The Lives of Jewish Women and Children during the Holocaust
During the Holocaust, women and children were exposed to extreme cruelty. Many teenagers were constrained from attending school, and women were also tremendously mistreated. According to myriads of stories from survivors, it is evident that the majority of women and children were subjected to brutality. In some of these situations victims were unavoidable. For instance, most women had no option but to accept sexual molestation to meet some of their basic needs, including food. At some point, they were forced to accept sex to save lives of their family members (Hedgepeth & Saidel, 2010). On the other hand, most children during the Holocaust suffered mostly from desertion at a tender age as their parents were being captured by the Nazis (Baskin, 2011). This problem resulted in the lack of proper feeding because family breadwinners were either captured or killed. According to the story of a different survivor, it is evident that most children were parentless; hence there was a lack of parental care in the refugee camps. In addition, they did not even know their relatives and were leading miserable lives full of hopelessness (Holliday, 2014, p. 44). This essay examines the life that women and children led during the Holocaust and various types of persecutions to which they were exposed.
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At ghettos, Jewish women demonstrated how the Jews can unite in desperate situations. The sense of unity is justified by the type of life they led in the camps. They revealed how resistant they were to starvation and a lack of hygiene in the camps (Cook, 2006). They understood that food sharing had some significant influence on their survival. This aspect of unity can clearly be seen when they established social groups at the camps. Small groups of female inmates established quasi-family relations and upheld a set identity in all situations in the camp life. Women at larger camps regarded each other as camp sisters. At this level of unity, they used to preserve the collected foodstuffs for sick and young people. Camp sisters were meant to provide mutual strength and support when encountered with terror. The co-existence of this kind demonstrated that Jewish women can be united (Cook, 2006). Apparently, there is no evidence that men had a similar arrangement of social life at concentration camps during the war. The significance of Jewish women is illustrated further at the concentration camps. As the German maintained brutal policies against Jewish women, they rebelled against them so as to keep their families alive. Jewish women were still responsible for informal education of their children at the camps. However, this practice was against the German policies, and punitive measures were imposed on those who were found educating a Jewish child (Hayes & Roth, 2010).
Moreover, in the midst of the Holocaust the Jewish women were mostly entangled in a difficult assignment of choosing whether to stay with their children or to be selected as workers. On the other hand, men were not faced with such kinds of dilemma. This aspect proves that women suffered more than men at the concentration camps. The best example is illustrated in the story of a child survivor who narrates how his mother was forced to abandon him and disappear during an encounter with the Nazis soldier. In addition to this, Jewish women were devout believers. For instance, in camps they lit candles on the eve of the Passover and fasted despite their inexplicable hunger.
Despite the fact that Jewish women could hardly endure starvation, they were still maltreated by the SS personnel, which used food as an avenue to have sex with them (Cook, 2006). As Cook (2006) narrates, the SS personnel traded food for sexual benefits. This unscrupulous act was also practiced by the rest of the males. This fact shows how they suffered different kinds of maltreatment, starting from admission to the camps to the life, and often death, there. Cook in his book has pointed out that before admission to the camps both men and women were required to take their clothes off in front of the strangers. Nonetheless, Jewish women experienced more sexual molestation than men at the camps. One can argue that during the Holocaust, women underwent agony of these kinds predominantly for being the Jews. Secondly, they were exposed to such cruelty for being females (Cook, 2006).
On the other hand, children were also not spared in terms of cruelty during the Holocaust. Just like their parents, the Jewish children were also subjected to brutality. The most evident right denied to children during the Holocaust was education. As one of the survivors narrates, the German displaced various children from their respective schools (Rosenberg, 1998). The issue of hiding children from killing traumatized them and deprived them of peace of mind. It can be argued that such kind of merciless treatment was not supposed to be imposed on Jewish children. It can be claimed that the German intention was to do away with the Jewish generation. Exposing children to such kind of treatment was the highest form of injustice. Children were innocent, and killing them without a second thought was the worst idea ever.
