What about the women: The existence of brothels in Nazi Concentration Camps

Cross-posted from My Elegant Gathering of White Snows

This is a response to a post at Everyday Whorephobia called “When the State Traffics Women“. I posted a brief response on the blog itself [which is currently in moderation]* but I wanted to write a longer response. Women’s history is something I am very passionate about and this particular topic is something I am quite familiar with. Whilst I am glad more women are writing about this topic, I do have some reservations about some of the conclusions within this piece.

Sexual violence and rape were common during the Holocaust. The fact that these experiences are not common knowledge is because of sexist constructions of a specific Holocaust narrative which privileged testimonies of male survivors like Elie Wiesel over women, Gay men, people with disabilities, and children, to name a few. Partly, this was because of the historical context in which Holocaust narratives became well-known as very little academic research was done until the 1960s. Testimonies published in the immediate post-war era, of which there are many, had very small publishing runs as many people were simply not interested in analysing the full spectrum of violence perpetrated during World War Two. Holocaust history was written during, and is historically situated by, the Cold War. The political desires of the US and the USSR impact how Holocaust history was written and who it was being written for. Racism was a motivating factor of the crimes against humanity during the war as much as it was a motivating factor for how the history of the war was written.

As with all history, the Holocaust was complicated. Mass genocide does not simply occur because a few men in one nation order it. The Holocaust required the participation, active and passive, of much of Europe. That is a fact which very few are willing to acknowledge but it is something we need to remind ourselves of daily.

“When the State traffics women” does raise awareness of just how prolific sexual violence was during the Holocaust. This point cannot be emphasised enough; sexual violence was ignored by mainstream historians until well into the 1990s. Feminist historians were writing about in the early 1970s but this researched was dismissed, as women’s history frequently is. Since the 1990s, there have been numerous collections of essays on the experience of women published as well as numerous conferences which dealt specifically with the gendered experiences of women. There also been an explosion in the sheer number of women’s testimonies being (re)published. In 2010, an anthology specifically about sexual violence against Jewish women was published. As I write this, there are a multitude of PhDs, essays and books being written about sexual violence during the Holocaust. Women’s experiences are being written back into the history of the Holocaust and the extant of sexual violence against all peoples is finally being questioned.

My personal belief is that there cannot be enough research and writing on the Holocaust. The Soviet archives, which were only recently opened, have demonstrated just how much we did not know. 10 years ago, a group of scholarsdecided to establish the official number of slave labour and concentration camps. It was double what was previously believed and includes at least 500 brothels. So many records still need to be archived. What we thought we knew has turned out to be only a brief snapshot of what actually happened.

This piece had the potential to increase public awareness of the existence of brothels and the treatment of prostituted women. Unfortunately, there are several problems with the essay. First, it occasionally  conflates the experience of prostituted women within Nazi Germany with the experience of all women within the concentration, death and slave labour camps. This conflation is not helpful when researching sexual violence. The treatment of individuals within the camp system depended on their nationality, race, age, sex, sexuality, criminal activity, disability and skill. During the 1930s, the Nazis deliberately targeted prostituted women under the category of ‘asocial’** for incarceration, however we do not know how many women incarcerated as ‘asocials’ were prostituted women as the category included convicted criminals, women with disabilities, and those who are still othered in the UK now. The category of ‘asocial’ included anyone accused of moral degeneracy. It is also included women who were Lesbians. Lesbianism, unlike homosexuality, was not illegal under the Nazi regime. Lesbian women were still incarcerated but they were charged as ‘asocials’ rather than for the crime of homosexuality. This category was specifically about women living within Nazi Germany before the outbreak of war and at the beginning.

Secondly, the number of prostituted women who were incarcerated in concentration, slave-labour and death camps which had brothels is open to debate because of this issue of identification. We know, for the camps where records were not destroyed, how many women were incarcerated as ‘asocials’ but that does not give us an accurate record of women incarcerated for prostitution. This is a very important point when addressing the issue of brothels and which women were required to “work” in them because women incarcerated for the crime of prostitution were by no means the only women forced to “work” in the brothels.

The establishment of the brothels, as the piece correctly points out, were in direct response to two issues: Heinrich Himmler’s “incentivisation” program for male inmates working within the armaments factories in the slave-labour camps and homosexuality within the camps. Brothels were obviously the answer to both problems. I have some personal reservations about the brothels being developed to combat homosexuality within the camp system since the men who were incarcerated for the crime of homosexuality were subjected to sexual violence and medical experimentation. Being a known homosexual was much more likely to result in death than a pass to the brothel. The problem within the camps was sexual relationships between men who were not homosexuals and the rape of teenage boys by adult men. Both issues need far more research.

