Holocaust Survivor's Daughter in Legal Battle With Historian over Claim of Lesbian Liaison with Nazi GuardHistorians in the News
tags: Holocaust, Jewish history, German history
The daughter of a Holocaust survivor has begun a legal battle to protect her deceased mother’s reputation from allegations that she had a lesbian relationship with an SS guard.
Earlier this year, a German court ruled that Dr Anna Hájková, associate professor of modern continental European history at Warwick University, had violated the woman’s postmortem personality rights by publicly claiming that she had a sexual relationship with the Nazi guard while imprisoned in concentration camps.
The woman’s daughter is now taking further legal action against the academic in Frankfurt for five alleged breaches of the ruling, which the academic denies. Her lawyer says that the maximum fine that the court could impose is €250,000 (about £227,000).
She has also made a complaint to Warwick University, which has begun an investigation into whether Hájková’s conduct towards her fell short of its ethical research standards.
The Jewish woman at the centre of the legal battle, who died 10 years ago, met the Nazi guard after she was transferred to a concentration camp in Hamburg in 1944, her daughter’s lawyer told the Frankfurt regional court.
The SS guard fell in love with the young woman and imagined that they had a future together after the war, the court heard. The guard followed the prisoner when she was moved to two other concentration camps, the last being Bergen-Belsen. After that camp was liberated in 1945, the guard was arrested while trying to hide among the prisoners. In 1946, a British military court sentenced her to two years in prison.
Hájková, who is researching the queer history of the Holocaust, said testimonies by survivors of the camps and legal documents from the guard’s trial led her to conclude that the two women might have had a lesbian relationship, either coercive or consensual. However, she acknowledged that there was no definite proof of this.
When Hájková contacted her in 2014, the daughter, an Australian citizen, said she told the academic that the women’s relationship was not sexual. She said the guard was infatuated with her mother, who used this to help her to survive the camps.
Last year, in promotional material announcing lectures in Germany and Austria about her research, Hájková named the two women and said they had a lesbian relationship. The historian promoted one lecture on Twitter with a photo of the Jewish woman, and in another online announcement, written in German, stated that “the inmates of the … women’s satellite camp observed the relationship between the guard and the prisoner woman with fascination and loathing”.
The daughter, who was horrified by the announcements, took Hájková to court in Germany, as her mother was a German citizen and under the country’s constitution a person’s reputation is protected from harm after their death. Her lawyer argued that the claims threatened to destroy her mother’s “lifetime image and achievements”.
In her defence, Hájková’s lawyer invoked her freedom of opinion and academic freedom.
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