Feedback

Advanced Search Filters

In addition to or instead of a keyword search, use one or more of the following filters when you search.

Bookmark this Item

USHMM Oral History with Dora Goldstein Roth

Goldstein Roth
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

While all concentration camp prisoners were subjected to different forms of violence and public humiliation, women lived under greater threat of sexual violence.1 The featured testimony was collected in the late 1980s—a time when rape and sexual aggression during the Holocaust were finally being discussed and studied.2 In the immediate postwar era, these experiences were often withheld from interviewers due to feelings of mistrust and shame. This testimony by Dora Goldstein Roth was recorded at a time when the vocabulary for discussing sexual violence during the Holocaust was only just emerging.3

Roth was born into an upper middle class Jewish family in Warsaw, Poland in 1932. She was only seven years old when her family fled to Vilna, Lithuania (Vilnius) following the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Roth and her family were later interned in the Vilna ghetto. German forces executed her father in front of her, making Roth's mother the sole parent and authority figure in her life—an inversion of the typical gender roles in upper middle class families at the time. During the Holocaust, many Jewish women became the sole provider and protector of their children.4

After the destruction of the Vilna ghetto in 1943, Roth was deported to a series of camps with her mother and sister before arriving at the Stutthof concentration camp.5 There, Roth and her family were subjected to extremely difficult forced labor and brutal treatment.6 Neither Roth's mother nor her sister survived their time in the camp.

The featured clip from Roth’s testimony describes the mass rape of women that she witnessed at Stutthof when she was around eleven years old. Roth describes how camp guards forced all the female prisoners in the camp to stand naked in freezing temperatures for twelve hours as a collective punishment when three women had escaped the camp. The guards selected several women and brutally raped them in front of the group. Roth recalls that this was the first time she had been exposed to sex, and her mother attempted to shield her eyes. As a result, a guard dragged her mother out of line and beat her so severely that she lost all of her front teeth.

In her testimony, Roth speculates that her mother must have covered her eyes to keep her from associating sex with violence. "When I married," she says, "honest to tell you, I have never even thought about this scene...I wish my mother would have known it." Roth attributes this to her "strong nature" and an ability to "disconnect" herself from the events that she witnessed.  

It would be easy to apply our own 21st century expectations and understandings of trauma to Roth’s testimony. Indeed, we might see Roth's use of the term "disconnect"—a term with psychological implications for trauma survivors—as proof of the impact that this moment had. This could also suggest a more popular understanding of "working through" trauma by separating oneself from it. Ultimately, however, we are left with Roth's own brief account of events as she understood them over forty years later—without much to guide our understanding of how this singular moment in the camp impacted her life.

Scholarship has emerged in recent years regarding the rape of men within the camp system—a topic that is only now being more freely discussed. For example, see Robert Sommer, "Pipel: Situational Homosexual Slavery of Young Adolescent Boys in Nazi Concentration Camps," in Lessons and Legacies XI: Expending Perspectives on the Holocaust in a Changing World, ed. Hilary Earl and Karl A Schleunes (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2014).

See the introduction of Christopher Browning, Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011), 9. Browning notes that only in later testimonies are the sensitive topics of rape and revenge killing mentioned, thus calling into question the assumption that earlier testimonies are more valid because the survivors’ memories were clearer at the time of recording. While later testimonies may be less detailed, they were recorded in an era of decreasing stigma attached to victims of rape and sexual violence.

For more on sexual violence against women in the Holocaust, see Doris L. Bergen, "Sexual Violence in the Holocaust: Unique and Typical?" in Dagmar Herzog, ed., Lessons and Legacies: The Holocaust in International Perspective Vol. VII (Evanston IL, Northwestern University Press, 2006), 179–200; and Na'ama Shik, "Sexual Abuse of Jewish Women in Auschwitz-Birkenau" in Dagmar Herzog, ed., Brutality and Desire: War and Sexuality in Europe's Twentieth Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 221–246.

Marion Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). 

For more on sexualized violence against women in the Holocaust see: Doris L. Bergen, "Sexual Violence in the Holocaust: Unique and Typical?" in Dagmar Herzog, ed., Lessons and Legacies: The Holocaust in International Perspective Vol. VII (Evanston IL, Northwestern University Press, 2006), 179-200; Na'ama Shik, "Sexual Abuse of Jewish Women in Auschwitz-Birkenau" in Dagmar Herzog, ed., Brutality and Desire: War and Sexuality in Europe’s Twentieth Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 221–246.

 

For the evolution of Nazi thinking about forced labor and tensions between economic demands and the ideological imperative to annihilate the Jews, see Christopher R. Browning, with contributions by Jürgen Matthäus, The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942 (Lincoln and Jerusalem: Nebraska University Press and Yad Vashem, 2004), 175–178.

Close Window Expand Source Viewer

This browser does not support PDFs. Please download the PDF to view it: .

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Source Number 1989.A.0319
Date of Interview
June 8, 1989
Duration 00:03:36
Language(s)
English
Interview Type Oral History
How to Cite Museum Materials

Thank You for Supporting Our Work

We would like to thank The Alexander Grass Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for Experiencing History. View the list of all donors and contributors.