The women who were raped in the brothels included lesbian women as punishment for being lesbians and Jewish women; the laws of Rassenschade were generally ignored in the camps. “Working” in the brothel did involve better food rations. The women were also allowed to bathe and had access to better clothes. They also got to work inside which was an important consideration for many women. Women’s testimonies vary on how women were “chosen” to work in the brothels but most involve the women themselves “volunteering” to be raped in the brothel and women being forced to parade naked in front of SS guards and the most beautiful being chosen. Stories of women “volunteering” to work in the brothel include women who made the “choice” in order to access extra rations to smuggle to their sisters, which may or may not have included biological sisters as the benefits of sisterhood and the importance of women’s relationships are a common theme in women’s testimonies. There are also stories of women who were incarcerated for prostitution “volunteering” for the brothels in order to spare other women the degradation of being raped.

The women “working” in brothels generally represented in women’s testimonies in two ways: as debased women or as true sisters helping other women. Much more research needs to be done into the experience of women who worked in the brothels: who they were and, for those who “volunteered”, why did they make the “choice”.

The third, and in my opinion, the biggest problem with ”When the State traffics women” is that it focuses on men and their feelings, effectively erasing the humanity of the women “working” within the brothels. Men were given tokens for ‘good behaviour’. The tokens were bartered around the camp for food and other extras. Women’s bodies were bartered as objects and then the women were raped but not just by male inmates, and certainly not Jewish men. SS guards also raped the women within the brothels, as they did with women in all the slave-labour, concentration and death camps. Jewish women were allowed to be raped by men but Jewish men were not allowed in the brothels.

As the piece states, the men were given tokens to the brothels were subject to ”humiliating genital examination and a prophylactic injection before being taken to the room”. The piece fails to mention that the women within the brothels were also subject to humiliating genital examinations. SS guards certainly did watch in some camps but not in others. In some camps, SS guards were the only people allowed to rape the women in the brothels.  The women were also raped by dozens of men every day but no mention is made of the effect of this on the women’s bodies. The article also suggests that women who were infected with STIs were sent back to the main camps. It does not mention that this was frequently followed by a death sentence. It is also important to note that the campaign against STIs, as with the campaign against lice, was actually about the “safety” of the SS officers within the camps rather than concern about the male prisoners. The women, obviously, did not count. And, yes, the pregnancies which followed mass rapes were frequently aborted. Depending on the camp, this abortion could simply involve the murder of the women or the women dying from the abortion. It is certainly not quite as easy as the article implies.

This is the piece of text with which I have the most reservations:

What motivated the men who used the service? The need to relieve sexual frustration was one motivation but survivor testimonies also refer to many men wanting to talk or simply feel the physical closeness of a woman. In the pitiless world of the concentration camp they simply sought a few minutes of tenderness. They were as much victims as the women.

Whilst the men were as much victims of the women, it wasn’t for the reasons stated above. After all, the women weren’t exactly in a position to decide whether or not they wanted to talk or just feel the physical closeness of a male body. The women were being raped dozens of times a day by dozens of men. The men had a choice. The women did not and to ignore this point is to ignore the experience and trauma of the women. This failure to acknowledge the very gendered nature of the Holocaust has led to women’s lives being written out of history.The issue of brothels within the camps is complicated because it does “challenge prevailing orthodoxies about the nature of Nazi oppression”, but, and this is very important, race was a key factor in the privilege to access to the brothels. Polish resistance fighters, German criminals and western POWs were allowed access to the brothels. Jewish men were banned and Soviet POWs were considered suspect. For the women, race was generally irrelevant. Once women were incarcerated in the camp systems, they were victims of sexual violence from all men*** without the added factor of being incarcerated in the brothel. For women out with the camp system, race also impacted on their experience of sexual violence. German soldiers raped whomever they wanted and the rape and murder of Jewish women in the ghettos guarded by regular German troops. The mass rapes by the Soviet army as the moved west is well-known, less so is the mass rapes committed by Allied forces. The stories of rape of women in Western Europe have not been fully explored.I do agree that the story of sexual violence needs to be historically situated within the wider context of Nazism, however the article refers to a now questionable construction of womanhood in Nazi Germany that was based on Nazi propaganda rather than the reality of the lives of Aryan women [and the conflation of *all* women with Aryan women here is telling]. This, however, is another essay for another time.

