Gender Determined Experiences of the Holocaust

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The Holocaust had an underlying theme of gender, as it played a major role in this horrific event. The Holocaust is often seen as a story of men, whether an S.S officer, a doctor, or forced workmen. Often women are thought of less, and possibly pushed aside as a mother or wife. Although gender is fluid, the Nazis did not address this complex matter. At this time, the genders and the role men and women took on were very segregated. Gender determined experiences through power struggles, mental abuse, motherly roles, and sexual violence.

When it came to gender and roles, men struggled because of the lack of power and lack of ability to fulfill their typical role of being the provider and protector. Men often experienced most of the physical harming, such as beatings. In the camps, men ‘looked worse than [women] did,’ women “”could suffer more than a man,”” men’s “”spirits were broken much more than [women’s]””–but men may have endured harsher treatment from the guards. The men would also be publically humiliated. Old Jewish men were tied to carts, beaten, and mocked. This author clearly states that the men were the ones being beaten. Also, the power positions, such as Nazi guards and officers, were almost always men. This was difficult for middle and high class Jewish men, who were used to holding high positions. These beatings and acts of humiliation by Nazis were very distressing for men, especially because of the stigma of having to be strong and ‘manly’. This constant struggle for power took a toll on those who could not achieve their usual accustomed role.

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Ghettos had Jewish Councils and Jewish police, which gave Jewish men a chance to express a form of power. As a councilman, one had to enforce Nazi orders and administer the daily affairs of the ghettos. Men were appointed based on their role before the war. Most often, the council would be made up of community leaders. The council had to distribute food, enforce social and cultural life, and create a sense of community. Often, the councilmen had to make difficult choices. For example, they had to come up with lists of people to be deported to death camps and concentration camps. If one could not perform his task on the council, he was killed and replaced. Many of these men had major internal struggles which caused them to commit suicide. Others attempted to negotiate with the Nazi rulers to save family and friends. Most members of the Jewish Councils were murdered, regardless or not if they carried out commands. The internal operations were left in the hands of the Jewish police, who worked under close supervision of the Germans. The policemen’s main job was to round up those on the list for deportation.

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