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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