Sexual violence was an integral experience of the Holocaust for many women and I will write further about the experience of Jewish women in the camps. What I will say is that current research into sexual violence in the Holocaust has shown just how integral sexual violence is to genocide and human rights violations. The fact that rape was not mentioned once during the Nuremberg trials is disgraceful. The fact that neither “forced prostitution” nor rape were considered war crimes until 2002 is a crime in and of itself. When writing women’s histories we need to be careful that we do not use their life-stories to reinforce a narrative based on our political leanings. The experience of women during the Holocaust has already been erased from history once to met a male political narrative. This cannot happen again.

*And, before anyone assumes anything. I only posted the comment yesterday. I’m sure they have a moderation policy which is run by volunteers. Moderating is a time consuming process and not one that anyone should have to do on a Saturday night.

** I have placed a number of terms in quotation marks because they are deeply problematic and outlining why they are problematic is an essay for another day.

***Clearly, not all men in the camps were involved in the rape of women and teenage boys but the threat was there for women.

There is more research on the experience of women available here:

The Holocaust at Women Under Siege
New Holocaust findings highlight larger gap in conflict and rape research at Women Under Siege
Remember the Women Institute

 

6 year old boy suspended for kissing classmate

6 year old boy suspended for kissing classmate is the actual title of a Sky News story. As with much of Sky News’ content, the article is high on drama but short on analysis of systemic violence against women and children which starts with grooming girls from a very young age that they have no bodily autonomy. Whilst everyone is an uproar about the suspension of 6 year old Hunter Yelton for kissing the hand of a six year old girl, no one seems to have thought to ask what the little girl thinks of the situation. All we have is Yelton’s statement that he has a crush on the little girl and that “she likes him back”.

What this rather sensationalist title doesn’t say is that this is Yelton’s second suspension for inappropriately touching a classmate and that he has a history of other disciplinary problems.  This is clearly not a case of a once off kiss on a hand in which a school grossly over-reacted with a punishment. It is a case of unwanted touching. If the children were 16, would we be dismissing the behaviour still?

Children are allowed to have boundaries and they deserve to have those boundaries respected. They need to know they will be supported if someone does violate their boundaries, and that includes when the person violating their boundaries is their six year old classmate. Young girls need to be taught that they can say no and young boys need to learn that their wants and desires aren’t more important than the bodily integrity of other people.

The response of Yelton’s mother, Jennifer Saunders, is quite concerning. She has dismissed the punishment as an over-reaction on the part of the school and seems to be implying that her sons ‘crush’ on the little girl means that he is entitled to touch her without her permission. This is rape culture. It is the grooming of a young girl into an object for the (sexual) exploitation by boys and men. It is a young boy growing up to believe that he has the right to touch whoever he wants whenever he wants.

There is a discussion to be had about the appropriateness of the punishment, but this must not come at the expense of the young girl who experienced unwanted touching from a classmate. Rapists and other sexual predators are not born; they are made in a culture which privileges’ men’s needs over the bodily integrity of everyone else. Both of these children have learnt a lesson here: the young girl will know that she has the right to bodily integrity and the young boy will, hopefully, learn that he does not have the right to touch others without permission.

Salacious and misleading headlines aside, we need to start discussing how young boys are groomed in a rape culture. We will not stop the sexual violence of women and children as long as we tell young boys that it’s okay to pull the hair of the girl they like or that they kiss whoever they want without permission.

We all have the right to bodily integrity and 6 year olds need to learn this lesson too.

Update: The school has backed down due to public pressure and is allowing the young boy back to school. Whilst I’m still unsure about suspension, because it would be inappropriate for the school to give out a full record of the child’s behaviour, I do not believe it is appropriate for the school to change it’s position because of public pressure. The article on CNN makes it clear that the young girl did not want to be touched by this boy and that he has done it before. What are we telling her about her right to bodily integrity?

Collecting Women’s Writings about Violence Against Women

For the 16 Days of Activism to Eliminate Violence against Women, I have been collecting women’s writings about violence against women via a ‘bloghop’. Women’s writings about their personal experience of violence, as well as women’s journalism, research and opinion are frequently elided or misrepresented in the mainstream media. Women are blamed for the violence they experience and the feminist research into male violence and its effects on women is ignored and derided. I have started this bloghop, on My Elegant Gathering of White Snows, in order to ensure that women’s voices are heard; that our research is considered essential to ending the epidemic of male violence against women and children.

