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Victims, Heroes, Survivors: Sexual Violence on the Eastern Front During World War II

Victims, Heroes, Survivors: Sexual Violence on the Eastern Front During World War II

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Published by ptimms


Sexual assault, often by an intoxicated perpetrator, was a ubiquitous threat across the eastern front, primarily to women and girls, but also to men and boys caught in the crossfire between the Germans, the Soviets, and partisans. Unarmed civilians, camp inmates, and others were touched by sexual violence during World War II. Fear and rumors existed, but for thousands of people sexual violence clearly was a reality. Because of the absence of detailed studies of individual communities on the topic of sexual violence in the east, I investigate a wide geographical range and explore camp and non-camp settings, and the experiences of Jews and Christian Slavs and Balts. My conclusions are broad in scope and based on a wide variety of sources. In addition to documenting a large system of military brothels under the German occupation, I found a variety of evidence for mass rape of east Europeans both during and after the German occupation, and further evidence of sexual abuse inside and outside of camps. I argue that 1) in many instances, gender transcended race, culture, or religion since females of all backgrounds, including Jews, became victims of sexual violence; 2) that alcohol significantly contributed to the sexual violence, 3) that German racial laws did not reflect the sexual reality in the east, and finally, 4) that sexual desire or the desire for some kind of sexual activity often played a significant role in the motivation to rape. In addition to contributing to the dearth of scholarship on the gendered experience of World War II for Russians and east Europeans under German occupation, I challenge three major interpretations: 1) The view that only race, and not gender, mattered in Nazi persecutions, 2) that Jewish women were only incidentally victims of sexual violence; and 3) that the motivation to rape is only about power and not sexual desire.

During the great upheaval on the eastern front, unarmed civilians experienced a range of forms of sexual violence and coercion. Based on research in archives of the German military, it is clear that the German army maintained an extensive system of brothels all over occupied eastern Europe. The deliberate deprivation of life-sustaining resources and the starvation of civilians led to a less obvious, but altogether important tragedy: the willingness of many to exchange live-saving materials only with those desperate enough to sell their bodies. Prostitution and prostitutional relationships, in which a woman or girl (or occasionally a man or boy) became someone’s lover with the expectation that she could save herself and her family, flourished and caused widespread disease. In my venereal disease chapter, largely based on German occupation documents, I emphasize the incredible effort the Germans put into controlling men’s sexual activities by offering classes, lectures, and pamphlets on the duties of a good soldier and on the dangers of disease. Despite the shortage of rubber, free condoms were always available. Men were required to have themselves sanitized before and after sexual intercourse, and the “morality police” hunted down and arrested “sources of infection” (females suspected of having infected a soldier), who were forced into a gynecological examination and, if necessary, treatment.

Because of the lack of efficient treatment options, venereal disease was considered a threat to Germany’s military capabilities. Primarily in response to disease, but also out of the belief that men “need” sex, the Germans established, maintained, and documented hundreds of military brothels throughout the Reich and forced thousands to serve, either by starvation or by gunpoint. German wartime documents reveal discussions about the lack of compliance with regulations surrounding sanitation and the use of condoms, about the levels of disease, the organization of and need for brothels, the long lines at the brothels, and the workloads of the women and girls.

Organizing such a system varied


Sexual assault, often by an intoxicated perpetrator, was a ubiquitous threat across the eastern front, primarily to women and girls, but also to men and boys caught in the crossfire between the Germans, the Soviets, and partisans. Unarmed civilians, camp inmates, and others were touched by sexual violence during World War II. Fear and rumors existed, but for thousands of people sexual violence clearly was a reality. Because of the absence of detailed studies of individual communities on the topic of sexual violence in the east, I investigate a wide geographical range and explore camp and non-camp settings, and the experiences of Jews and Christian Slavs and Balts. My conclusions are broad in scope and based on a wide variety of sources. In addition to documenting a large system of military brothels under the German occupation, I found a variety of evidence for mass rape of east Europeans both during and after the German occupation, and further evidence of sexual abuse inside and outside of camps. I argue that 1) in many instances, gender transcended race, culture, or religion since females of all backgrounds, including Jews, became victims of sexual violence; 2) that alcohol significantly contributed to the sexual violence, 3) that German racial laws did not reflect the sexual reality in the east, and finally, 4) that sexual desire or the desire for some kind of sexual activity often played a significant role in the motivation to rape. In addition to contributing to the dearth of scholarship on the gendered experience of World War II for Russians and east Europeans under German occupation, I challenge three major interpretations: 1) The view that only race, and not gender, mattered in Nazi persecutions, 2) that Jewish women were only incidentally victims of sexual violence; and 3) that the motivation to rape is only about power and not sexual desire.

