Tracing the destruction of women's bodies: survivor testimonies of menstruation in the holocaust

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University of New Brunswick


This thesis, based on 132 survivor testimonies, examines menstruation during the Holocaust as another way National Socialism assaulted, abused, and decimated women’s bodies. Women reveal that due to the lack of bathrooms, adequate sanitary napkins, and proper hygienic practices in concentration, slave labour, and death camps, experiencing a monthly cycle while imprisoned resulted in a gendered form of terror. Survivors detail the short and long-term effects of their experiences with menstruation, including physical violence and fear of death, infertility, and a loss of feminine identity. This form of gendered humiliation and the dehumanizing nature of the camps affected women’s bodies into the post-war period. This thesis, the first scholarly work to look specifically this topic, further complicates the narrative of women’s lives in the Holocaust, by exploring the ways menstruation, in both its occurrence and disappearance, impacted how women lived and died.