The bloghop is open to all women and I encourage the linking of multiple posts. They can be personal experiences of violence, theoretical discussion of the consequences of violence against women, activism, research, poetry, art or any other medium that you can link in a blog. This is about hearing women’s voices and centring our experiences in a debate which erases the sex of the perpetrator in an attempt to be seen as ‘gender’ neutral. The vast majority of violence is committed by men against women, children and other men. We need to name the perpetrators and let the voices of survivors be heard.

This is a brief selection of some of the bloggers and campaigns who have linked to the bloghop already:

Karen Ingala Smith

Portia Smart

Ending Victimisation and Blame

One Woman’s Thoughts

Salt and Caramel

JumpMag

Frothy Dragon and the Patriarchal Stone

Cath Elliott

Women’s Views on the News

CratesandRibbons

 

Please join in by linking your writings!

 

 

Je Me Souviens

Je me souviens: in memory of the 14 women murdered by a misogynist at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal on December 6 1989

Geneviève Bergeron a civil engineering student

Hélène Colgan a mechanical engineering student

Nathalie Croteau a mechanical engineering student

Barbara Daigneault a mechanical engineering student

Anne-Marie Edward a chemical engineering student

Maud Haviernick a materials engineering student

Maryse Laganière a clerk at the École Polytechnique

Maryse Leclair a materials engineering student

Anne-Marie Lemay a mechanical engineering student

Sonia Pelletier a mechanical engineering student

Michèle Richard a materials engineering student

Annie St-Arneault a mechanical engineering student

Annie Turcotte a materials engineering student

Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz a nursing student

A caesarean performed without consent

Originally published at My Elegant Gathering of White Snows

As with everyone, I am horrified by today’s article by Christopher Booker in the Telegraph about an Italian woman, in the UK on business, who was forcibly given a caesarian section and her child taken into care.

A woman being given surgery without her consent is assault. It is that simple. Women are not incubators and any society which sees women as human would not be forcing surgery on a woman without her consent; never mind a surgery which results in a child being delivered. Taking the child into care, without the woman being able to instruct her own lawyers, is disgraceful and inhumane.

But, and this is a huge but, reading Booker’s article, I have more questions that answers. I understand that Booker is limited in what he can publish due to the fact that family courts are closed for the protection of the children. Taking this into consideration, Booker’s article is still low on details.

Don’t get me wrong, there are serious problems within child protection due to chronic underfunding, massive caseloads and staff not being given appropriate training in dealing with sexual violence, male violence, and victim blaming. This is clear from the Rochdale and Oxford grooming cases for a start – and the sheer number of children who are forced to continue relationships with abusive fathers. Yet, child protection is more than just social workers [who inevitably get a bashing in these cases], there are medical doctors, psychiatrists, police, teachers, community support workers and any number of court officials involved in the decision to remove children from the home. Our culture treats children as possessions and we pay a very high price for the damage we cause them. In this case, it is clear that the police and medical establishment were involved before Essex social services were.

These are the questions that first popped into my mind when I read the article last night:

  1. Why hasn’t the Italian government been fighting this? They are certainly not bound by UK laws on child protection which keep family courts closed. Why hasn’t the Italian government gone to the EU Human Rights court on behalf of their citizen?
  2. I do not understand why the family suggested that the baby be adopted, in America, by the aunt of the baby’s stepsister (and does Booker not mean half sister rather than stepsister? If we’re talking about kinship carers, you need to get the relationship right). This isn’t the closest of kinship ties and I do think sending the child overseas is a drastic response. Was there no family in Italy who could care for the child in order to allow the mother to continue her relationship with the child? I support kinship adoptions because I do think they are the best outcome in such circumstances but not if the kinship adopter lives on the other side of the planet. The whole point of kinship carers is to try to continue the relationship with the birth parents, if possible. How would this continue if the child was living in the US?
  3. What on earth does Booker mean by panic attack and “bipolar” condition? These are medical terms which have medical definitions. A bit more detail to make it clear wouldn’t go amiss here.
  4. I want to know why the caesarian was preformed. This is an incredibly drastic move which only takes place, within normal circumstances when the mother can’t legally consent, if the mother’s health was at risk. Having bipolar disorder does not put the mother’s health at risk whilst pregnant. If the hospital performed the caesarian for any other reason than the baby or mother being in immediate risk of death, then they have committed assault. I would expect the Italian government, on behalf of their citizen, to being taking the hospital trust to court over this.
  5. I don’t trust John Hemmings at all. The moment he gets involved in any case involving social services, my brain starts screaming ‘ulterior motive’. Hemmings is never involved for the best interests of the child; he’s all about the publicity.
There are obvious constraints on the publishing of this case but Booker’s article is too full of holes to make sense of. If this is a clear case of the assault of a woman, then the there are a whole lot of people who need to be prosecuted and both the British and Italian governments are complicit in this abuse.
Forcible caesarians are violence against women.
Removing a child from their mother because the mother is bipolar is violence against women.
A society which treats women as more than incubators and believes children are not possessions would invest more money and training in the police, education, health, social services and judiciary to ensure that all have more than adequate training to support women who need a little extra help. A society which cared would offer more support to a pregnant women with a mental illness [and here the Italian government is just as complicit]. This is why we are supposed to have a welfare state: to help those in need and not punish them for needing help.

