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Discussion with Amcha Professional Staff about Sexual Violence during the Holocaust

World Congress of Jewish Studies Special Panel

Program on Women and the Holocaust

"World Without Genocide" Lecture

Onward and Upward, a Panel Discussion and Tribute to Women Trailblazers

Her Story: Conference on Women and the Holocaust -- The Sixth International Conference

Discussion with Amcha Professional Staff about Sexual Violence during the Holocaust
Jerusalem, Israel
August 1, 2013

On August 1, 2013, Johanna Gottesfeld, director of the Jerusalem office of Amcha, invited Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel and Dr. Sonja M. Hedgepeth to discuss the work of Remember the Women Institute on sexual violence during the Holocaust. This was an opportunity to share with the professional staff of Amcha insights and information about how various forms of sexual violence occurred during the Holocaust, and how this may be affecting aging survivors today. In addition to the work of the Institute on the subject, Dr. Saidel and Dr. Hedgepeth spoke about the book they co-edited, Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust. Amcha provides state-of-the-art mental health clinics, social support networks, and home care services for aged Holocaust survivors in Israel, Amcha's pioneering work throughout Israel provides support centers and services specifically for Holocaust survivors, in their own language. Along with the organization's expert professional staff, there is a network of dedicated volunteers. Amcha also offers many art and cultural programs that bridge the gap between the survivor and the non-survivor population, and between the old and the young.

In order to overcome the limitations of then existing services, Amcha was founded in 1987 by a group of Holocaust survivors and mental health professionals, led by the late Manfred Klafter. According to Amcha, they were aware of the survivors' distrust of clinical psychiatry, and therefore decided to focus on non-material, psychosocial, and largely preventive support, rather than on mental health treatment per se. The goal was to create a framework for mutual aid, memory processing, and grief resolution, as well as a place where survivors and their families could feel at home and be understood.

According to Amcha, about 200,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel today, many of whom were children during the war. They experienced persecution, deportation, selection, forced labor, hunger, torture, and loss of families. After the war, these survivors tried to build a normal life in Israel, but not everyone succeeded. Sixty-eight years after the war, the emotional scars of some survivors are highly visible. Amcha states that about 40,000 elderly Holocaust survivors still suffer from the late effects of trauma exposure early in life. Some of them struggled with psychological distress in the distant past and remained symptom free for decades, only to have a recurrence in late life. Just as Holocaust survivors in the New York City area were found to have especially suffered in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, elderly survivors in Israel are particularly vulnerable to the military tension. According to Amcha, many studies have indicated that because of survivors' inherent vulnerability, latent anxieties surface when they are exposed to stress.

Because they fear the stigma connected with emotional problems and as a result of years of silence, Holocaust survivors are generally apprehensive about turning to other mental health services with their psychiatric problems. In addition, professionals working in general mental health institutions sometimes lack the necessary understanding and professional experience to provide the specific help required by Holocaust survivors. This is why Amcha's work is so needed and commendable. The organization took the name "Amcha" from the code word that helped survivors identify fellow Jews in war ravaged Europe. There are twelve centers that operate throughout Israel, with over 190 mental health professionals and 600 volunteers providing services to some 10,000 clients.

Amcha Pictured after a discussion at the Amcha organization in Jerusalem on August 1, 2013, are seated (left to right: Amcha professional staff members Yoram Shapira, Elisheva Van der Hal, Roberta Shibi, Giselle Cykowitz, Amcha Director Johanna Gottesfeld, and Remember the Women Institute Director Rochelle G. Saidel; standing, Amcha professional staff members Iya Gassner and Yehudit Spielman, and Sonja Hedgepeth, Remember the Women Institute Executive Board member.

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Special Panel on Sexual Violence against Jewish Women and Children during the Holocaust
Wednesday, July 31, 2013, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
at World Congress of Jewish Studies
Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel

Remember the Women Institute organized a special panel on sexual violence against Jewish women and children during the Holocaust, at the World Congress of Jewish Studies (PDF) July 28-August 1, 2013, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel. Panelists were Israeli novelist Nava Semel, author of And the Rat Laughed; Dr. Sonja M. Hedgepeth, co-editor of Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust; and Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel, also a co-editor of this book, who served as a panelist as well as chair of the session.

