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Anne S. Respondek: «Gerne will ich wieder ins Bordell gehen...». Maria K's "freiwillige" Meldung für ein Wehrmachtsbordell (= Substanz), Hamburg: Marta Press 2019, 280 S., ISBN 978-3-944442-73-0, EUR 34,00
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Rezension von:
Subin Nam
Bonn Center of Dependency and Slavery Studies, Universität Bonn
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Stephan Conermann
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Subin Nam: Rezension von: Anne S. Respondek: «Gerne will ich wieder ins Bordell gehen...». Maria K's "freiwillige" Meldung für ein Wehrmachtsbordell, Hamburg: Marta Press 2019, in: sehepunkte 22 (2022), Nr. 10 [15.10.2022], URL:

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Anne S. Respondek: «Gerne will ich wieder ins Bordell gehen...»

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On 1 September 1939, with the German attack on Poland the Second World War broke out and soon after, military brothels for the German army were established. Unfortunately, this phenomenon has attracted relatively little attention: moreover, the research to date still acknowledges the establishment of the military brothel as a necessity and that women registered voluntarily.

Anne S. Respondek, the author of the book under review, points out that this is no different from the views of men and perpetrators and criticizes the uncritical adoption of existing research without questioning the fundamental issues surrounding military brothels. She suggests seeing it from a different perspective. Among other things, she talks about the meaning of the word "voluntariness". What do we understand by this term? Is it enough to understand it as the opposite of coercion or perhaps we have been using this word improperly?

To find answers to these questions, this book attempts to reanalyse the background of the establishment and operation of German military brothels in Poland during World War II, as well as the mobilization of women, from the perspectives of victims and women. For this purpose, Respondek refers to documents from various archives: particularly interesting is that she uses the record of a Polish woman from the Poznan State Archives, Maria K., as the main material. Maria K., whose full name the author does not give for reasons of data protection, is said to have had sexual contact with more than two Reich Germans, which led her to the military brothel in Poznan in November 1940: she was later deported to Auschwitz. Although she has featured several times in other books, this book is the first to deal with her in depth. The fact that the author's master's thesis was published as a book signifies that her experiments are highly appreciated.

The author structures the book into a total of seven chapters. First, in chapter 2, the 96-page file of Maria K. is presented in terms of page order and then chronologically. In chapters 3 and 4, Respondek explains the establishment and operation of military brothels during this period, highlighting Nazi ideology and policies regarding women (especially prostitutes) and race, as well as soldiers' attitudes toward them. Building on this, chapter 5 takes a closer look at Maria K. and describes the everyday life of women in military brothels, which helps to shed light on the real situation of women. In the following chapter, Respondek tries to reanalyse the meaning of voluntariness and suggests reconsidering the definitions of the terms we used unquestioningly, ones that maintain the male perspective on issues like prostitution. She concludes by pointing out that military brothels and many similar institutions also existed in other historical periods and require a deeper understanding through wide-ranging studies and active exchanges of scientific research.

She thereby asserts that the character of military brothels is to be understood within the realm of forced prostitution, dividing her argument into systematic violence and personal violence. She refers to systematic violence primarily as the way the National Socialists portrayed women and the policies that justified the establishment of the military brothel and the mobilization of women. Considering women inferior to men, they placed the value of women exclusively in the context of sexuality, believing that they could control it. The author points out that such an understanding of women is neither unique nor a new product but is instead related to the existing patriarchal society based on Christian culture, in which a deeply misogynistic ideology is rooted. Here the value of women was considered only in light of their sexual honour: the women involved had already lost their honour, which meant that they could be used for sexual purposes, i.e., as prostitutes. They were moreover considered a source of so-called infection from sexually transmitted diseases (Ansteckungsquelle); Respondek mentions that in this line of thought, victims and perpetrators were reversed, as it was claimed that only men could be infected by women. This justified the existence of the military brothel, where 'infected' women could be isolated and controlled. By enacting laws that made it possible to arrest women suspected of prostitution and forcibly test them for sexually transmitted diseases, as was the case with Maria K., the National Socialists also laid the foundation for the mobilization of these women.