During the great upheaval on the eastern front, unarmed civilians experienced a range of forms of sexual violence and coercion. Based on research in archives of the German military, it is clear that the German army maintained an extensive system of brothels all over occupied eastern Europe. The deliberate deprivation of life-sustaining resources and the starvation of civilians led to a less obvious, but altogether important tragedy: the willingness of many to exchange live-saving materials only with those desperate enough to sell their bodies. Prostitution and prostitutional relationships, in which a woman or girl (or occasionally a man or boy) became someone’s lover with the expectation that she could save herself and her family, flourished and caused widespread disease. In my venereal disease chapter, largely based on German occupation documents, I emphasize the incredible effort the Germans put into controlling men’s sexual activities by offering classes, lectures, and pamphlets on the duties of a good soldier and on the dangers of disease. Despite the shortage of rubber, free condoms were always available. Men were required to have themselves sanitized before and after sexual intercourse, and the “morality police” hunted down and arrested “sources of infection” (females suspected of having infected a soldier), who were forced into a gynecological examination and, if necessary, treatment.

Because of the lack of efficient treatment options, venereal disease was considered a threat to Germany’s military capabilities. Primarily in response to disease, but also out of the belief that men “need” sex, the Germans established, maintained, and documented hundreds of military brothels throughout the Reich and forced thousands to serve, either by starvation or by gunpoint. German wartime documents reveal discussions about the lack of compliance with regulations surrounding sanitation and the use of condoms, about the levels of disease, the organization of and need for brothels, the long lines at the brothels, and the workloads of the women and girls.

Organizing such a system varied

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: ptimms on Apr 17, 2012
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VICTIMS, HEROES, SURVIVORS
SEXUAL VIOLENCE ON THE EASTERN FRONT DURING WORLD WAR IIA THESISSUBMITTED TO THE FACULTY OF THE GRADUATE SCHOOLOF THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTABYWendy Jo GertjejanssenIN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTSFOR THE DEGREE OFDOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHYEric D. WeitzMay 2004
 
Copyright © Wendy Jo Gertjejanssen 2004
 
iACKNOWLEDGMENTSI would like to express my gratitude to all of the people on my committee, some of whom have given me inspiration and gracious support for many years: Lisa Albrecht, DavidGood, Mary Jo Maynes, Rick McCormick, Eric Weitz, and Tom Wolfe. Thank you to TheofanisStavrou who was supportive in many ways during my early years of graduate school. I wouldalso like to thank the following scholars who have helped me in various ways: David Weissbrodt,John Kim Munholland, Gerhard Weinberg, Karel Berkhoff, Kathleen Laughlin, and StephenFeinstein. A special thank you to Hannah Schissler, who in addition to other kinds of supportintroduced me to the scholarly work on rape during World War II. I would like to express mygratitude for the funding I have received: Grant for Study Abroad and Special Dissertation Grant(the University of Minnesota, Summer 1998); Travel Grant (University of Minnesota HistoryDepartment, Summer 1998); Short-term Research Grant (DAAD (German Academic ExchangeService) Summer 1998. In the fall of 2002 I was a fellow at the United States HolocaustMemorial Museum on behalf of the Charles H. Revson Foundation, and I would like to thank allof the staff at the Center of Advanced Holocaust Studies at the museum for pointing me tosources and helping in other ways, including Martin Dean, Wendy Lower, Sharon Muller, andAlex Rossino. Thank you to Arnold Lelis, his mother Mirdza Eglitis, and her friends andrelatives who helped me before and during my stay in Latvia. Thank you to the folks at theTallinn City Archives for their help while I was in Estonia. Many thanks to William Noll, whoarranged my talk and fieldwork in Ukraine and to Anton Chernoval, who arranged and assistedme in the interviews. Thank you to Anton's family, who made my stay with them in Moshni anincredibly heart-warming experience. An enormous thank you to all of the people I interviewedin Latvia, Ukraine, and in the Twin Cities. You shared so much with me, and I sincerely hopethat my work is worthy of your generosity. Thank you to Christiane Jäcker, who helped me withso much while I was in Germany and continued to help me while I was at home. A heartfelt thank you to Svitlana Pavlova, who helped me tremendously with the transcribing and translation of myUkrainian interviews. It was such a pleasure working, laughing, and crying with you as we reador listened to those wonderfully generous people who shared so much. Thank you to historianMari Trine for reading and critiquing my drafts in such a supportive, friendly, and humorousmanner, and for never once doubting my ability or that I would finish. Thank you to ChristinaSinkler-Miller for proofreading. Thank you to Ken Gertjejansen for being such a great friend,and to Robin Oanes for your support these past few months. Finally, thank you to my parents for all their wonderful support through the years, thank you to Chrysalis Center for Women, Womenfor Sobriety, to all my friends in recovery, especially Ann Walters and her partner, ElizabethLanger, to the Rape and Sexual Abuse Center in Minneapolis, to my dance friends, to dance, toour four cats, and to all the animals and flowers and butterflies in the world. Last, but mostimportant of all, thank you to my husband, the love of my life, and my dance partner, Roger Becker for his unending and unconditional love and support, and to our beautiful daughter, CoraMarie, who continually makes us smile.

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