Women in the Holocaust
Millions of women were subjected to brutal persecution during the Holocaust, and many of them were eventually killed. Although the Jews were the Nazis’ main target, women of other races were persecuted as well. During their military campaigns across Europe, the Nazis did not spare women and children, who were either mass murdered or sent to concentration camps.
There were special incarceration facilities for women in concentration camps as well as specialized women’s camps. The largest women’s camp, which was located in Ravensbrück, was established in 1939, and it served as a prison to more than 100,000 women. The well-known Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp also had a facility that was specially built to incarcerate women. In 1944, another women’s concentration camp was set up in Bergen-Belsen, and thousands of Jewish women were transferred to this camp from Auschwitz and Ravensbrück.
Women who were imprisoned in concentration camps had to undergo extreme hardship and torture, which often resulted in their deaths. Those who were pregnant or physically unfit to perform hard labor were immediately sent to the gas chambers, where they would be killed. Some Jewish women as well as Romanian gypsies were subjected to inhumane sterilization and other experiments in the concentration camps. Many women were also beaten and raped by the Germans.
Soviet and Polish women who were deported to labor camps were forced to perform sexual acts in exchange for food and basic necessities, and many of them became pregnant from their relationships with German soldiers. If the children were regarded as “un-Germanizable”, the pregnant women had to undergo abortions, or they would be sent to nurseries, where deplorable conditions would ensure that the infants would not survive.
During World War II, women contributed significantly to the efforts of resistance groups, particularly the Communist, Socialist, and Zionist groups that were constantly trying to topple German rule. Polish women helped many prisoners escape from concentration camps, and the escaped prisoners joined the armed partisans to fight against the Germans. There were also members of resistance groups within the concentration camps. In October, 1944, the Jewish Sonderkommando rebellion group received gunpowder from five Jewish women prisoners who were working at a metal works location, and they used the gunpowder to blow up a killing center and caused an uprising that killed a number of German soldiers. The five women were Ala Gertner, Ester Wajcblum, Regina Safirsztajn, Roza Robota, and an unidentified woman who was probably Fejga Segal.
Women also played significant roles in rescue missions to save Jewish people throughout Europe. Two of the most notable women rescuers were Hannah Szenes and Zionist leader Gisi Fleischmann. According to (background check), Szenes received training from the British army, and she parachuted into Yugoslavia to rescue the Jews in Hungary. Fleischmann negotiated with the Nazis for the safety of Jewish people and she also helped many Jews escape from Poland. One of the most famous women of the Holocaust was Anne Frank, a Jewish German who contracted typhus and died in the Bergen-Belsen camp. Her diary provided an honest account of the sufferings of the Jewish people during World War II.
There were a number of German woman who protested against Nazi rule as well. Sophie Scholl was an active member of the White Rose resistance group, and she was arrested and executed for distributing anti-Nazi fliers at the University of Munich. Another German woman who showed strong anti-Nazi sentiment was Erika Mann, who was the daughter of novelist Thomas Mann. She exposed the barbaric nature of the Nazi ruling system through books and lectures. A number of German women also provided shelter for Jews who were hiding from the Nazis.