Prof explores concentration camp sexuality

By Sara Jerome

University of British Columbia Professor Bozena Karwowska presented a familiar historical topic from an unconventional angle on Wednesday evening. In a lecture at the Center for Gender Studies entitled “The Body in Auschwitz: The Polish Writer’s Experience,” Karwowska explored the question of sexuality at Nazi concentration camps.

Standing before photos of emaciated concentration camp victims—a starving child in one, piles of bodies in the next—Karwowska looked for answers to “issues of gender and issues of humanity,” examining the Holocaust narratives of Polish authors Stanislaw Grzesiuk and Zofia Romanowiczowa.

Karwowska discussed whether typical gender dynamics existed within the unusual environment of the sexually segregated concentration camps. She pointed to the fragility of people’s perceptions of gender, describing a woman who underwent puberty at a concentration camp and felt uncomfortable in the role of “womanhood” after leaving the camp. “She felt lost,” Karwowska said.

Karwowska emphasized the novelty of her work, noting the insufficiency of current theoretical vocabularies for exploring the topic. “Part of the problem is there’s no language for this,” Karwowska said.

Although she called black feminist theory “useful,” she said it ultimately falls short, and that her work necessitates a “new critical framework. I’m taking it one text at a time.”