“I stare directly ahead as I take off my clothes. I am afraid. By not looking at anyone I hope no one will see me . . . I hesitate before removing my bra. My breasts are two growing buds, taut and sensitive. I can't have anyone see them. I decide to leave my bra on. Just then a shot rings out. The charge is ear-shattering. Some women begin to scream. Others weep. I quickly take my bra off...A burden was lifted. The burden of individuality. Of associations. Of identity. Of the recent past."
-Livia Bitton-Jackson (Halbmayr).
Livia Bitton Jackson, was fifteen years old when she was deported to Auschwitz. It takes just the slap of a whip by an SS guard to begin to realize what is going on, and what she is going to have to go through. She understands that she is going to have to undress in front of all of the guards and other prisoners. Being only fifteen, she is shy and humiliated.
1. The novel Bitton-Jackson wrote about her experiences in the Holocaust as a young girl.
One source, Irena Liebman, a survivor from Mauthausen described the scene she witnessed when she first arrived at the camp:
“Then suddenly one of the criminal Germans came and he had two tins of sardines. And he went to one woman and e had intercourse with her, one of those thing scarecrows…he gave her the two tins, she stood up and he did his thing. And it was the first time I saw that, you understand what that means?”
Everyone knows women were treated extremely poorly during the Holocaust. Everyone was; men, women and children. However, with most of the German soldiers being men, women were victimized most frequently. Being sexually assaulted and abused by German SS soldiers who made their power and presence known did not help anyone’s self esteem, outlook on life in the camps and chance of survival.
Many women were traumatized by these experiences, but some actually benefited.
“Through a relationship with an SS man or a prisoner of higher rank within the hierarchical system, a women prisoner could significantly increase her chance of survival” (Hedgepeth, 35). These women would sometimes receive more, better food, clothing, items to take care of herself and also easier work. This book goes into great depth explaining how women were abused, the different types of abuse they endured, and has some survivors to tell their stories.
Survivor Zipora Nir recalls: “Afterward they shaved us and that is one of my traumas- that was very hard for me…that was one of the greatest degredations. That they shaved us from head to toe, all that- that, that is a terrible humiliation” Hedgepeth, 35).
2. Women with shaved heads being selected for labor; Auschwitz, 1944
All of the research I have done on humiliation and sexual assault of women in the concentration camps gives me the chills. The Nazis truly did not care about these humans one bit. In Lieb Langfuss' testimony, he recalls the SS guards demoralizing women and girls even after the were killed, by shaving their heads and searching for hidden jewelry. It is truly disgusting what these people put the Jews through. These people are forced out of their homes and into concentration camps. They are most likely separated from their families upon arrival or killed right there. They are hardly fed and are preforming intense labor. On top of all of this, they have to try to keep positive and try to stay alive for as long as they can, while being sexually abused and harassed at the same time? The stories these girls told were heartbreaking. All they could talk about was the humiliation, the feelings of hopelessness. How low they felt once their heads were shaved, how they lost all hope of getting out of the concentration camp alive. Many women also talked about the lack of menstruating once they arrived at the camps due to lack of nutrition or medical experiments done that resulted in sterilization. Often times, that was the hardest thing for women. Some felt that their lives meant nothing anymore without menstruating, therefore without being able to have a baby. Most gave up all hope and gave themselves up to the Nazis.
Pictures: 1. "Homepage News"
2. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum