Left to right: Dr. Sonja M. Hedgepeth, Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel, and Dr. Lois Oppenheim.
Sexual violence during the Holocaust is the controversial subject of a public event, co-sponsored by Remember the Women Institute, taking place as part of the Annual Scholars' Conference on the Holocaust on Sunday evening, March 9, 2014, from 7:15 to 9:00 pm. More information on the conference.
For this special public event, "Sexual Abuse of Women in the Holocaust: A Conversation with Sonja Hedgepeth and Rochelle Saidel," Dr. Hedgepeth and Dr. Saidel, co-editors of Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust (paperback, hardcover, Kindle), discussed the topic in a conversation with Dr. Lois Oppenheim, chair of the Political Science Department at American Jewish University. The program included a recorded testimony about rape by a Holocaust survivor, as well as a lively discussion with the audience.
Although rape and sexual violence are documented and known to have taken place in a variety of forms during the Holocaust, as well as in earlier and later genocides, some scholars, educators, and survivors still do not want to address this topic. Hedgepeth and Saidel's 2010 book, the first to ever do so, tackles the issue's myriad aspects. These include: rape in settings such as ghettos, concentration camps, and hiding; medical experiments, forced abortions, and other assaults to women's reproductive systems; forced prostitution; representation in literature and film; and psychological repercussions. Experts from the fields of history, sociology, psychology, and the arts provide insights in their book into these aspects of the unique suffering of women during the Holocaust.
The public conversation addresses why some Holocaust scholars and educators have avoided this issue. Another facet of the discussion is why many Holocaust survivors themselves view sexual violation as a taboo subject. Nevertheless, enough women have come forward so that there is no question that such abuse occurred. Furthermore, there is documentation in early survivor diaries, Nazi records, and archival interviews.
Dr. Hedgepeth contends that an investigation of sexual violence during the Holocaust is important. She states: "Perhaps some scholars believe rape seems irrelevant within a discussion of mass murder. However, various aspects of the Holocaust have been closely examined, and this atrocity of sexual violence is likewise an aspect that was part of the whole picture." Dr. Saidel says she has personally encountered several Holocaust experts who still claim it is not pertinent or necessary to study sexual violence during the Holocaust. "They are simply wrong," she insists. "During wars, genocides, and other upheavals from the time of the Bible to today, women have been vulnerable to rape and sexual violence. Unfortunately, it was part of many women's experiences during the Holocaust, and their suffering deserves our attention."
Dr. Hedgepeth is Professor of German at Middle Tennessee State University, and has also taught courses there on Women and the Holocaust since 1989. Dr. Saidel is founder and executive director of Remember the Women Institute, New York City, which focuses on the experiences of women during the Holocaust, including sexual violence. She is the author of five other books on the Holocaust. Dr. Littell is a professor of Holocaust Studies, has special interest in women and the Holocaust, and has been the long-term executive director of the Scholars' Conference.
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