This session offered the results of new research during the years following the groundbreaking session that Remember the Women Institute organized for the World Congress of Jewish Studies in 2009, entitled "The Unspoken: Sexual Abuse of Women During the Shoah." The Congress meets every four years, with academic papers presented on subjects that range from Biblical scholarship to contemporary Jewish society. At the 2013 conference, there were more than 1500 papers presented, with another 500 official participants attending. Placing the subject of sexual violence during the Holocaust within the context of the Jewish history discussed at this major international academic conference is important for including it within Holocaust history and memorialization.

The panel pointed out that although memoirs mentioning sexual violence began to be published soon after the Holocaust ended, the first academic book dealing with the subject did not appear until the end of 2010: Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust, edited by Dr. Sonja M. Hedgepeth and Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel (Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England). This book challenges claims that Jewish women and children were not sexually violated during the Holocaust and has been the catalyst for further ongoing research to provide a broader and deeper comprehension of Jewish women's and children's experiences of rape and other forms of sexual violence during the Holocaust. In this session, Dr. Hedgepeth offered an overview of the subject, discussed "rape culture" in today's society, and reflected on "Holocaust Testimonies about Rape: Why Do They Matter?"; Nava Semel discussed how she has dealt with this subject in her writing, with remarks about "A Legacy of Pain and Fear: Can the Rat Keep Laughing?" Dr. Saidel addressed aspects of "Victims of Sexual Violence during the Shoah." This session was sponsored by Remember the Women Institute.

Dr. Sonja M. Hedgepeth, a Professor of German, Middle Tennessee State University, is the co-editor of Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust. She has taught courses on the Holocaust since 1989, including one entitled “Women and the Holocaust” in the Women's Studies Program. She has also taught about the exile of Jewish intellectuals from Nazi Germany, including German-Jewish author, Else Lasker-Schüler. She is the author and co-editor of two books in German about Lasker-Schüler, and an executive board member of Remember the Women Institute.

Nava Semel is a renowned Israeli author, a Holocaust educator, and active member of the Second Generation. Born in Jaffa-Tel Aviv, she has published seventeen books, both for adults and children. She also writes plays, opera libretti, scripts and poetry. Her work focuses on the painful dialogue in families of Holocaust survivors and the search for Israeli identity. Her writings have been translated into many languages including English, and she is the recipient of numerous awards, among them the Israeli Prime Minister's Award for Literature, 1996, and the National Jewish Book Award in the USA, 1990. Her latest novel Rosh Akum ("Head on Backwards") came out recently in Hebrew to rave reviews. She is a member of the Advisory Board of Remember the Women InstituteI. Her remarks focused on her novel, And the Rat Laughed, originally in Hebrew and available in English translation.

Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel is founder and executive director of Remember the Women Institute, author or editor of six Holocaust-related books, curator of exhibits on the Holocaust, and a research fellow at the International Research Center, Yad Vashem, in 2006. She presented a paper that addressed some aspects of working with the topic of victims of sexual violence during the Shoah, and reviewed some of the progress and problems of working with this issue.

The session also included video presentations of Jane Fonda reading from Nava Semel's And the Rat Laughed and testimony by Holocaust survivor Manya Horowitz. These video presentations can be viewed on this website. At the end of the well-attended session, there was discussion between the panelists and members of the audience. Dr. Eva Fogelman, a psychotherapist who works with Holocaust survivors, a chapter author for Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust, and a member of the Advisory Board of Remember the Women Institute, spoke during the discussion period, as did Beth Lilach, Senior Director of Education and Community Affairs at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Glen Cove, New York.

