A German court has fined a University of Warwick historian €4,000 (£3,675) for breaching an injunction in a legal battle over claims that a Jewish concentration camp prisoner had a lesbian affair with an SS guard, according to a lawyer involved in the case.
The action follows a ruling by the Frankfurt regional court in April that Dr Anna Hájková, an associate professor of modern continental European history, had violated the dignity of the woman by claiming she had a sexual relationship with the Nazi guard while imprisoned in concentration camps.
The ruling forbade Hájková from using the Holocaust survivor’s full name or photograph in the context of claiming that she had a sexual or lesbian relationship with the guard, without her daughter’s permission. The woman died 10 years ago.
A lawyer acting for the dead woman’s daughter said the fine was imposed because material by Hájková that breached this injunction remained online.
Meanwhile another Holocaust survivor, who shared a room with the dead woman in a Hamburg concentration camp, told the Guardian she had never seen anything to suggest her former fellow inmate had a sexual or physical relationship with the guard.
The woman, Liese*, said she witnessed all the meetings between the guard and the other prisoner, Gerda*, whose bunk bed was opposite her own in the camp. “When (the guard) came in the evenings she sat on (Gerda’s) bunk with her back to me,” she said. “I could see (Gerda’s) legs. They talked and sometimes laughed. But there was no chance of undressing or anything like that. The guard left before lights out.”
Liese previously described these encounters between the two women in a memoir about her own experiences of the Holocaust.
Anna Hájková Photograph: Michal Šula/Profimedia
In her research about the queer history of the Holocaust, Hájková argued that testimonies by survivors of the camps and legal documents from the guard’s trial suggested the two women might have had a lesbian or queer relationship, either coercive or consensual. Her work acknowledged there was no definite proof of this.
According to Hájková’s research, queer relationships in concentration camps were erased or omitted from historical accounts due to homophobia. Liese acknowledged that such relationships “were not unheard of but in (Gerda’s) case it was not true”.
“A prisoner cannot afford to reject a warden who is interested in you,” she said. “You hope she will help you to be put to easier work and maybe sneak some food to them. It is unthinkable that (Gerda) would refuse meetings (with the guard).”
Liese said the women’s relationship was the subject of “titillating gossip” by some prisoners in the camp but said they did not share the same room as Gerda or have first-hand knowledge of the meetings.
But she believes the guard was in love with Gerda because when the prisoner was transferred to other camps, the last being Bergen-Belsen, the guard followed her.
It was here, near the end of the war, that Liese saw the two women again. “We were sitting on the wooden floor in a hut with no beds, no food and no water, full of lice and waiting for our death. We were abandoned by the staff, locked in and left to die.
“It was most strange that (the guard) chose to enter such a horrible situation. I thought she must be very much in love with (Gerda) to be ready to suffer so much.”
Liese said Hájková had never contacted her but said she thought the historian must be aware of her memoir of the Holocaust.
Under the German constitution a person’s reputation is protected from harm after their death.
Gerda’s daughter called on Warwick University to examine the testimony, which she believes confirms there was never any physical or sexual relationship between her mother and the guard.
The daughter added: “The fact that Dr Hájková failed to interview one of the few living Holocaust survivors who witnessed the events she was researching was inexplicable. I was very disappointed and angry that she didn’t conduct her research professionally and caused me so much pain and distress.”
Hájková was approached for comment.
* Names have been changed.
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