Struggling to be Heard
Giving Voice to Victims of Sexual Violence During the Holocaust
By Elissa Strauss
At the end of their workshop about women in the Holocaust at Yad Vashem in 2006, scholars Sonja Hedgepeth and Rochelle Saidel encountered some dissent. The presentation, “Beyond Anne Frank: Teaching About Women and the Holocaust,” looked at the ways in which women experienced the Holocaust differently than men did, and included a discussion on sexual violence at Ravensbrük. Afterward, a few of the conference attendees, including a pre-eminent Holocaust scholar, said there was no evidence on this subject and questioned whether sexual violence had really occurred.
As an answer, Hedgepeth and Saidel got working on the recently published “Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During The Holocaust” (Brandeis, 2010), the first book on the topic in English, which comprises 16 essays examining the rape, forced prostitution, sexual slavery, forced abortion and sterilization that took place during the war.
While the Holocaust has been examined from myriad perspectives in both academia and popular culture, sexual violence, which was largely directed against women, has received little attention. Hedgepeth and Saidel, along with a small group of academics and writers, are fighting to change that.
“This has been totally neglected in the history of the Holocaust,” Saidel said, explaining that there has been a resistance overall to looking at survivors’ experiences in terms of gender. “For some historians, focusing on women means that you are taking away from the totality of the Holocaust experience.”
“For some,” Hedgepeth added, “there is a false perception that looking at sexual violence is asking the question of who suffered more.”
An important new book in English explores sexual violence committed during the Holocaust, a subject left out of most discussions. Please click onto the link. (I’m going to get the book)
Nofei Habsor (link in Hebrew)
Strange to say that during Democracy Week last week in our Western Negev School, I had little contact with my students. Some were off on a week of pseudo-Army experience, called the ‘Gadna‘. Some were off in Jerusalem in order to sum up their experience of travelling to Poland in August, where they experienced the actual Holocaust location, empty and green as it may be at the moment.
For me, my experience of Democracy Week was grabbing a chance to pursue my right to be a human being despite the incessant calls to create powerpoint learning units and to devise creative ways to stimulate learners to absorb the English language. My human rights were happily exercised as again I interviewed Martina Newberry (soon to be posted here), and entered into that part of my brain that deals with the more bizarre connections of experience, my own and others’.
But enough about me.
This post is to commemorate the ceremony in Nofei Habsor, on Wednesday, October 20th, marking 15 years after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, killed during a public gathering in what was then called the State Square, mid-Tel Aviv. It’s now Rabin Square, and since that mind-boggling night when a citizen named Yigal Amir murdered our Prime Minister because of a difference in point of view, we struggle with what it means to be Democratic.
How far from a Democracy are we, and what can we do to strive to work towards equal rights for all?
I include the clip filmed and edited by our Media Department, and below the jump, you’ll find some photos of the interactive seminar rooms in which students of all grades participated.
The clip, in Hebrew, shows Grade 10 students reading important statements about Democracy from the beginning of the existence of the State of Israel, in 1948 till later days. You’ll hear songs, you’ll see the release of doves as a pledge to search for freedom. Finally, you’ll hear one girl announce that the Student Council initiated a petition pledging students to resolve to work towards freedom and equality for all. After collecting signatures in Nofei Habsor, the student council will circulate the petition to other schools to create a butterfly effect.
Click onto the link below. Here is a genuine photo album left behind in the barracks of a Concentration Camp and found one day by a survivor of another camp.
The story of what happened in the camp is documented in the photos (aside from actual deaths), but how the survivor who found it used it to connect to other survivors is a story in itself.
She donated it to Yad Veshem, which offers if for sale, if anyone would like to buy it, but for those who are satisfied with online album looking, the link is amazing.
via The Auschwitz Album.