WCJS At the session on sexual violence during the Holocaust at the World Congress of Jewish Studies, Dr. Eva Fogelman, left, and Beth Lilach, right made comments after the panel presentation. Presenters were Nava Semel, second from left, Dr. Rochelle Saidel, middle, and Dr. Sonja Hedgepeth, second from right. Photo: Michael Rice

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Program on Women and the HolocaustProgram on Women and the Holocaust
April 29, 2013, 8:00 p.m.
Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel interviewed by journalist Alberto Danon
Centro Judaico Bait
São Paulo, Brazil

Women and the Holocaust is the theme of an evening with Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel, interviewed by journalist Alberto Danon (in Portugeuse) at Centro Judaico Bait, São Paulo. The topics dicussed include research about women and the Holocaust, Jewish women in Ravensbrück concentration camp, integrating the experiences of Jewish women into history, sexual violence against Jewish women during the Holocaust, and searching for the voices of victims of sexual violence. The program is part of a series of programs on the Holocaust presented by Centro Judaico Bait.

Photo: Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel is interviewed by Alberto Danon at Centro Judaico Bait in São Paulo, Brazil on April 29, 2013. The audience also participated and asked questions about women and the Holocaust, either by writing on paper or sending tweets to Danon's tablet. Photo by Lilian Souza

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Dr. Sonja M. Hedgepeth and Dr. Ellen J. Kennedy,"World Without Genocide" at William Mitchell College of Law, Co-sponsored by Mt. Zion Temple, Congregation Shir Tikvah, and Temple Israel
Author talk by Dr. Sonja M. Hedgepeth: "Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust"
Monday, March 18, 2013, 7:00-8:30 pm
Event takes place at: Mt. Zion Temple, 1300 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105

Read The American Jewish World's article (PDF)

Photo, right: Dr. Sonja M. Hedgepeth, left with Dr. Ellen J. Kennedy, Executive Director, World Without Genocide at William Mitchell College of Law, St. Paul, MN. (Photo courtesy of World Without Genocide, taken by Brigitte Norby)

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TrailblazersOnward and Upward, a Panel Discussion and Tribute to Women Trailblazers
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
The Church Center for the UN
Boss Room, 8th Floor
777 United Nations Plaza
New York City
Download the flyer (PDF)

On March 13, 2013, at an NGO ceremony connected with the deliberations of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57), Dr. Sonja M. Hedgepeth and Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel were recognized for the work of Remember the Women Institute on sexual violence against Jewish women during the Holocaust. We were given Sojourner Truth/Eleanor Roosevelt awards as "Trailblazers," as part of a program dedicated to eradicating and eliminating violent acts against women and girls and empowering victims and survivors.

The event, which was sponsored by the New Future Foundation, and Harlem Women International, was co-chaired by Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakely and Mama Gail Steward-Clouden. Other trailblazers who received awards included female heads of state, as well as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Gloria Steinem, Eve Ensler, and Susan Brownmiller. Having our work on sexual violence during the Holocaust recognized alongside the accomplishments of these women is, of course, a great honor.

And it in not just an honor. It is acknowledgment that Jewish women suffered sexual violence during the Holocaust. They were raped, they were forced into prostitution, they were violated in many ways, including forced sterilization, often without their knowledge. Through the recognition of our work, the suffering of these women during the Holocaust is now on the record of the deliberations of the NGOs during the CSW57 meetings at the UN.

See a related article by Rochelle G. Saidel in The Times of Israel.

Above: Audience at the Trailblazer award ceremony (Photo by Rochelle Saidel)

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Conference on Women and the Holocaust -- The Sixth International Conference
"Her Story": Transference Methods of Women's Biographies and Autobiographies from the Holocaust
March 4-6, 2013
Held at Beit Berl College, Beit Terezin, Beit Lohamei HaGhetaot, Israel

Along with Beit Berl College, Beit Terezin, and Beit Lohamei HaGhetaot, the sites where the conference was held, Remember the Women Institute was an organizer and sponsor of this international conference on Women and the Holocaust, held March 4-6, 2013, in Israel. Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel served on the steering committee, and Dr. Batya Brutin, an Advisory Board member, chaired the conference. Dr. Sonja Hedgepeth, an Executive Board member, presented a paper entitled "Not Lost! Margit Bartfeld-Feller's Stories of Deportation from Czernowitz and Siberian Exile." Other Advisory Board members were involved with planning, chairing sessions, and presenting papers. In addition, Remember the Women Institute provided scholarships to two Polish scholars, enabling them to participate in the conference.

Remember the Women Institute was especially involved with the panel entitled Sexual "Violence against Women during the Holocaust: Ways to Consolidate and to Reveal Personal Narratives." Dr. Hedgepeth chaired this panel, and the following papers were presented:

Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel (USA and Israel). "Manya Horowitz's Testimony: Making Sexual Violence Part of Holocaust History"
Agnieszka Wesili (Poland). "No 'Statements' of their own. The use of memories in creating a discourse on forced prostitution at Auschwitz-Birkenau by former prisoners and camp staff"
Dr. Esther Dror (Israel). "'I didn't know what he was doing to me!'"
Dr. Mor Presiado (Israel). "Representations of Rape and Sexual Abuse in Women's Holocaust Art from 1945 to the Present."

As a result of our panel's presentation, several people have pointed us in new directions, as we continue our work on sexual violence during the Holocaust.

The following is a summary of Dr. Saidel's paper.

Manya Horowitz's Testimony: Making Sexual Violence Part of Holocaust History
by Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel

Holocaust survivor Manya Horowitz (file number 7301) is one of 52,000 Holocaust survivors who gave testimony to the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, Her testimony is one of about 1700 that mention sexual abuse. Along with the USC Shoah Foundation, we chose Manya's story to create a short clip reel that was shown at a public event in Los Angeles in November 2012, co-sponsored by USC Shoah Foundation, Remember the Women Institute, and Equality Now. This event was held in connection with a two-day groundbreaking international symposium of 20 invited scholars who discussed the subject of sexual violence during the Holocaust. This seminar was co-sponsored by the USC Shoah Foundation and Remember the Women Institute, which jointly produced this film clip (put together by USC graduate student Anissa Douglass). View a video of the public event, including Many Horowitz's testimony.

Manya Weizberg Horowitz was born in December 1918 in Sosnowiec, Poland, and her testimony was recorded in Denver, Colorado in October 1995. She was in the Sosnowiec ghetto, and in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ravensbrück, and the Neustadt-Glewe work camp, as well as two other small work camps. She was liberated by the Soviet Army, was in the Landsberg DP camp in Germany, and then immigrated to the US; she married Leon Horowitz.

In the short excerpts from her 2 hour 15 minute long Shoah Foundation videotaped interview, Manya tells about being raped in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Most significantly, she stresses how important it is for survivors to tell the world what happened to them.

After showing the film clip, Manya's testimony was used as a springboard to briefly review what Remember the Women Institute has done to put sexual violence on the record of Holocaust history and memorialization. One major component of our work is the book, Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust (2010, eds. Hedgepeth and Saidel), One of the panel participants, Dr. Esther Dror, was a chapter author. Another urgent project is seeking living witnesses and victims of sexual abuse, and audience members' help was requested to identify witnesses. The November 2012 symposium and public event was reviewed, as well as plans for future programs and projects related to the issue of sexual abuse.

Manya's call to speak out is so important, especially as related to witnesses who have spoken out about sexual violence during other genocides. There has been some progress in finding witnesses, as well as some new interest from a few mainstream Holocaust scholars. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum just announced new research that accounts for some 500 brothels, and this new information needs further research.


Her Story Panel At the conference "Women and the Holocaust" in Israel March 4-6, 2013, a panel discussed sexual violence agains women. Panel members were: (l to r): Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel (USA and Israel), Dr. Sonja M. Hedgepeth (USA), Agnieszka Wesili (Poland), Dr. Esther Dror (Israel), and Dr. Mor Presiado (Israel). Photo: Gil Yefman

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