Anyone with even a passing knowledge of history knows that rape has been a pretty consistent weapon used in wars around the world.
Rape, of course, whether in war or peace has nothing to do with sex. Rather, it is an expression of power by the powerful over the powerless, and in war it often has been used to humiliate and control a population that has been invaded and conquered.
But no two wars are alike and no two theaters in the same war are alike. Generally, it's only years later, after academic scholars have begun to sift through the pain and rubble of war, that we begin to understand what role sexuality played in all of this.
The other evening I went to hear one such scholar -- Dr. Laura J. Fahnenbruck of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands -- talk about the research she's been doing about sexual encounters between the Nazi soldiers occupying the Netherlands from 1940 to 1945 and the Dutch women they encountered there.
She spoke both at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and at Temple Israel of Greater Kansas City. I heard her at the latter venue but she provided me with a text of her remarks at UMKC. (She's seen here speaking to the members of Temple Israel in a photo taken by Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn.)
"The Germans," she noted, "took the Netherlands in only five days. What followed was a relatively peaceful occupation. The Germans didn’t see the Dutch as enemies in the West, but the British."
So because the Germans thought of the Dutch people as almost a family extension of the Germans themselves, there was little hesitancy among Nazi troops to find willing or not-so-willing Dutch women with whom to have relations. Needless to say, this means non-Jewish Dutch women. The Nazis, as we know, were committed to killing all the Jews of Europe, including in the Netherlands, though that is not to say that Jewish women anywhere in Europe were immune from rape by German troops.
Fahnenbruck notes that sexual encounters between Nazi soldiers in the Netherlands and Dutch women could be seen as either private and personal -- sometimes even involving romantic love -- or political in nature, meaning that such encounters were one way of gaining control over the population.
In fact, she says, Nazi officials sought to make sure that "soldierly sex was constructed as meaningless," so it would not be seen for having any purpose beyond romantic love.
The idea that soldierly sexual encounters were just normal people falling in love is difficult to sell in most war theaters, but was easier, she said, "in a setting such as the Netherlands, where the people were to be Nazified, where the Germans felt at home and their presence felt legitimate, where the perceived normality of love relationships stayed the same before, during and after the war."
More than 70 years after the end of World War II, we have children and grandchildren of Nazi-soldier/Dutch-women sexual encounters trying to make sense of their origins.
And the ripple effects of the Holocaust and the war that was part of what Hitler called the "Final Solution" to the "Jewish question" continue today. And almost certainly will continue for as far into the future as one can see.
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IS GOD A CHICAGO CUB?
It may be -- and no doubt is -- silly to pray that God will let this or that professional sports team win. But the connection between faith and sports can be deeper than that and more subtle, as this Chicago Tribune piece about faith and the Cubs shows. It quotes a nun this way: "Perseverance, loyalty, faithfulness, long-suffering — those are the things that we talk about in our lives, and those are the things that we need when we cheer for the Cubs." I grew up and remain a Cubs' fan, and she's right. The Cubs taught me how to lose and that anybody can have a bad century. Which is why I wasn't shocked when it looked for most of last night that the Cubs would beat the Giants and move on to the NLCS but then the Cubs lost in the 13th inning and now have to play San Francisco again.