• Sexual Barter in Times of Genocide: Negotiating the Sexual Economy of the Theresienstadt Ghetto

    Anna Hajkova (see profile)
    Jewish Studies, Religious Studies
    Jewish Holocaust (1939-1945), Sex--Religious aspects
    Item Type:
    history of sexuality, Holocaust, narratives, prostitution, theresienstadt, Gender studies, Holocaust studies, Religion and sexuality
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    The conditions in transit ghetto of Theresienstadt generated in the inmates’ society a phenomenon of deliberate exchange of female sexual and social favors for food, protection, and symbolic capital. Scholars who have been analyzing sexuality of the victims in the Holocaust have so far only focused on sexual violence (including forced prostitution) or romantic relationships. Love and sexuality have been understood as either a refuge mechanism, or a form of oppression. This essay calls a third form into focus: consensual sexual barter using Theresienstadt as a case study. Based on extensive archival material, this study examines the wide range of exchanges: many of the interactions did not include sex act, but rather sexualized or social favors. Suggesting the concept of “sexual barter” rather than the narrow definition of “prostitution” points out to changes of practices and patterns: commodification of sexuality and relationships, and sexualization of the ghetto economy. Analyzing bartered sexuality identifies gender values as well as social hierarchies in the ghetto society. Morevoer, the findings reveal the gendered character of power mechanisms and underlying structures of the prisoners’ society. Close examination of sexual barter in Theresienstadt highlights the communication within and status of various national groups of Jews from Central and Western Europe as well as generational segments. Finally, this article discusses the importance of the postwar sexualized narratives.
    Winner of the Catharine Stimpson Prize for Outstanding Feminist Scholarship 2013
    Published as:
    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    7 years ago
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