Jewish women and children were always faced with overwhelming impediments. Another agony that children had to live with was separation from their parents. The German viewed children as the future generation of the Jews. Therefore, most children’s lives were terminated immediately after birth. Under the ruling of the German, they strictly prohibited procreation among Jewish women but highly valued procreation among the Germans. They viewed procreation of Jewish women as a potential political threat hence the survival chances for infants during the war were minimal from the moment of conception. Pregnancy as a preamble to life made Jewish women make precarious decisions. Jewish pregnant women were aware of the kind of suffering that awaited them during giving birth. Therefore, whenever they got pregnant after rape, they resorted to abortion so as to avoid traumatic experience during birth (Heberer, 2011).
Bearing and rearing a child is a universal practice that is acceptable in a multi-cultural context. Most traditions cherish childbearing, and whenever a child is born, that is worth celebrating. During the Holocaust, the Germans prohibitory rules against Jewish women on the issue of procreation were contradictory to this common practice. Apart from witnessing brutal killings of their babies, watching them starve to death was another menace that Jewish women were afraid to face (Heberer, 2011).
As Baskin (2011) narrates, it is evident that most of Jewish children were deserted by their parents who ran to seek refuge in more secure places. According to myriads of stories, it can be deduced that most of these children were abandoned at a vulnerable age as early as two to three years. The reason for being left was that the Gentile people who rescued children were willing to take care of the children, but not their mothers (Heberer, 2011). The deserted Jewish children were required to assume wrong personalities as they hid in small and filthy places to avoid being found by their ‘predators’ (Rosenberg, 1998).
Another female survivor called Ofira narrates how the Holocaust has posed a significant psychological torture imposed on her during the Holocaust. The survivor described how she was deserted and lacked a sense of belonging (Rosenthal, 2010). From the Ofira’s diary, it can be comprehended that children suffered mostly from psychological torture. The post-traumatic stress disorder is the most dominant problem of children when most of these memoirs are analyzed. These kinds of problems still haunt some of these survivors to date. After these children had witnessed killing of their grandparents and parents, there was a sense of emptiness as Rosenthal explains. Therefore, it is evident how Jewish children were affected psychologically during the Holocaust.
Jewish children were also exposed to a broad range of health problems during the Holocaust. For instance, due to the lack of sufficient food in the camps, these children mostly suffered from malnutrition (Levy & Sidel, 2000). Pregnant women were denied an opportunity to go and deliver babies away from Germany. They were always retained in the delivery unit and ordered back to work two days after giving birth. Infants were not given enough food and perished within a short time after birth (Plunka, 2012).In trying to comprehend the suffering of Jewish children during the Holocaust, it is mandatory to recognize various findings. Firstly, it is clear that their suffering was experienced in different locations at various times. The German opposition to the survival of Jewish children had numerous implications. As the Germans lost the war on the other fronts, they were obsessed with winning the battle against the Jews, and the only way to win was to annihilate children. As Patricia Heberer (2011) narrates, the German perspective that Jewish children were the impending Jews generation, they had to do everything in order to terminate their lives.
In her book, Heberer has also shown how children suffered from disturbance and rejection. She has narrated the case of a 12-year-old girl called Marguerite Strasser who witnessed the events of 1938 at Munich, the crib of the National Socialist Movement. The mother of this child had passed away shortly after giving birth to her. Her father was captured and taken to Strasbourg. According to Heberer, the event of 10 November had a traumatic and psychological effect on this girl. During that time the pogrom took place. Many synagogues were set ablaze, and the Nazis harassed Jewish people on the streets. She witnessed destruction of properties and capture of the Jewish males. Many other Jewish children who witnessed such events were left with the disturbing thoughts at the concentration camps (Heberer, 2011).
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In addition to this, she was also discriminated at school. The story of Marguerite Strasser only serves as a representation of many children who suffered from psychological torture during the Holocaust. It demonstrates that during the Holocaust, even without fortification from the parents, there still existed psychological imperative to encounter pain. From the Jewish women’s points of view, the children were a reason for them to hustle. However, the same children were also the source of danger to their lives. In Strasser’s memoir, she lived with her grandmother who kept consoling her in the desperate situation. For instance, one day as she was coming from school she witnessed the burning of religious objects outside a synagogue. Strasser started crying, and on reaching home, her grandmother who took care of her was consoling her. Later, the grandmother was lamenting for being a Jew. This experience was so disturbing to Strasser and she kept on worrying about her fate (Heberer, 2011). Therefore, it can be argued that their grandparents’ seizures were also part and parcel in these traumatic circumstances.
