Conference Paper

Agency and Abuse in the Holocaust: Expanding the Dialogue Around Sexualized Violence Against Jewish Women

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Abstract

This paper explores the jarring and complicated thesis that even as Jewish women experienced horrific sexualized violence at the hands of the German forces during the Holocaust, they also used their sexuality as a means of expressing what little agency they had left. German conceptions of Jewish women are discussed, followed by an extensive investigation into the ways in which Jewish women navigated this brutal climate. Recognizing the intersections of power, agency, gender, sex, and Antisemitism, this paper contributes to the ongoing battle for the recognition of women’s experiences in the Holocaust. Challenging both the ongoing stigmatization of the use of sex as a means for survival, and the romanticizing of women’s Holocaust testimonies, the paper does not seek to sensationalize or essentialize, but rather to honour the women who have shared their stories, and to increase empathy and understanding for contemporary sex workers and survivors of sexualized violence.

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