Sexualised Violence Against Jewish Women in the Holocaust

In December 2010, a fairly significant text on the experience of Jewish women in the Holocaust was published to little to no fanfare. The book, Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust, wasn’t the first text to address the issue of sexualized violence in the Holocaust. After all, survivors started writing about their experiences in diaries during the war and testimonies published in the immediate post-war era. However, and as with the experience of women in history, these stories were subsumed and eradicated under a Patriarchal discourse which suggests that if didn’t happen to men then it wasn’t important [which is fundamentally bizarre because men were raped during the Holocaust. Rape during warfare is gendered and most victims are women and children but to pretend that men weren’t raped is equally problematic.]. Rape, during the Holocaust, was not a systemic part of the genocide but the frequency with which it occurred suggests, at the very least, a policy of mass-rape as a by-product.

Since it’s inauspicious publication, Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust hasn’t exactly been getting lots of publicity; partly because its an academic text and academic texts don’t usually make the New York Times Best seller list but, mostly, because of the subject matter. That is until Gloria Steinem, one of the original reviewers of the book, got properly involved. Her outrage at the failure of sexual violence to be located in and considered part of genocide and modern warfare partly inspired the founding of the Women Under Siege online project. Women Under Siege is possibly the most important piece of feminist activism of 2011. It features 6 conflicts during the 20th century in which rape is used as a tactic of war: Holocaust, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Darfur-Sudan, Egypt and Libya as well as blog posts on sexualised violence in other war zones in the 20th century. The erasure of the gendered experiences of women in war from mainstream political and historical analysis is shameful and the most concrete example of Patriarchal-Capitalist Misogyny in practise.

This International Women’s Day, we need to stand up for these women and make sure their voices are heard; that their experiences are no longer white-washed out of history in order to support the aims of the destructive military-industrial complex and the Patriarchy.

Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust Contents

1. Aspects of Sexual Violence

Death and the Maidens: Prostitution, Rape and Sexual Slavery during World War Two by Nomi Levenkrom

Sexualised Violence against Women during Nazi “Racial” Persecution by Brigitte Halbmayr

Sexual Exploitation of Jewish Women in Nazi Concentration Camp Brothels by Robert Sommer

Schillinger and the Dancer: Representing Agency and Sexual Violence in Holocaust Testimonies by Kirsty Chatwood

2. Rape of Jewish Women

“Only Pretty Women Were Raped”: The Effect of Sexual Violence on Gender Identities in the Concentration Camps by Monika J. Flaschka

The Tragic Fate of Ukrainian Jewish Women Under Nazi Occupation, 1941-1944 by Anatoly Podolsky

The Rape of Jewish Women during the Holocaust by Helene J. Sinnreich

Rape and Sexual Abuse in Hiding by Zoe Waxman

3. Assaults on Motherhood

Reproduction Under the Swastika: The Other Side of the Glorification of
Motherhood by Helga Amesberger

Forced Sterilisation and Abortion as Sexual Abuse by Ellen Ben-Sefer

4. Sexual Violence in Literature and Cinema

Sexual Abuse in Holocaust Literature: Memoir and Fiction by S. Lillian Kremer

“Stoning the Messenger”: Yehiel Dinur’s House of Dolls and Piepel by Miryam Sivan

Nava Semel’s And the Rat Lauged: A Tale of Sexual Violation by Sonja Hedgepath and Rochelle Saidel

“Public Property”: Sexual Abuse of Women and Girls in Cinematic Memory by Yvonne Kozlovsky-Golan

 5. The Violated Self

Sexual Abuse of Jewish Women during and after the Holocaust: A Psychological Perspective by Eva Fogelman

The Shame is Always There by Esther Dror and Ruth Linn

Other Academic Texts Discussing Sexualised Violence During the Holocaust
Elizabeth R. Baer & Myrna Goldenberg, Experience and Expression: Women, The Nazis and the Holocaust, (Detroit: Wayne University State Press, 2003)

Judith Tydor Baumel, Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust, (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1998)

Renate Bridenthal, Atina Grossmann & Marion Kaplan, When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984)

Jonathon C. Friedman, Speaking the Unspeakable: Essays on Sexuality, Gender and Holocaust Survivor Memory, (Lanham: University Press of America, 2002)

Esther Fuchs, Women and the Holocaust: Narrative and Representation, (Lanham: University Press of America, 1993)

Marlene E. Heinemann, Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986)

Esther Hertzog, Life, Death and Sacrifice: Women and Family in the Holocaust, (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2008)

R. Ruth Linden, Making Stories, Making Selves: Feminist Reflections on the Holocaust, (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1993)

Dalia Ofer & Lenore Weitzman, Women in the Holocaust, (Yale: Yale University Press, 1998)

Carol Rittner & John K. Roth, Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust, (Minnesota, Paragon House, 1993)

Rochelle Saidel, The Jewish Women of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004)

Zoe Waxman, Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony and Representation, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)

 

Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us From Violence


The February Non-Fiction Mumsnet Feminist book club was Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us from Violence. It isn’t an explicitly feminist text [and, obviously, not written by a woman] but I was so incensed by the absolute misogynistic twaddle being peddled as “romance” in Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife that I think the following information can not be stressed enough:

(T)here are many reliable pre-incident indicators associated with spousal violence and murder. They won’t all be present in every case, but if a situation has several of these signals, there is reason for concern:

1) The woman has intuitive feelings that she is at risk.

2) At the inception of the relationship, the man accelerated the pace, prematurely placing on the agenda such things as commitment, living together, and marriage.

3) He resolves conflict with intimidation, bullying, and violence.

4) He is verbally abusive.


5) He uses threats and intimidation as instruments of control or abuse. This includes threats to harm physically, to defame, to embarrass, to restrict freedom, to disclose secrets, to cut off support, to abandon, and to commit suicide.

6) He breaks or strikes things in anger. He uses symbolic violence (tearing a wedding photo, marring a face in a photo, etc.).

7) He has battered in prior relationships.

8) He uses alcohol or drugs with adverse affects (memory loss, hostility, cruelty).

9) He cites alcohol or drugs as an excuse or explanation for hostile or violent conduct (“That was the booze talking, not me; I got so drunk I was crazy”).

10) His history includes police encounters for behavioral offenses (threats, stalking, assault, battery).

11) There has been more than one incident of violent behavior (including vandalism, breaking things, throwing things).

12) He uses money to control the activities, purchases, and behavior of his wife/ partner.

13) He becomes jealous of anyone or anything that takes her time away from the relationship; he keeps her on a “tight leash,” requires her to account for her time.

14) He refuses to accept rejection.

15) He expects the relationship to go on forever, perhaps using phrases like “together for life,” “always,” “no matter what.”

16) He projects extreme emotions onto others (hate, love, jealousy, commitment) even when there is no evidence that would lead a reasonable person to perceive them.

17) He minimizes incidents of abuse.

18) He spends a disproportionate amount of time talking about his wife/ partner and derives much of his identity fiom being her husband, lover, etc.

19) He tries to enlist his wife’s friends or relatives in a campaign to keep or recover the relationship.

20) He has inappropriately surveilled or followed his wife/ partner.

21) He believes others are out to get him. He believes that those around his wife/partner dislike him and encourage her to leave.

22) He resists change and is described as inflexible, unwilling to compromise.

23) He identifies with or compares himself to violent people in films, news stories, fiction, or history He characterizes the violence of others as justified.

24) He suffers mood swings or is sullen, angry, or depressed.

25) He consistently blames others for problems of his own making; he refuses to take responsibility for the results of his actions.

26) He refers to weapons as instruments of power, control, or revenge.

27) Weapons are a substantial part of his persona; he has a gun or he talks about, jokes about, reads about, or collects weapons.

28) He uses “male privilege” as a justification for his conduct (treats her like a servant, makes all the big decisions, acts like the “master of the house”).

29) He experienced or witnessed violence as a child.

30) His wife/partner fears he will injure or kill her. She has discussed this with others or has made plans to be carried out in the event of her death (e.g., designating someone to care for children).

De Becker’s book is not without criticism particularly in its use of “choice” discourse in discussing intimate partner violence [IPV]. There are two clearly competing and conflicting theories: one in which women need to trust their instincts to prevent being victims and one in which women are being held responsible for being victims. He’s quite honest about his abusive father and I wonder how much of the second theory is [unconscious] unresolved anger at his own mother for not “protecting” him even though he [consciously] understands the pathology of IPV. However, the psychological IPV in The Paris Wife is so constant and insidious that the idea that it can be “romantic” is dangerous, destructive and the reason that Mumsnet has such a well-used Relationships board.

Women’s History Month


March is Women’s History Month. I did have an almost finished blog written on my laptop however I’ve just poured a whole cup of hot sweet tea on the keyboard. I’ve borrowed the teenager’s IPad to write this but it swears I haven’t saved the blog. 


