Abstract | Violence And Sexuality As A Theme In Memoirs By Women Survivors
Childbirth And Sadistic Irony | The Role Of Friendship Among Women In The Camps
The Impact Of Hunger On Male And Female Prisoners
The Practical And Political Effects Of Solidarity | Rethinking Traditional Responses

Childbirth And Sadistic Irony

Childbirth was a particularly difficult experience for Jewish women in concentration camps. It was an acutely complex and ironic experience, turning "mothers into murderers, forcing them to kill their newborns in order to prevent reprisals to the women in their barracks."40 Gisella Perl witnessed SS guards’ acts of sadism to pregnant Jewish women that changed her into a pecurial kind of activist. She saw "SS men and women" amuse themselves by beating pregnant women "with clubs and whips, (being) torn by dogs, dragged around by their hair and kicked in the stomach with heavy German boots. Then when the (pregnant Jewish women) collapsed, they were thrown into the crematory--alive."41 Sometimes pregnant women were spared until they delivered, after which the Nazis killed both baby and the mother. To save the lives of these women, Perl and other Jewish women doctors "pinched and closed" the newborn’s nostrils and when it opened its mouth to breathe… gave it a dose of lethal product"42, or drowned it in a pail of whatever liquid was available, rather than watch it starve to death, according to Mengele’s orders.43 Several memoirs by survivors and incarcerated female physician survivors document the horrors of delivering babies in such circumstances. One non-Jewish female plumber in Ravensbruck described a macabre event. She was asked to help " solve a monumental plumbing problem" that plagued the camp for over three days during which no water flowed at all. "After days of pumping," trying to unclog the pipes, something came loose. "It’s a pig down there, a little pig’, because it was light coloured. What do they pull out? A boy. A new-born baby boy."44

Many survivor memoirs describe a childbirth in the concentration or death camps. In March 1945, on her first day in Bergen-Belsen, her third camp, Eichengreen witnessed a birth of a stillborn that weighed less than two pounds. Eight months earlier, before she knew she was pregnant, the new mother had been deported to Auschwitz and had eventually been sent to Belsen. She did not even know that she was pregnant until her labour pains began.45 Perhaps the baby was spared by being born dead; certainly the mother was spared further agony and suffering. But live babies were born and, in very rare circumstances, hidden. The birth of a live full-term baby under such conditions was a result of women’s active collaboration, if not resistance.


40. Goldenberg, "Different Horrors", p. 161.

41. Perl, I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz, p.80

42. Lengyel, Five Chimneys, p. 111

43. Perl, I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz, pp.80-86

44. Owings, Frauen, p. 169

45 . Eichengreen, From Ashes to Life, p.121

© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.
All rights reserved.