by Christine Ege

In the book 999, author Heather Dune Macadam recounts the details of the first official deportation of Jews to Auschwitz.  The remarkable aspect of this transport was that it consisted only of young women, most of whom were mere teenagers.  The girls were recruited using a ruse – a promise of a short-term government position in the Slovak town where they had taken refuge. Unfortunately, the jobs were altogether fictitious; 999 young women aged 36 and under were instead selected for deportation to Auschwitz, with two somehow perishing or otherwise mysteriously disappearing from the official list of 997 names within the first two days at the camp.

Interestingly, prior to 1942, deaths of women prisoners at Auschwitz were not as fastidiously recorded as those of men.  Other than the first two who mysteriously perished from the initial “shipment” of 999, no deaths were reported – despite the fact that most of those women did not survive the ordeal at the camp, according to eyewitnesses.  The author has prepared her account based on interviews with survivors and their descendants, and the subject matter exposes not only the Nazi strategy of exterminating Jewish women who could bear Jewish children, but also the misogyny of the Third Reich in its flagrant neglect of documentation in an otherwise notoriously regimented record-keeping system.

One might well speculate what suffering and abuse awaited those young women at Auschwitz; surely it is unlikely that their service was merely menial?  Moreover, the Nazis apparently bought their unsuspecting victims from the Slovaks for a token amount of money. Both parties to the transaction evidently regarded the women as mere chattel.

It is not difficult to connect the dots between those actions from the Holocaust and the modern-day slave trade that exists in contemporary “civilized” society.  Unfortunately, where men (and even women) regard women as objects to be owned and traded, bought and sold like a piece of land or furniture, those bought and sold can be easily victimized, abused, and murdered.   Drugs are sold and consumed, but a human trafficking victim can be sold repeatedly until death.  These ensuing questions should disturb us:  Have we learned anything from the Holocaust?  How can we combat human trafficking?  How can we uproot antisemitism?