Information on sexual violence during the Holocaust is not well known, as much of the discoveries were made fairly recently. In fact, it is still a controversial topic; some believe that the topic distracts people from the significance of the Holocaust. Others think that there must be reasons why the survivors did not speak out and insist that the topic not be pushed.
The rape of Jewish girls and women took place beginning in the 1930s. In labor camps, sexual violence was used as a “ritual of humiliation aimed at degrading the entire camp population.” Women who refused were shot on the spot. Sexual abuse was prevalent even outside the camps. Soldiers went to Jewish homes to rape young girls in front of their parents and wives in front of their husbands.
“ritual of humiliation aimed at degrading the entire camp population.”
“Women experienced not only the embarrassment of forced nakedness during the arrival process but they also – for example, in Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp – received beatings on their buttocks … Two Jewish sisters, Sarah and Esther, remember that they had to run around the block naked during a selection in Auschwitz-Birkenau to prove that they were still able to perform physical labor.”
Sexual violence was used as means to subjugate, exert power, and humiliate Jewish women. Nazi soldiers forced women to strip in front of them and stay naked for hours. Watching the women dance naked or whipping their naked bodies were frequent activities for Nazi soldiers. Afterwards, some soldiers cut off the breasts of the abused women. A survivor from Auschwitz-Birkenau recalled that there was a “show” where German soldiers raped 20 Jewish women in front of the labor group, and everyone was forced to stand and applaud while watching.
Steven Katz, Director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic studies at Boston University, stated in his article, Thoughts on the Intersection of Rape and Rassenchande during the Holocaust, that forced sexual violence “determined the very future of nations and the unfolding of historical events.” This suggests that the issue of forced rape during the Holocaust should also be remembered alongside other brutalities inflicted by Germans during the Second World War.
Hedgepeth, S. M., & Saidel, R. G. (Eds.). (2010). Sexual Violence against Jewish women during the Holocaust. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England.
Katz, S.T. (2012). Thoughts on the Intersection of Rape and Rassenchande during the Holocaust. Modern Judaism, 32(3), 293-322. Available from Project MUSE Web site: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/mj/summary/v032/32.3.katz.html
Ravitz, J. (2011, June 24). Silence lifted: The untold stories of rape during the Holocaust. CNN.com Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/06/24/holocaust.rape/
Wolfe, L. (2012, February 8). Holocaust. In Women Under Siege Project. Retrieved from http://www.womenundersiegeproject.org/conflicts/profile/holocaust