Opinion: After my grandmother’s ordeal in the Holocaust, I have to speak out against sexual violence by Hamas on October 7

Dec 14, 2023 | Trending, Voices

Clara Haras was 17 years old, living in Nazi-occupied Tarnopol, Poland, when a German officer told her he’d save her family under the condition that she have sex with him. He proceeded to rape her. The Nazis then brutally executed her grandparents, mother, father, two little sisters and a brother. Somehow, she summoned the will to survive the next four years of terror. But for the next 60 years, she lived with the nightmare of unspeakable trauma. Yet she never abandoned her Jewish identity.

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And then on October 7, never again happened. When Hamas attacked Israel, they used tactics that have been used to subjugate Jewish women and women worldwide for centuries, as they systematically carried out rape and sexual violence on Israeli women and girls. From the early 20th century pogroms to the Holocaust, rape was routinely used as a weapon of war against the Jewish people to torture, terrorize and suppress us.

For more than two decades, I have fought to embolden victims of rape and empower those who have been sold into the commercial sex trade, sometimes by their own family members. I am often asked why I work to combat gender violence. My response is always the same: My grandparents are Holocaust survivors and their experiences had a deep impact on my life and left me with the responsibility to stand up against hate.

I was raised with a deep understanding that injustice happens in a vacuum of silence. If people don’t speak up, evil operates with impunity. In the wake of October 7, I have chosen to speak up. But not everyone has.

There is overwhelming evidence that the October 7 attacks included horrific and widespread gender-based violence, including rape and sexual mutilation. It includes forensic examinations of numerous Israeli victims’ bodies mangled by acts of rape and sexual torture. It includes testimony by survivors of the attacks who witnessed Hamas terrorists raping and mutilating women.

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November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women came and went, and many remained silent. As I’ve continued to advocate for some of New York’s most vulnerable women and girls these past two months — and as I simultaneously speak out for the women and girls in Israel whose voices were taken from them on October 7 — my grandfather’s often-uttered phrase echoes in my ears: “There’s no question the Nazis were evil monsters, but I blame the bystanders.”

My grandfather felt profoundly betrayed by the people who had a voice and did not use it. He understood the existential evil of the Nazis, but felt most betrayed by the neighbors, the shop keepers and the friends who stood silent. He never accepted that humanity was unwilling to help.

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There’s no question that what happened on October 7 evoked the Holocaust in its barbarity. It has also evoked Holocaust denial as people demand proof and evidence of the terror and sexual violence. Organizations whose mission is to combat gender-based violence should be among the loudest voices. We always stand with survivors, even in the most controversial cases where there is little proof other than a survivor’s word.

Stand up for the victims and survivors of October 7. Stand up for those still in captivity. If you do not, your silence compounds the pain of the survivors, the erasure of the murdered, the anguish of their families. Your silence empowers the perpetrators. Each of us has a voice, however small.

Call the White House, or your senator or your representative in Congress. Tell them the return of the hostages is a priority for you and a priority for humanity. Demand a full investigation into the sexual violence committed by Hamas terrorists. Never again should the world enable atrocities with silence. It is time to use your voice.

Editor’s Note: Alexi Ashe Meyers is an attorney and advocate working in New York City. She has started a movement to bring attention to the sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas. 

View this CNN Report from December 11th