbah, 10:7

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Posted on May 13, 2011

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Forgetting Hillary Clinton

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Not sure if you’ve heard by now, but the United States killed Osama Bin Laden last week. A couple of days later, in a propaganda/awesome move, the White House released a picture of President Obama and his cabinet watching the raid on Osama’s compound in real time. Again, the picture is awesome.

The picture and the story spread across the world quickly. Every newspaper was reporting on it–including the Hasidic newspaper, Di Tzeitung. Except they left out something very specific–women. That’s right, Hillary Clinton, the Secretary State of the United States, and Audrey Tomason, the Director of Counterterrorism for the National Security Council, were photoshopped out of the photo. By the way, you’ve got to admit, their photoshop editor really is pretty good. It really does look like they were never there.

Of course, this type of thing gets noticed, especially with such an iconic photo clearly changed. And the uproar began. The uproar was the usual. It’s offensive to women. Hillary played such an important role in all this, etc., etc.

Listen, before I go on, I think it is absolutely absurd that they photoshopped the picture. But at the same time, I do (kind of) understand where they are coming from. The newspaper has a religious policy of not showing pictures of women. As horrible as it may sound to you and me, because I haven’t even spent a day inside the Hasidic world, who am I to judge their values?

But here is where I’m lost. Why did they feel the need to show the picture in the first place? Sure, the picture is cool, but it is by no means necessary in the grand scheme of reporting the story. Just show a picture of Osama, or his compound, or even Obama making the announcement that Osama was dead.

You don’t want to show pictures of women because it might offend some of your readers? Fine. Be that way. But why spend all that time photoshopping women out a photo when you don’t even have to show the photo at all?

Final point. What would they have done if Hillary has won in 2008? Would they just show empty stages every time she gave an important speech? Would they just pretend McCain had won? Or would they just tell their readers that Hillary was a ghost?

Posted on May 10, 2011

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