Exactly two weeks ago, I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. with my History of Genocides Freshman Seminar. It’s amazing that it took this long for me to go to the museum given that I live an hour away from Washington D.C. and I usually go to D.C. upwards of four to six times a year, but there is a time and place for everything, I suppose.
When addressing the Holocaust, the discussion usually involves gas chambers, death camps, crematoria, Anti-Semitism, pogroms, ghettos and the like, so upon entering this museum, I thought that I would receive a greater illustration of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust, more specifically rape—because, I figured, it had to have happened during the Holocaust, no matter how few reported cases, especially if a population comparable to the that of a small country the size of Portugal was affected. To my surprise, however (although maybe I missed it), I did not see any sources within the exhibit that discussed. When I surfed the internet to research this topic more in depth, I learned from a CNN article by Jessica Ravitz that there were rapes that occurred during the Holocaust, a wild estimation is about 1% of victims of the Holocaust were raped in “concentration camps, in ghettos, in hiding, in refugee camps, during deportations, during death marches, during liberation (most times by Soviet soldiers), and by aid volunteers and the like” (Ravitz 2011, Cooper 2011). Moreover, often the victims of these crimes were killed, their breasts cut off, but those who survived kept quiet or were ignored (Ravitz 2011). The topic was not widely focused on in the Western world until about sixty-five years after the Holocaust, accompanying the release of the book “Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust” in December of 2010 by Rochelle G. Saidel and Sonja M. Hedgepeth (Cooper 2011, Ravitz 2011). Following the release of the book, the U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum began to focus in more on this topic in their research, but alas, rape was largely omitted in their main exhibit and in what I saw of the main exhibit (Cooper 2011).
On a less critical note, one of the points of the U.S. Holocaust museum that was particularly striking to me was the train car in which Jews and other groups such as Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals were packed into by Nazi soldiers in order to transport them to concentration camps and forest where they were either worked or gassed to death, or shot, respectively, in addition to additional atrocities such as rape (discussed in the previous paragraph). After reading “Night” by Elie Wiesel, which is a memoir by Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), a Holocaust survivor who actually lead the charge to build the US Holocaust Museum in the United States, I felt a strange sense of completion (if that’s even a right way to describe it) seeing inside the car and linking together Wiesel’s account of the suffering within that train car to my observations right then. It was really powerful.
Finally, on linking content within the museum to present day happenings. I was extremely alarmed when reading the section about Hitler’s rise to power. I could see parallels to Trump’s rise to power in terms of the “cult of personality” in which both Trump and Hitler have amassed, leading their supporters to believe that they [Hitler and Trump] will be the ultimate saviors of their respective countries. Also, Hitler used the government in order to amass power, passing bills under a state of emergency which allowed him to decree laws without surrendering them to parliament for a vote (USHMM). Because we have a Congress that would without a doubt universally opposed any type of measure to do such a thing, I am sure no such thing would pass Congress, but there are executive orders, and that action would be really telling were it to occur. There are other worries that I have such as censorship of unfavorable media outlets and imprisonment of opposition and those who refuse to “toe the line” that I think may be in the U. S’s future should Trump decide to show his dictatorial colors and obtain loyal diehards to execute them, after all, the bureaucracy serves at the pleasure of the president.
I only hope that if something like the Hitler phenomenon does happen, that the film of blind loyalty and silence will lift from people’s eyes and they will take whatever means necessary to keep him, or any future president, from destroying our democracy and committing atrocities like the Holocaust.
Here are some articles that I found about rape and women during the Holocaust:
Hitler’s rise to power: