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Holocaust Women's Rape Breaks Decades of Taboo

Monday, May 30, 2011

The rape and sexual abuse of Jewish women during the Holocaust have been long overlooked. But when researchers probed, stories began to emerge as if they were old photographic film waiting for the right chemicals.

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Raped and Killed

Many sexually abused women were raped and then simply killed.

Author Moinka J. Faschka of Kent State University in Ohio, one of the contributors to the book, cites survivor Harry Koltun, who said in an interview: "[T]he Gestapo SS came in and took out a few Jewish girls, they took them into a forest and they never came back. They did what they had to do sexually, and they killed them. Nice, nice looking girls."

At a presentation at the Anne Frank Center USA in New York, the book's authors said that previously the barriers to telling the stories of sexual abuse have been tremendous. Some Holocaust scholars believed that segmenting out rape stories–and even women's stories unrelated to sexual violence--would sever women from the community by focusing on one group when all Jews, regardless of gender, were targeted for persecution. Rape was not included in the Nuremberg Trials when Nazi officials were charged with war crimes.

In other cases, women feared they would be considered "impure" or be ostracized by their families.

"I have been interviewing Holocaust survivors in Israel since '78, but it didn't even occur to me to ask about sexual assault," said Eva Fogelman, a psychologist in New York City. "These people had lost so much of their dignity and privacy. I didn't want to take that last bit of privacy away from them."

For this book, Fogelman identified 1,040 testimonies of the 52,000 in the Shoah Foundation collection at the University of Southern California that mention rape or fear of rape.

"What you have is women who were raped talk about it in bits or pieces. Or, 'I know a woman and this happened to her,' – a way of indicating this happened, but not implicating themselves," Fogelman said.

This book, said co-editor Hedgepeth, is only the beginning of the exploration of this sensitive topic.

"I'm starting to feel from conversations that there will be more that comes out of this," she said.

Cynthia L. Cooper is an independent writer in New York. Her play, "Silence Not, A Love Story," about Nazi resisters, is published by Gihon River Press.


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For more information:

"Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust," Brandeis University Press:

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Preventing Genocide Project Gallery:


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Many people even today stay silent about the sexual abuse they have suffered. We at the Let Go Let Peace Come In Foundation believe in the power of speaking up and showing solidarity with other survivors. We are seeking adult survivors who would be willing to post a childhood photo and caption, their story, or their creative expressions to our website letgoletpeacecomein.org. By uniting survivors from across the globe we can help provide a stronger and more powerful voice to those survivors who have not yet found the courage to speak out. Together we can; together we should; together we NEED to stand up and be counted. Please visit our site for more details

If this had occurred today, there would not have been this silence for 50 years. It is interesting to really delve into why silence was the norm, as it includes both protection of the perpetrator and the victim, while it is only the victim who still suffers from the experience, and the silence prevents the perpetrator from being punished.