UPDATE:

Essex County Council have released the following statement in response to Booker’s Telegraph article. The obvious holes in Booker’s piece are clearly answered below. I still think the child should have been returned to Italy, even if the mother could not care for her herself but the case isn’t quite as cut and dried as Booker suggests but then these things never are.

Essex County Council responds to interest in story headlined “Essex removes baby from mother”

2 December 2013

Key Dates

There have been lengthy legal proceedings in this case over the past 15 months.
  • Mother detained under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act on 13 June 2012
  • Application by the Health Trust to the High Court 23 August 2012
  • Application for Interim Care Order 24 August 2012
  • Mother took part in the care proceedings ending on 1 February 2013.
  • Mother applied to Italian Courts for order to return the child to Italy in May 2013. Those courts ruled that child should remain in England
  • In October 2013 Essex County Council obtains permission from County Court to place child for adoption

Context

The Health Trust had been looking after the mother since 13 June 2012 under section 3 of the Mental Health Act. Because of their concerns the Health Trust contacted Essex County Council’s Social Services.
Five weeks later it was the Health Trust’s clinical decision to apply to the High Court for permissions to deliver her unborn baby by caesarean section because of concerns about risks to mother and child.
The mother was able to see her baby on the day of birth and the following day. Essex County Council’s Social Services obtained an Interim Care Order from the County Court because the mother was too unwell to care for her child.
Historically, the mother has two other children which she is unable to care for due to orders made by the Italian authorities.
In accordance with Essex County Council’s Social Services practice social workers liaised extensively with the extended family before and after the birth of the baby, to establish if anyone  could care for the child:

UPDATE 2:

The judge’s statement has now been released and is available here.

This is the first part:

NOTE BY MR JUSTICE MOSTYN (4 December 2013)

Although no-one has sought to appeal the judgment dated 23 August 2012 during the last 15 months, or to have it transcribed for any other purpose, I have decided to authorise its release together with the verbatim transcript of the proceedings and the order made so as to inform and clarify recent public comments about this case.

It will be seen that the application to me was not made by the local authority or social workers. Rather, it was an urgent application first made at 16:16 on 23 August 2012 by the NHS Trust, supported by the clear evidence of a consultant obstetrician and the patient’s own treating consultant psychiatrist, seeking a declaration and order that it would be in the medical best interests of this seriously mentally ill and incapacitated patient, who had undergone two previous elective caesarean sections, to have this birth, the due date of which was imminent (she was 39 weeks pregnant), in the same manner.

The patient was represented by the Official Solicitor who instructed a Queen’s Counsel on her behalf. He did not seek an adjournment and did not oppose the application, agreeing that the proposed delivery by caesarean section was in the best interests of the patient herself who risked uterine rupture with a natural vaginal birth. I agreed that the medical evidence was clear and, applying binding authority from the Court of Appeal concerning cases of this nature, as well as the express terms of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, made the orders and declarations that were sought.

Although I emphasised that the Court of Protection had no jurisdiction over the unborn baby, I offered advice to the local authority (which were not a party to or represented in the proceedings, or present at the hearing) that it would be heavy-handed to invite the police to take the baby following the birth using powers under section 46 of the Children Act 1989. Instead, following the birth there should be an application for an interim care order at the hearing of which the incapacitated mother could be represented by her litigation friend, the Official Solicitor.