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Sexual Abuse of Jewish Women During and After the Holocaust

I can never forget the story of the young, beautiful, pregnant Greek Holocaust survivor in Orna Ben-Dor Niv's film Eretz Hadasha (Newland) who went for a medical examination in the ma'abara (transit camp) in Israel. As the woman exited the office, she heard the doctor telling the nurse in Hebrew, “Her child is an offspring of an SS officer she slept with. That's how all pretty women survived the concentration camps.” 1 Though her Hebrew was limited, the young Holocaust survivor understood what the doctor said. She returned to her tent, took an iron and attempted to burn off the numeric assumptions of the Israeli doctor survivors who arrived tattoo on her and together they were bringing new life into the world. arm. She in this film mirrored Palestine after the had lost her husband and daughter in Auschwitz. When it was all over, she had met a man who had lost his wife and son, The the Holocaust in war. disrespected and treated as less than human— for being sheep that were led to the slaughter, for being psychologically damaged merely by the fact of survival. It was generally assumed that beautiful women who survived had traded their bodies for life; had they not, they would have been dead. In the postwar era, this contempt was not just generated by non-survivors. It hurt more to know it also came from fellow survivors. When members of a community suspected that a female survivor had been raped, they labeled her as “tainted goods,” thereby unfit for marriage. real-life contempt for the They were universally Because people often like to blame victims instead of perpetrators, there is a long history of silence about sexual abuse during the Holocaust and the post-liberation period. This silence has been compounded by researchers, who, like the survivors, resist broaching the topic. Ilana Rosen, an interviewer of female Holocaust survivors from Hungary, wrote in Sister in Sorrow that “delving too deeply in their intimate and sexual affairs is a kind of betrayal of their trust— expressed by their agreement to tell me their life histories as fully and sincerely as they can— and a superfluous repetition of the initial assault on their privacy and lives.” 2
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