Children were not only subjected to psychological harm, but they were also injured physically. During the 1942 summer, the children were physically smashed against the walls as some were thrown out through the window (Hayes & Roth, 2010). Hayes and Roth (2010) have acknowledged that even the ghetto memoirists who were documenting about Nazi’s mayhems could hardly get words to explain the tortures against the Jewish women and children during the banishment.
How the Lives of Women Differentiated with that of Men during the Holocaust
During the Holocaust, the Germans treated Jewish females in a different way than they treated men. These treatment differences influenced the period of lives led by both women and men before being killed. For instance, the Germans preferred Jewish men for authoritative positions (Hayes & Roth, 2010). The majority of members of the Jewish Council at the concentration camps were men. Women were not given any leadership position in the Jewish Council at ghettos. The Germans used this strategy to intimidate and terrorize the Jews. They involved the use of rabbis and other males to rule over the rest of the population (Hayes & Roth, 2010).
Another aspect of different treatment is evident from how the Germans executed forced labor on the Jewish women and men. In most instances, males were given an upper hand even if the type of work they did was the same. For example, factories at ghettos used to pay Jewish males more than females regardless of the workforce. The wages for the Jewish women was two-thirds that of the male workers. This policy was applied throughout factories at the Jewish ghetto. According to their tradition, male labor was the most valued compared to females (Hayes & Roth, 2010). If salaries for slave labor were always meager, then how were Jewish women surviving with children and the rest of the family? This question seems difficult as far as suffering of women and children during the Holocaust is concerned.
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The most demoralizing feature of this policy of different treatment on the basis of gender was how the mothers and fathers were treated. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, the women who had young kids were subjected to a spontaneous death or taken to gas chambers for torture. On the other hand, fathers who had small children were spared for manual labor. Nonetheless, if a child was too young for hard labor they were taken to a group of other women whose destinies were death (Hayes & Roth, 2010). According to a different perspective, it can be argued that, despite their pregnancy, young and energetic Jewish women would be spared for forced labor. Unfortunately, the Germans were merciless and could not attempt to save any expectant mother who was a Jew.
Sexual violence was one of the dominant features of women’s life during the Holocaust. Jewish women were sexually assaulted during the World War II and the Holocaust (Hedgepeth & Saidel, 2010). Female inmates were subjected to the harshest degree of brutality. According to the information provided by many female survivors, they have acknowledged that they were subjected to different types of cruelty as they entered the refugee camps (Hedgepeth & Saidel, 2010). Cook in his book has described vividly how these women were being stripped naked in front of the SS personnel. The expectant mothers were being killed together with their children. The primary reason for Germans to kill these women at the camp was to eradicate Jewish people after subjecting them to hard labor (Cook, 2006).
The survival methods of Jewish women and men had a sharp contrast to the ghetto and the concentration camps (Hayes & Roth, 2010). Before the Holocaust, the Jews practiced division of labor on the basis of gender. It remained an obligation for fathers to fulfill the economic needs of the family. Jewish women were responsible for taking care of the children while their husbands were away. Hayes and Roth argue that it is due to Jewish women notion to stick to their tradition and refused to escape. They remained at home taking care of their children and the aged. As a result, most of the men fled, and Jewish women were left thinking that males were the most endangered. Later, the Nazi police ordered arrest of all the Jews; they were arrested and murdered. Initially before the ‘final solution,’ the Nazis used to capture only Jewish men, but after a second thought all the Jews were killed without exceptions (Hayes & Roth, 2010).This practice changed drastically during the Holocaust.
