Silence at the Nuremberg Trials: The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg and Sexual Crimes Against Women in the Holocaust

Hilly Moodrick-Even Khen, Alona Hagay-Frey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although poorly documented in the past, it is now well-known that during World War II (WWII), women in Nazi concentration camps suffered not only from starvation, torture, and inhuman treatment along with the men, but also from various sexual offences, including forced nakedness, intrusive body searches, forced sterilization, forced or solicited prostitution, and rape. Over the years, more of these cases have been documented and reported.
Nevertheless, sexual crimes in general and specifically sexual crimes against women were excluded from Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. This striking disregard of such abhorrent conduct requires a thorough examination of the legal, historical, and sociological factors that generated it. This paper discusses the reasons for the Tribunal’s disregard of sexual crimes against women in the Holocaust. First, it analyzes the historical procedures leading to the establishment of this Tribunal, and rethinks some of the public myths about its goals and about the trial itself. It proceeds with a feminist analysis of the historical and legal background of WWII, focusing on the development of the legal concepts of sexual assault of women in international criminal law. The following section discusses the general marginalization of women in that era and draw parallels to women’s suffering in Germany during and after WWII. Then, it examines and analyzes the significance of testimonies of sexual assaults of women during the Holocaust committed by Nazis and their collaborators; and finally, it suggests an explanation for the Tribunal’s non-account of these acts. The paper draws on the importance of this non-account and suggests that some of the lessons have been and should have been learnt from it have led to important developments in international criminal law, which have turned sexual offences to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Pages (from-to)43-66
Number of pages23
JournalWomen's Rights Law Reporter
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2013


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