Of course, the racially segregated occupation policy also played an important role here. While, on the one hand, any contact between Germans and women from a non-German race, like Maria K., was forbidden, on the other, the Nazis believed that inferior "Eastern" women had to please "Nordic" men. Such contradictory attitudes are understood by Respondek as ways to reduce the soldiers' feelings of guilt and compassion. For this purpose, the relationship with women was structured in a "factual-scientific" manner [1], which helped soldiers to treat them not as human beings, but as objects or rewards that could be replaced and disposed of at any time. Respondek argues here that this contributed to the soldiers' double standards toward women, especially those stationed in occupied territories, which distinguished the value of women according to their nationality. While women in their home countries were to be protected, women in the occupied territories could be used as sexual objects, justifying crimes such as rape. On this basis, the author classifies such violence against women in the occupied territories by soldiers inside and outside the military brothel as personal or direct violence and defines them as accomplices (Mittäters) rather than simple followers (Mitläufers) (172).

In addition to indirect and direct violence from the state and soldiers described above, Respondek sees another feature of forced prostitution in the case of Maria K.: women in the military brothel feared that they would be deported to a concentration camp at any moment. She analyses the persecution, arrest, and imprisonment underlying what is called voluntariness and suggests understanding Maria K.'s statement "I want to go to the brothel again" in this context. Here, it is noteworthy that she uses the concept of agency to understand women as actors with a will to survive and not just as passive beings. Women had to endure a horrible daily life in the military brothels, where the coercive behaviour of the "little man in uniform" (169) was exercised and they had no right to resist or escape. However, this was perhaps a better option for them, as Respondek points out, because at least this way they could survive. In addition, she suggests that it should be considered that their life strategies suppressed the pain of body and psyche in their will to survive in a society that systematically discriminated against them, a society where they had nothing left because of war and hunger. Therefore, the decisions directly related to their survival should not be equated with the soldiers' decisions related to their sexual desire.

As a result, she argues that the concept of voluntariness must be understood in light of the situation of women at the time and emphasizes that many such women are still not perceived as victims because this is not considered. To address this issue, the nature of military brothels, in which the state played the role of pimp and soldiers played the role of exploiter, using women's bodies as tools of war and enslaving women in the occupied territories, should be understood in the context of sexualized violence against women in war. Finally, in order to avoid secondary harm to women, the author suggests that future research should take into account not only the historical facts, but also the different ideas and perspectives in each society and the society of the time.

As we have seen, the book is very rich in content: this can help the reader to get a lot of information, but at the same time makes the book difficult to read. It was particularly discouraging that the structure of the individual chapters was complicated and difficult to follow, with sudden shifts in topic and frequent repetition of the same narrative. Also, insofar as the author devotes herself in this book to Polish women and the military brothel in occupied Poland, it would have been more fruitful if Polish occupation policy was explained in a bit more detail. Nevertheless, this book is definitely worth reading, as it tries to compensate for the lack of research on military brothels and reanalyse them from different perspectives.

On this point, I can say that this book shows how women in the unequal social structure of the occupied territories dealt with the relationship between pre-existing society and the new authorities. Women's "asymmetrical dependency" was reflected in their systematic structural "dependency" and their personal "dependency" on soldiers, especially through the military brothel. Moreover, it is also meaningful that the work presents another example of asymmetrical dependency, emphasizing that it is forced prostitution (Zwangsprostitution) but attempting to interpret the women's free will as a will to survive.


[1] Chief Medical Officer at the Military Commander in the General Government, Spala, October 2, 1940, Report on the Brothels for Army Personnel in the Gen.-Gouv., Federal Archives / Military Archives RH 12-23-1818.

Subin Nam