Friday, January 7, 2011

Response to Dr. Goska's Review of Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust

The following is a response by Sonja M. Hedgepeth and Rochelle G. Saidel, the co-editors of Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust, to Dr. Goska's review:

As co-editors of the anthology Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust, we appreciate Dr. Danuska Goska's taking the time to read and comment. We are somewhat surprised, however, that she would expect a book with this title to deal with subjects of broader interest, such as the Polish victims of the Nazi regime. In case readers of the book or the review have any doubts, the book is part of the Hadassah-Brandeis Series on Jewish Women, and it is about Jewish women.

As Dr. Goska writes in her review, "sexual violence against non-Jewish women is mentioned, but not focused on, and non-Jewish survivors' voices are not heard." She is correct, because the book is a scholarly interdisciplinary study about Jewish women. While we sympathize with all suffering, especially that of all women who were subjected to sexual abuse during the Holocaust and World War II, our specific academic research has the purpose of shedding light on only this one aspect of sexual violence. Other volumes need to be written focusing on such issues as the travails of Polish and other women during that period. However, that is not what our groundbreaking book is about.

While accusing the book of leaving out non-Jewish women, the reviewer contradicts herself by complaining that one of the authors provided an account about non-Jewish Yugoslav women. The review even criticized the book for leaving out the starvation of Jewish men, again, not the volume's subject. Furthermore, writing about the book's foreword by the series editor, the reviewer inappropriately turned "the history of men and women" into "men v. women."

When the reviewer declares that "there is no attempt to systematize knowledge about sexual violence against Jewish women," and asks "how many victims were there," clearly she does not understand that this is unfeasible. The Nazis did not keep records of such violence and often their victims were murdered. Scholars are therefore left mostly with survivor and bystander accounts. In this context, it is generally accepted (and even utilized by the reviewer) that memoirs and literature and their analysis are a legitimate part of academic discourse. This book examines the issue of sexual violence against Jewish women from various academic perspectives. Even so, many questions are unanswered and will never be answered.

Leaving aside various other inconsistencies in the review, accusing the book of claiming that "Polish Catholics, not German Nazis, are the perpetrators" of the Holocaust could be considered libelous. The book makes no such claim. The chapter authors address sexual violence against Jewish women by Nazis, by their collaborators, by liberators, and even by Jewish men. It is questionable why the reviewer is so indignant about parts of the book that deal with violence by Poles, but neglects to mention an entire chapter about atrocities in Ukraine. The review serves an agenda that could be described as "ideologically-tinged scholarship," which the reviewer instead attributes to the editors of the book.

Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust, with chapters by a distinguished interdisciplinary and international group of scholars, was vetted by stringent peer review before being accepted by the prestigious University Press of New England/Brandeis University Press for publication. It has been recognized as "significantly expand[ing] scholarship about the Holocaust's extremity" and "deserv[ing] great credit" by leading Holocaust scholars.

It seems oddly unbalanced that any reviewer would have such a strong negative opinion about an entire book with chapters written by eighteen authors. We believe otherwise, and hope to have clarified for the benefit of the reader the main issues raised by the reviewer. We suggest that interested individuals read Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust and make their own judgments.

Sonja M. Hedgepeth and Rochelle G. Saidel, Co-editors

Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust


  1. ....makes sense to me, not sure why Dr. Danuska Goska's takes issue with subject matter or topics discussed in 'her' book, or 'their' book (Sonja M. Hedgepeth and Rochelle G. Saidel) I think that that is the central issue. It is 'her' book, "their' book, and what they wish to include is their choice. I would not expect a book about pre 1939 traditional German Jewish cooking recipes to include Brazilian Bar B Q, or fault the author for not including them. Anyway... it's refreshing that everyone is able to voice their views without personal attack. Good jab ladies.

  2. I agree wwith the comment of Mr. Paul Manski. I also wonder why Dr. Goska seems unaware of the title of the book whichh specifically indicated that it was about 'sexual violence against Jewish women during the Holocaust." . whereas Dr. Gorka misunderstands the topic of the book. Her criticism is unfounded and would apply if the book were on sexual violence against all women, which was not the subject of the book. The response from the editors of the Book is well done.