The Holocaust was the single most tragic event to have ever occurred in world history. My visit to the Holocaust Museum was both educational and heart wrenching. Books and movies depicting the atrocities of the Holocaust have always moved me, but my visit to the Museum was the first time I had ever felt completely overwhelmed by the horrific treatment of prisoners at concentration camps during the Second World War. I attribute my strong emotional reaction to the Museum’s portrayal of the stark contrast between pre-War Germany, during which Jewish culture thrived, and the appalling human rights violations during the War.
My eyes became teary when I saw the small, battered shoes that form the collection of children’s shoes which were recovered from the Majdanek concentration camp. I was equally moved by the rail car, and the guide’s graphic descriptions of the bodies being crushed against each other as millions of people were carried to their death. I felt a sense of pride during the exhibit of the resistance efforts, and in particular at the tribute to the Operation Texas refugee effort. I was particularly interested by the exhibit showcasing Dr. Seuss’ political cartoons which were published in a New York newspaper during the Nazi regime.
But perhaps the most poignant part of my visit was watching the film of the personal testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. While listening to the voices faltering with emotional pain, I listened to descriptions of atrocious human rights violations, and was especially stirred by those committed against women. While listening, I found myself wondering why gender issues are rarely given special emphasis during Holocaust commemorations. Before being sent to concentration camps, Jewish women were often forced or encouraged to have abortions. Little is mentioned about the sex crimes of which women during the War were victims.
After much thought and consideration, it occurred to me that only seems to be a lack of attention to gender issues pertaining to the Holocaust. Genocide is gender blind. During the Holocaust, women, men and children were unjustly tortured and killed because of their race and religious beliefs, not because of their gender. Despite this, I feel that research into the extreme violations of women’s rights that occurred would not only be invaluable to our historical archives, but serve as a testament to the strength of the women who died, and those who survived, told from a uniquely feminine perspective.