There also existed an aspect of gender differentiation. Women’s survival techniques followed three different paths; Jewish women learned to live with the little income after their husbands lost their jobs. They assumed new obligations as family representatives, which contradicted with their traditions because primarily it was men’s role. For instance, during the Holocaust it was women who risked talking to the police whenever they came. They also assumed the role of providing support to the family. The role of providing support to the family was evident when Jewish women engaged in waged labor, yet they had not experienced such before. Jewish women had two choices to get something for the family. The first option was to get a ‘formal’ job by working at the ghetto factories, laundries, kitchens, orphanages and brigades. The other option was to discover an illegal method of offering themselves for sex and be given some money to purchase food (Hayes & Roth, 2010). This type of ‘trade’ was described as sex for food. Nonetheless, if a woman at ghetto could not find a job and was not engaged in the ‘trade’, her children were starved to death.
According to Cook (2006), the majority of the members of these movements were Jewish women. Most of these women were activists and advocated sexual equality. This practice was meant to get them ready for the leadership roles that were waiting during the Holocaust. Unfortunately, the lack of representation of women’s views meant that they had no one to protect them from different types of sexual harassment during the Holocaust. As a result, the number of women who died during the Holocaust was higher than that of men (Cook, 2006).
However, there are other aspects that made the number of women’s death higher than that of the males. For instance, as Cook argues, one of the socio-cultural aspects that led to high death of women was their unwillingness to part with their families. Jewish women were not ready to part with their families, especially large families. They were also not willing to move away from their older parents and close relatives. This attitude made the number of women who immigrated to more secure places minimal. As a result, the number of females who perished in during the Holocaust became higher than that of men (Cook, 2006). It can be argued that they had thought of running to safer places, the number of those who perished from the Nazi’s maltreatment would be minimal.
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Some other critics have argued that the issue of sexual harassment of Jewish women during the Holocaust is something that the contemporary society is silent about (Hedgepeth & Saidel, 2010). For instance, the Nazis transferred Jewish women to Southern America (Hayes & Roth, 2010). The society has rendered talking about this issue as a taboo, and deportation is the most preferred punitive measure. The act of rape has been viewed as shameful for both the rapist and the victim. Nonetheless, as much as this is the case, wars have always been working as a loophole for the sex predators.
In the context of Jewish women, sexual molestation of women was the order of the day. Sex was the only known means to ‘pay for the services’ for survival. Women mostly suffered from the hunger. It would be futile to judge Jewish women as prostitutes, yet they were driven to have sexual arrangements with soldiers to get food and to spare their families (Hedgepeth & Saidel, 2010). Sexual molestation was not only dominant at the camps, but also at the place they ran to seek refuge. Due to the high rate of starvation in the Nazi concentration camps, females menstrual cycles were affected, hence making them live in fear that they would never get an opportunity to conceive children again.
On the other hand, Jewish women were also left with the responsibility of taking care of children whom they could hardly feed due to lack of food. As the Nazi people invaded their home to capture their husbands, they were forced to watch the brutal killing and their hard earned properties being vandalized. In the 1938 Jewish pogrom, women were exposed to some of the harshest traumatic experiences. During this time, they witnessed the brutal murder of their husbands as their homes were being vandalized (Baskin, 2011).
It is indeed a fact that Jewish women and children were the primary subjects to inhumaneness in the midst of the Holocaust. Among the Jews who died during the Holocaust, children and women constituted the greatest percentage. The Holocaust discussion is not only vital in addressing the lost lives; it also plays a significant role in conservancy of the memories. Therefore, the suffering of the women and children during the Holocaust should not be regarded as a mere history. It should serve as a ground to motivate active feminism. The Holocaust is just a representation of many wars experienced all over the world. The features of these conflicts are almost similar to the theme of sexual molestation. It is critical for the whole world to wake up and recognize women as dignified creatures. It can also be recommended that all the survivors of the war who are currently alive should be compensated dearly. The variance between the Holocaust survivors and those who lost their lives is luck. Considering the circumstances of the Holocaust, they are worth compensating for enduring the most devastating situation. They should also be assisted to curb the health effects of the Holocaust. Finally, the Holocaust plays a significant role in helping the humanity to appreciate the harmony and rejoice in it.