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Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust

Sonja M. Hedgepeth

Publication Year: 2010

Using testimonies, Nazi documents, memoirs, and artistic representations, this volume broadens and deepens comprehension of Jewish women's experiences of rape and other forms of sexual violence during the Holocaust. The book goes beyond previous studies, and challenges claims that Jewish women were not sexually violated during the Holocaust.

This anthology by an interdisciplinary and international group of scholars addresses topics such as rape, forced prostitution, assaults on childbearing, artistic representations of sexual violence, and psychological insights into survivor trauma. These subjects have been relegated to the edges or completely left out of Holocaust history, and this book aims to shift perceptions and promote new discourse.

Published by: Brandeis University Press


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pp. c-i


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p. ii-ii

Title Page

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pp. iii-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

It is now sixty-five years since the end of World War II and the Holocaust. Ever since the liberation of the death camps and the attempt to resume some semblance of normalcy post-Holocaust, scholars and survivors have been trying to document and even explain the countless facets of this inhuman...

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pp. xi-xii

Sexual abuse of women during the Holocaust is not an easy subject to deal with, and we are grateful to the authors of the chapters in this book, as well as to the institutions, friends, and family who supported us in various ways as we struggled with it. All of the chapter authors have demonstrated...

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pp. 1-10

This is the first English-language book to address the sexual violation of Jewish women during the Holocaust, a virtually unexplored subject. John K. Roth has suggested that the study of “events that are utterly particular but charged with intensity” can lead to understanding wider historical perspectives....

Part I: Aspects of Sexual Abuse

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1: Death and the Maidens

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pp. 13-28

Armies have always marched over the bodies of countless women— women they raped, prostituted, inseminated, and enslaved. Sexual assault also occurs in peacetime, but in times of war, this phenomenon multiplies and the number of victims grows significantly. Although one might expect these assaults...

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2: Sexualized Violence against Women during Nazi “Racial” Persecution

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pp. 29-44

With Resolution 1820 of June 19, 2008, the United Nations Security Council for the first time denounced violence committed against women and girls in wars. While “violence” is not clearly defined, it is evident that the resolution is aimed mainly at sexual violence and makes “its condemnation in the strongest...

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3: Sexual Exploitation of Women in Nazi Concentration Camp Brothels

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pp. 45-60

The history of brothels in National Socialist concentration camps has for many years been ignored by historians. Various novels and movies have referred to brothels for SS guards in which Jewish women were raped,1 but the notion of brothel barracks created for prisoners has seemed completely absurd. Since...

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4: Schillinger and the Dancer

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pp. 61-74

The story of the death of SS Oberscharführer Josef Schillinger, who was shot by a female inmate in the undressing room of the Birkenau gas chamber on October 23, 1943, occupies an interesting space in terms of Holocaust literature. At the most basic “factual” level, the story of Schillinger and the...

Part II: Rape of Jewish Women

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5: “Only Pretty Women Were Raped”

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pp. 77-93

Toward the end of the war, Holocaust survivor Pearl Gottesmann found herself imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp, about which she later said the following: it was “the most horrible. You know you don’t hear about the other concentration camps so much, you hear...

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6: The Tragic Fate of Ukrainian Jewish Women under Nazi Occupation,1941–1944

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pp. 94-107

During the past ten years, Western European and American historiographers have actively studied various issues concerning the events in Ukraine during the Holocaust. Such studies include the history of persecution and extermination of Jews and the Jewish communities in different districts of occupied...

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7: The Rape of Jewish Women during the Holocaust

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pp. 108-123

While many uncomfortable components of the Holocaust have been analyzed in minute detail, the rape of Jewish women during this era persists as a subject that scholars and victims alike are reticent to explore.1 In part, this is the result of erroneous perceptions shared by victims and early Holocaust...

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8: Rape and Sexual Abuse in Hiding

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pp. 124-136

“Thousands of women were raped during the war, but no one hears about them. . . . The Anne Franks who survived rape don’t write their stories,” as Hungarian Holocaust survivor Judith Magyar Isaacson told her daughter.1 This chapter explores the largely overlooked issues faced by women in hiding...

Part III: Assaults on Motherhood

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9: Reproduction under the Swastika

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pp. 139-155

Images of grieving and suffering mothers are a familiar motif on memorials for the victims of Nazi atrocities. As this chapter details, these symbols mask a history that has overlooked gender-specific experiences, and such representations accentuate and transmit “unexamined mythical images of...

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10: Forced Sterilization and Abortion as Sexual Abuse

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pp. 156-174

Forced sterilization and forced abortion are acts of sexual violence and gender-based discrimination as defined by the World Health Organization. 1 The procedures can be fatal, and when they are not, they can give rise to lifelong consequences ranging from physical injury, such as tearing of tissue, to trauma to permanent infertility....

Part IV: Sexual Violence in Literature and Cinema

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11: Sexual Abuse in Holocaust Literature

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pp. 177-199

Since the late 1980s, literary scholars have become increasingly sensitive to gendered Holocaust suffering, paralleling the findings of feminist historians and social scientists about women’s biological and socially gendered suffering and coping patterns.1 I examine themes and approaches to sexual...

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12: “Stoning the Messenger”

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pp. 200-216

Since the end of World War II, fiction has sometimes filled the lacunae of historical documentation and discourse regarding Jewish sexual slavery and abuse during the Holocaust. Rachel Lev-Wiesel and Marianne Amir, who have studied the sexual abuse of Jewish children during the war, claim that by...

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13: Nava Semel’s And the Rat Laughed

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pp. 217-233

The Israeli writer Nava Semel boldly places the issue of sexual abuse during the Holocaust at the core of her multidimensional novel And the Rat Laughed. Originally in Hebrew, it is now available in English translation.1 Semel takes the reader underground, into cyberspace, and to future intergalactic...

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14: “Public Property”

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pp. 234-252

The cinematic medium commemorated the events of the twentieth century in various ways, reaching a new level during World War II. During this period, feature filmmaking transformed itself from depicting the century’s events descriptively to documenting all of the stages of the war. The...

Part V: The Violated Self

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15: Sexual Abuse of Jewish Women during and after the Holocaust

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pp. 255-274

I can never forget the story of the young, beautiful, pregnant Greek Holocaust survivor in Orna Ben-Dor Niv’s film Eretz Hadasha (Newland) who went for a medical examination in the ma’abara (transit camp) in Israel. As the woman exited the office, she heard the doctor telling the nurse in Hebrew,...

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16: The Shame Is Always There

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pp. 275-292

While Holocaust survivors rarely speak about sexual abuse, especially from first-person experience, our interviews with Israeli survivors included several who commented about this usually taboo subject. In this chapter we present the insights of “Leah,” “Roza,” and “Reuven,” all of whom shared with...


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pp. 293-296


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pp. 297-308

E-ISBN-13: 9781584659044
E-ISBN-10: 1584659041
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584659037

Page Count: 314
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jewish women in the Holocaust.
  • Jewish women -- Violence against -- Europe -- History -- 20th century.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Atrocities -- Europe.
  • Eugenics -- Germany -- History -- 20th century
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945), in literature.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945), in motion pictures.
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