But, it’s Women’s History Month and while there is an argument for it further marginalising the history of women, we need to take every opportunity possible to celebrate women. This is an opportunity we can take from The Patriarchy and make women visible. I’ve already got some great books lined up but I am always looking for more recommendations especially ones about the history of non-European women of which I know very little.

My choices so far are:

Sonja M Hedgepeth and Rochelle Saidel’s Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust

Rosalind Miles’ The Women’s History of the World

Bettany Hughes’ Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore

These are some great online resources celebrating Women’s History:

National Women’s History Project

Women’s History Month: What About Her Story?

Black History Month


February is Black History Month in North America so I thought I would read books written by women who identify politically as Black; although not necessarily American. I’ve lined up Harriet Jacobs slave narrative, Patricia Hill Collin’s From Black Power to Hip Hop, Jennifer Hayashi Danns with Sandrine Leveque’s Stripped, Sapphire’s The Kid, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I’m looking for more recommendations of Black women writers in time for Black History Month in the UK in October.#readingonlybookswrittenbywomen

Naming

I couldn’t chose a name that accurately reflected my political aims with this blog and my love of literature. Instead, I’ve taken the name from the first book I read when embarking on feminist activism against the cultural femicide of women writers: The Elegant Gathering of White Snows by Kris Radish. It is a celebration of the power of sisterhood, the power of silence and the phenomenal women in our lives. I could not be who I am without the support and brilliance of those women around me; particularly my FeMNists without whom this would not exist.

Reading Only Books Written By Women

This is a Feminist blog but it is one inspired by a man: V.S. Naipaul to be exact. Inspired isn’t quite the right word to use here since it does imply some sort of artistic vision and a lack of anger. Mostly, it inspired a lot of rage; I’d like to think righteous rage. And, really, I don’t actually want to give Naipaul any real credit for inspiration when it was his dismissal of all women writers for their “sentimentality [and] the narrow view of the world” that made me froth with rage. Naipaul is obviously entitled to his opinion, even if it is misogynistic and all kinds of stupid, but the real problem is that his opinion is reflected in the purchasing and reading habits of men across the world. This is what we need to challenge: the erasure of women from the literary and cultural world. Feminist writer Bidisha calls this cultural femicide. I’m inclined to agree with her.

As Bidisha puts it so eloquently in her blog piece “Literary women, literary prizes. Not often found in the same room:”

… women are everywhere in the book world and even on the bestseller lists. We are the overwhelming majority of book buyers, book readers, book editors, agents, PRs, event attendees, festival-goers, champions of literature, literature teachers, writers and book club members. We read the comically major majority, in a really major way, of all fiction. We support the entire industry from within and without. We are everywhere except in the nicest place: the prestige podium, that zone of acclaim furnished with prizes, honours, respect, speaking invitations, special commissions, credit, mentions, recommendations and a place in the canon.

Women read and buy more books than men and we read with a fairly close approximation of gender parity. Men do not give women the same respect. Most men who read only read books written by men. J.K Rowling is the most well-known example of this phenomenon in the 20th century: she published the Harry Potter series under her initials because her publisher felt they could not market the book to boys if it was written by a woman. The fact that it is one of the highest selling series of books ever seems beside the point: written by a woman and it simply wouldn’t sell. Even if the books are brilliant and engaging.

Strangely, women are the majority of employees in the book industry: everything from publishing companies to literary prizes to conferences. So why do we support male literary efforts when they do not accord us the same respect? Why do we not take advantage of the biggest tool for activism that we have in a capitalist Patriarchy and stop financially supporting male authors? Why don’t we demand publishing companies spend as much money advertising books written by women as they do by men? Why do we still buy anthologies of poetry, plays and short stories when the default is always male? Why do we still live in a society where some of the greatest writers are accorded no respect because they have vaginas? Why are we still in a system that forced the Bronte sisters and Mary Anne Evans [George Eliot] to publish under male pseudonyms? Why do we support an industry that required the same of Joanna Rowling 200 years later?


This blog, then, is a piece of feminist activism because it is about celebrating the literature written by women and about women: about our friendships and our lives. I’m not going to stop reading books by men altogether [mostly because I run the Mumsnet Feminist Book Clubs and we’ve already picked this year’s books which do include some by men writing about domestic violence and porn] but, rather, this is about only buying books written by women. It is about taking the only stand possible in capitalist patriarchy and financially supporting brilliant women writers with a view to ending this cultural femicide. It is about loving literature and loving the brilliant women who write it.

On twitter: #readingonlybookswrittenbywomen