The Role of Women in the Holocaust

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Holocaust, also commonly termed as the “Shoah”, refers to the systematic, bureaucratic as well as state-sponsored genocide that occurred during World War II whereby, together with its collaborators, the Nazi regime systematically persecuted or rather murdered well over six million Jews (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). Concerning this, most of the victims of the holocaust were the marginalized inferior groups such as the Jewish community, the Gypsies, the disabled people, political opponents, Soviet prisoners of war, and even homosexuals. Women and children were also not spared during the regime as they were mercilessly killed by the Nazi. Generally, Holocaust was grounded in racial ideologies of German nationals being a superior race; hence, the need for ethnic cleansing.

Role of Women before the Holocaust

Before the Holocaust, Jews lived a normal traditional societal set up whereby men were to fend for the families economic needs and the women, on the other hand, were to take care of the households, families, as well as children; hence, they played the role of caregivers (Ofer & Weitzman). Concerning this, the role of women prior to the Holocaust was commonly referred to as the “Three K’s” which generally included “Kinder, Kirche, Kuche” translated as children, church, as well as cooking. Consequently, women were to a great extent excluded from jobs in fields such as leadership, medicine, civil service as well as medicine. Staying at home and not engaging in trade would later be a disadvantage for the women since they had not interacted well with outside people and therefore could not easily find refuge during the Holocaust.

Challenges Women faced During the Holocaust

In the beginning of the anti-Jew regime, men were the ones who were mostly affected since they were forcefully laid off their duties and rendered jobless, and some even arrested. At this time, women played an important role in keeping the households running even with no income from their husbands. The Jews never expected that the women would be affected by the regime since they thought that the Nazi would be considerate and civilized and exclude the women from the harsh treatments and therefore saved their men by moving them to safer grounds (Ofer & Weitzman).

The gender division was also evident during the regime whereby the Nazis treated men and women differently. Jewish women, children, and disabled women were more vulnerable and therefore faced a lot of challenges and harsh rules. First, Jewish women were not to give birth since pregnant women were viewed as unproductive and were therefore forced to undergo abortions or else be killed (Weitzman, Emeritus & George Mason University). Harmful experiments were also carried out on innocent women to test ways of making a woman sterile. They were also humiliated by being forced to strip before people, and this brought a lot of embarrassment to the women and also the Jewish male. Additionally, concentration camps were put in place for women where they lived under tough conditions; it was in these camps where many women were killed and most sexually harassed/abused or physically abused (Goldenberg, Myrna, Shapiro, 85). The women were also exposed to forced labor, which resulted in massive deaths.

Survival Tactics

When the women and men were allocated clothes in the concentration camps, women used their previous knowledge to make the clothes better by repairing the holes on them and cleaning themselves, hence helping them to improve their general appearance unlike the men. The women also formed close relationships with each other and formed groups where they assisted each other with basic commodities and information to make their stay bearable (Weitzman, Emeritus & George Mason University). They took care of each other and therefore motivated each other to stay strong. Another trick the women in the camps used was to converse about food recipes so as to cope with the lack of food they were facing.

Role of Women in the Resistance

The women's effort in resisting the Holocaust cannot go unmentioned since they were a significant figure during the regime. Both women in the camps and in the ghettos played a major role in the resistance. In the ghetto, women formed and led organizations to help fight for their rights and resist the cruel treatment by the Nazi (Weitzman, Emeritus & George Mason University). In addition, women illegally set up local educational institutions to enlighten their people since they had been denied access to education. It was through these informal schools that they provided their people with the knowledge on how to resist. Sophie Scholl, for example, a Jewish woman distributed leaflets that were against the Nazi, but unfortunately, she was detained and killed (Weitzman, Emeritus & George Mason University). Some women also courageously provided important information and other essential resources such as food to their Jewish people back in the ghetto as they disguised themselves and made others think that they were not Jews. Generally, women outside the concentration camps to a great extent often assumed more dangerous roles which included serving as couriers of money, food, documents, as well as instructions to people in hiding. In addition, they also smuggled various weapons, thus, across the ghetto wall while also aiding Jews and tending to survivors in concentration camps as well as forests.


Conclusively, the Jews in Europe during the Second World War and the Holocaust specifically were greatly underrepresented and discriminated since they were inferior. The holocaust also affected other minor groups such as the Gypsies and disabled. The minor groups were innocently killed by the superior Nazi (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). The Jewish women, who were traditionally less superior to the Jewish men, played a major role in the Holocaust as they helped their people overcome the challenges they faced.

Works Cited

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Women During The Holocaust”. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, (2018). Retrieved from:

Ofer Dalia & Weitzman Lenore. “Women in the Holocaust”.  Jewish Women’s Archive, (2018). Retrieved from:

Weitzman Lenore, Professor Emeritus & George Mason University. “Women in the Holocaust”. United Nations, (2018). Retrieved from:

Goldenberg, Myrna, and Amy H. Shapiro. Different Horrors, Same Hell : Gender and the Holocaust. University of Washington Press, 2012. EBSCOhost,

November 24, 2023

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Nazi Germany World War II

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