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Rape and the Holocaust

Sexual Violence against Jewish Women During the Holocaust, a 2010 book co-edited by Rochelle Saidel, has been in the forefront of the effort to bring this subject to wider attention. Perhaps recent publicity from Eve Ensler, Gloria Steinem and others about widespread rape linked to genocide in Africa has also helped historians recognize and ask about similar violence against Jewish women seven decades ago. At a USC Shoah Foundation symposium in November organized by Saidel, Jane Fonda read aloud a Jewish girl’s recollection of her rape while in hiding from the Nazis, from the book And the Rat Laughed, by Israeli novelist Nava Semel.

The Shoah Foundation reported that, following the symposium’s screening of oral histories by women, a man in the audience suggested the faces of the sexually abused women be hidden from the camera, because of Jewish laws of modesty. Eva Fogelman, a psychologist and symposium participant who has worked extensively with Holocaust survivors and their children, replied that “The victims of sexual violence during the Holocaust must be seen and heard and not be compromised by modesty.  It is the perpetrators that should be ashamed and not the women who were sexually violated. The witnesses of sexual violence who have been silent for so long, for fear of blaming the victim and shame that they will be ‘tainted goods’, are speaking out at last.”