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Terrorizing Women in the Holocaust

Dr. Fogelman's article was published in the December 2015 edition of Clio's psyche, which is available for free online at the link attached.


Gitta Sereny, who interviewed the infamous commandant of Treblinka and Sobibor, Franz Stangl, asked him, “Why, if they were going to kill them [the Jews] anyway, what was the point of all the humiliation, why the cruelty?” If Hitler’s aspiration with the “Final Solution” was a state-sponsored plan to annihilate all European Jews, how did sexual violence and other forms of torture advance the ultimate goal? Stangl replied, “To condition those who actually had to carry out the policies. To make it possible for them to do what they did.” Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi elaborates with his own explanation in The Drowned and the Saved (1986): “Before dying the victim must be degraded, so that the murderer will be less burdened by guilt. This is an explanation not devoid of logic but it shouts to heaven: it is the sole usefulness of useless violence.”


Hitler understood the challenges of getting Germans from all walks of life, ordinary Germans, including policeman who are supposedly protectors, to kill innocent human beings. The propaganda machinery was a major and relentless operation from the very beginning of the Third Reich, whose mission it was to distinguish the Jews as “the other,” and therefore (as psychohistorian Robert J. Lifton put it) “life unworthy of life.” Adolescents in the Hitler Youth Movement were taken on weekend retreats to learn how to shoot animals. Animals were equated with Jews. This process of dehumanization is the first stage in stripping a person of his or her identity and community. Social psychologist Herbert Kelman explains that individuals lose empathy and compassion for the people whose identity and community they undermine as subhuman.

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