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

TitleSexual Barter in Times of Genocide: Negotiating the Sexual Economy of the Theresienstadt Ghetto
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsHájková, Anna
JournalSigns: Journal of Women in Culture and Society

Conditions in the transit ghetto of Theresienstadt, which existed between 1941 and 1945, generated a system in which female sexual and social favors were deliberately traded for food, protection, and symbolic capital within the inmates’ society. Scholars analyzing the sexuality of Holocaust victims 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. Using Theresienstadt as a case study, this essay calls a third form into focus: consensual sexual barter. Based on extensive archival material, this study examines the wide range of exchanges: many of the interactions did not include sex acts but rather sexualized or social favors. Suggesting the concept of sexual barter rather than the narrow definition of prostitution points to changes in social 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. Moreover, the findings reveal the gendered character of power mechanisms and the 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.

Entry by GWC Assistants / Work by GWC Assistants : 

Type of Literature: