Some of the inmates at the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women in Germany.

Women and HolocaustThe entire Jewish people suffered immensely during the Holocaust. However, according to the United States Holocaust Museum, Jewish women were especially vulnerable to the Nazis oppression since women were subjected to brutal persecution that was unique to their gender. For example, during the selections for work, pregnant women and women with small children were frequently labeled to be incapable of working, thus implying that such women were more likely to die than the men were. Jewish women were frequently beaten as well, forced to stand for long hours outside naked, and had their hair shaven off, which all constituted forms of torture.

The US Holocaust Museum claims that Orthodox Jewish women were especially in a precarious state during the Holocaust, since the Nazis were more likely to target them with their sadistic torture and it was also very difficult to hide such women. Medical experiments and forced sterilizations of Jewish women occurred frequently. At least 40,000 people were forcefully sterilized, with 5,500 women dying after being sterilized. Pregnant women were also forced to have abortions against their will.

Jewish women and the Holocaust4Yet, the more well-known Nazis torture techniques were only one aspect of the suffering endured by Jewish women, for rape was also widespread, despite the existence of Nazis legislation forbidding sexual relations between Aryans and Jewish women. As one Warsaw doctor proclaimed, “One continuously hears of the raping of Jewish girls in Warsaw.” Indeed, according to Helen Sinnreich, the director of Judaic and Holocaust Studies at Youngstown State University, “There is a strong connection between rape and genocide. Much of the recent scholarship focuses on rape as a tool for carrying out genocide. However, rape occurs during genocide not only as a systematic means of attack but also because it places its victims in physically vulnerable positions with limited or non-existent access to redress.”

Women Under Siege, an organization dedicated to studying violence against women during armed conflicts, asserted, “Ethnic cleansing makes women subject not only to outright murder, but also controls the threat of their bodies as the means of reproduction. For instance, women have been raped in order to occupy ‘inferior’ wombs with ‘superior’ sperm, or forced to have abortions or sterilizations (as have men of ‘inferior’ groups) in order to end future reproduction. In some conflicts, women are also subject to the sex-specific political torture of forcing them to bear the child of their torturer in order to break their will. In the Holocaust, forced sterilizations and abortions, as well as heinous “medical” experiments, prevented Jews and Sinti-Roma (or Gypsies) from later having children.”

Some of the inmates at the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women in Germany.

Some of the inmates at the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women in Germany.

Sinnreich asserted, “The rape of Jewish women during the Holocaust was created by political conditions and began immediately with the German occupation. Jewish women were abducted off the streets and during the searches of their homes for valuables. Sometimes forced labor preceded sexual abuse and in some cases, rape was the primary motive for entry into a home.” The sexual abuse of Jewish women, which began with the Nazis occupation, continued as well in the ghettos and concentration camps. In fact, the Gestapo ordered the Jewish leaderships within the ghettos to turn young girls over to them to work against their will in brothels. Numerous testimonies from survivors note Jewish women being sent to Nazis brothels in the ghettos and concentration camps, where the women were raped. For example, Sinnreich claimed that the leadership at Skarzysko-Kamienna, which was a labor camp in Poland, routinely raped the Jewish prisoner population. While the mass slaughter of six million Jews often overshadows all studies of the Holocaust, the mass rape of Jewish women during the Shoah is another reason on Holocaust Memorial Day to say ‘Never Again’.

By Rachel Avraham