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  • Thoughts on the Intersection of Rape and Rassenchande during the Holocaust
  • Steven T. Katz (bio)

First Thoughts

Jewish women during the Holocaust, like many other women in other situations of social unrest, military conquest, slavery (both ancient and modern) and war, experienced sexual abuse and rape. In each of these historical contexts women, and the men to whom they were linked, were essentially powerless to stop their sexual exploitation and assault. In these environments girls and women were at the mercy of men who, both because of their carnal appetites as well as their desire to express their domination, took unspeakable sexual liberties, often accompanied by violence and coercion of various sorts, with them. Not unsurprisingly, because of its intrinsic importance, the subject of sexual violence and rape has already been considered in detail by numerous historians in the different historical cases in which it is known to have occurred, as well as by a number of scholars of the Shoah.1 Thus, the broad outlines of the story are known and need no retelling here. However, in the present essay I would like to return to this deeply disturbing issue in order to call attention to one highly repercussive factor that distinguishes—and is distinctive to—the rape of Jewish women during the Holocaust, yet which has not been properly appreciated in the relevant scholarly analyses. This unique aspect of the rape of Jewish women sheds light not only on the matter of sexual violence during the Holocaust but also on the more general ideological character of the Nazi assault on the Jewish people.

Here, by way of introduction, I would begin with three methodological comments. The first is that rape is a language. Within the context of the Holocaust the rape of Jewish women by German soldiers and their non-German allies is not only a sexual act but a political declaration as to the degenerate status of the Jewish victims in accordance with Nazi ideology. The action communicates that Jewish [End Page 293] girls and women are not fully human, that they are not shielded by normal moral rules, that they stand outside police and state protection, and that they do not belong to the universe of ethical obligation that ordinarily constrains Aryan behavior.

Second, rape, when it involved a Jewish female by an Aryan man was, despite its common recurrence, in violation of the fundamental Nazi notion of Rassenschande. The contravention of this essential principle, that was one of the radical foundations of the Third Reich, generated, because of the character of this National Socialist conception, unique difficulties and complications. Moreover, the problematic realities that arose as a consequence of such behavior led, necessarily, to unprecedented—and lethal—outcomes that will be discussed and analyzed below. Indeed, the belief in the need for these deadly outcomes is the central concern of this essay. Third, as a result of my intensive study of the issue of the sexual molestation and violation of Jewish girls and women during the Holocaust I have come to believe that, while these types of acts were strictly forbidden by the most basic laws—racial and political—of the Third Reich, there was, paradoxically, something “political” about such occurrences. For the total vulnerability in which Jewish girls and women found themselves and the sexual exploitation that resulted was the outcome of more than lust, and was made possible by a state that fervently held very particular notions of Jews—and of Jewish women—as racial criminals who deserved punishment and whose violation could be understood as legitimate retribution. Seen thus, the rape of Jewish girls and women was perceived, within the totality of the Shoah, not only as a discrete, individual, localized sexual performance, but as an assault on the collective body, the communal being, of the Jewish People. I recognize that this last observation involves speculation, and I would welcome a more extensive scholarly conversation regarding it, but the evidence relevant to this subject seems to me to be overwhelming and thus encourages this conjecture, at least for consideration as part of a larger, more complex analysis.

Instances of Sexual Abuse

The rape of Jewish girls and women is known to have...