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Women in the Crosshairs: Violence Against Women during the Second World War
Journal Article
Australian Journal of Politics & History image

This article seeks to look broadly at Second World War violence through the lens of gender; to shift the focus from attacks on ethno-national groups to the ways that women were targeted within and across ethno-national lines. It asks why the occupiers and inhabitants of Eastern Europe unleashed such tremendous brutality against females in the region, civilians who, according to the Hague Conventions and moral norms, were supposed to be shielded from the ravages of war. Given the enormity of the topic of the violence women suffered during the war and its immediate aftermath, I focus on Poland and the western part of the Soviet Union, the epicenter of wartime brutality. This territory suffered alternating occupations by the Nazis and Soviets, with broad swaths changing overlords three times. The article is organized by stages of the war, each of which bore a distinct character of violence. The focus on gender-based violence by no means assumes that women were only victims during the war. They exercised varying degrees of agency, as fighters, perpetrators, resisters, collaborators, and simply as individuals trying to survive — experiences that space will not allow in this article.

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