SOURCE: lcohen/holocaust/


The Holocaust:

Its Impact on Women, Mothers, And Children

             The Holocaust affected millions of people physically, emotionally, and mentally. Families were torn apart; innocent children were killed, and women were treated as guinea pigs for medical research that had no purpose. Essentially, it was just another reason to torture and kill slowly and painfully. Being a woman in the concentration camp meant being subjected to constant sexual, mental, and physical abuse. Not too many survived the physical and psychological damage of the Holocaust. However, those that held on to their faint hope, and had someone to live for, suffered one day at a time, and eventually got through the horrible years of Holocaust. For others, however, it was just sheer luck. 

The meaning of the Holocaust may differ depending on an individual’s background, religion, and race. As Eva Fleischner describes her view, she states: “The term Holocaust…. There are those who have never heard the word; others will use it for any disaster: the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis, carefully planned and meticulously carried out” (Gargas, 28). Unfortunately, too many people have “heard the word” before and have personally experienced the traumatizing effects that this term implies. 

Moreover, women were subjected to a higher degree of cruelty due to their gender. Those that were healthy were experimented upon to see the effects of various liquid injections on their menstrual cycle and their mental health. Those who gave birth in concentration camps were forced to watch their newborns become the test objects of pointless research with often fatal results.  Those who were old, sick, or simply too young to become workers were automatically sent to gas chambers upon their arrival at the concentration camps:

After the initial trauma of deportation in freight trains and cattle cars, women were separated from their husbands and children when they entered the camps. Entire groups were automatically sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz on arrival: the old, the young, and the weak. Usually, mothers were not separated from their small children and thus, perished immediately with them (Bridenthal, Grossmann, and Kaplan, 312).

At the concentration camps, there was no sense of a family, unity, or humanity. Everyone was destined to die; it was just a matter of time. The mothers who perished along with their little ones had no choice. These mothers were not given choices; it was just their fate.

            Upon their arrival, women lost their identity. Everything was taken away from them; their hair was shaved, and they were given a number. This number represented their identity. Otherwise, they had no names, no family names, and no distinction from the rest of their female neighbors: “The distribution of shoes and bathrobes was made without any thought of size and height, and this horrible leveling, this ugliness was completed at the political office by the loss of all identity. Names were replaced by triangles with numbers on them. Cries and tears only brought beatings”(Bridenthal, Grossmann, and Kaplan, 312). As these women were losing their outward identities, they were losing a sense of who they were. They were no longer individuals; they were a group of skeletons trapped in the same misery.

            Women in concentration camps were faced with physical labor they had never encountered before. They had to lift objects that were heavier than their own weight. Moreover, their bodies were extremely weak from lack of proper nutrition. Ruth Nebel, a German – Jewish woman who lived through the horrors and survived, describes her usual day at the camp:

‘Each morning we raked the unyielding earth, carried away rock and debris, preparing the ground for planting. None of us had ever done this kind of hard work before, and our bodies cried out in pain at the end of each day. Twelve hours a day we labored with our waning strength, craving food as much as life itself’ (qtd. in Bridenthal, Grossmann, and Kaplan, 339).

As difficult as this task may sound, to these women it was the only solution in order to stay alive. If they did not obey the orders and collapsed during the twelve-hour shifts, they would automatically be considered unfit to work – which ultimately meant death.

            Those women who were pregnant and were able to hide it well remained alive, but faced extreme difficulties. Aside from hard physical labor, lack of food, and constant worries about being “selected,” pregnant women were faced with deliveries without medical supervision. Dr. Gisella Perl states that she delivered babies: “On dark nights, when everyone else was sleeping – in dark corners of the camp, in the toilet, on the floor, without a drop of water”(Ritvo and Plotkin, 15). After such a painful and filthy delivery, the newborn baby had to be killed by injection. Otherwise, both the mother and the baby would be murdered. The child’s death meant the continuation of the mother’s life.

Still other women who were healthy and not pregnant were the subjects of medical experiments, which were extremely pointless and designed to kill. Suzkever describes: “Electrodes were placed on the victim’s body to burn the ovaries. A month later… the reproductive organs were removed for study. As a result of the destruction of hormones the girls completely changed in appearance and resembled old women; only a few survived” (Ritvo and Plotkin, 16). How can any human being abuse another person in such a way, without any purpose, or need to do so? These experiments did not prove anything, except that they displayed brutal and heartless behavior towards other living creatures.

Unfortunately, women were not the only subjects of cruel experiments. Sadly, children fell into the same category. Dr. Mengele performed experiments on twins. He would pour chemicals in their eyes and inject their little bodies with deadly substances in order to see the effects.  Like the other experiments that were performed, these as well had no purpose. Eventually these children died from chemical injections (Ritvo and Plotkin, 168).

Not too many people were able to tolerate the tortures and sufferings of Holocaust. Some chose to preserve their dignity and sought no other solution than suicide itself: “Suicides were a daily occurrence. The most acute epidemic of suicides occurred during the deportations of 1942 and 1943. These suicides angered the Nazis, who waited for the unsuccessful suicides to recover in order to send them to their state–controlled deaths” (Kaplan, 180).  Although suicide is considered to be a sin, I do not think these people can be judged because no one really knows the kind of pain they experienced during the Holocaust years. Those who were lucky and did not experience the horrors of Holocaust, have no right to criticize the morality of decisions of those were there. After all, some people were in such despair that the only solution to peace was to kill themselves: “Better death than beating, hunger, terror…”(qtd. in Bridenthal, Grossmann, and Kaplan, 341). These sufferers did not view life in the same way that we do. There was no appreciation for each day because the conditions they lived under were like daily executions. Therefore, even death was better than to stay alive and be part of daily tortures. Margita Schwalbova, a former prisoner, recalled: “In Birkenau I was the one who wrote the death certificates of those who committed suicide by throwing themselves into the electrified fences” (qtd. in Ritvo and Plotkin, 161). Those people that killed themselves in such ways probably saw this fence as an escape from the misery that they were facing. If they were going to be gassed, diseased, or whipped to death anyway, they most likely would prefer dying knowing that they had kept their dignity and trying to free themselves. It is not so strange that people would seek such a way to end their lives. Rather, one can understand these people who, knowing that they would not be able to survive the Holocaust, died without submitting to the utter humiliation and degradation of the Nazis. After all, they were freed from some of the sufferings experienced by most victims who did not live to see the freedom of the Allies.

It would be wrong to say that all people who suffered in camps saw suicide as their only hope for peace. In fact, there were many others who were optimists and despite all their misfortunes still hoped for a better life. These people lived one day at a time and were thankful to be alive, to be part of a new day, and to fall into the category of those that were not yet “selected.” These people, especially women, helped each other through good and bad. Since most women were separated from the rest of their families, other women who had been strangers earlier became their new family: “Small groups of women in the same barracks or work crews formed ‘little families’ and bonded together for mutual help” (Bridenthal, Grossmann, and Kaplan, 313). These “little families” helped one another to obtain food, clothing, and other necessities in order to survive in the camps. Since they were all part of the same chaos, they tried to help out each other as much as they could. These kinds of friendships provided for emotional support and psychological survival. After all, these women only had each other, and if they did not stick together, they would be destroyed immediately.

            Those that had survived and were liberated from concentration

camps continued to help each other to get back on their feet. After the

war was over, and these women were free, most did not have any

relatives left: their husbands, children, and parents were either gassed

upon their arrival or perished sometime later. Consequently, each other is

all they had. Therefore, they lived together, provided those in greater

need with financial support, and always remembered others who were no
longer with them.

            The Holocaust left a big imprint on the world, on history and on the lives of many people. It should always be remembered and passed down from generation to generation and we must use the Holocaust as an example of an event that should never be repeated again. Unfortunately, the past cannot be changed, and those who perished cannot be brought back to life. Moreover, those who survived and were liberated did not get a chance to share their joy with their loved ones. One of the survivors, Dr. Ada Bimko recalls her liberation from camp: “There was no ecstasy, no joy at our liberation. We had lost our families, our homes. We had no place to go to, nobody to hug. Nobody was waiting for us anymore. We had been liberated from death and the fear of death, but not from the fear of life”(qtd. in Ritvo and Plotkin, 196). Most survivors of the Holocaust had no families left alive, and they had to start a new beginning, always remembering the horrors of Holocaust.

Genocide or ethnic cleansing is very unethical. Genocide is by far one of the worst things that have ever happened in human history. The surprising thing about genocide is that it doesn’t disappear; it is still evident in today’s world. A prime example is Turks and Serbs; it just does not go away. Remembering the Holocaust and teaching our children to end hatred may finally eradicate this disease from the face of this earth. The Holocaust was unnecessary and should never be repeated.




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