The Distaff SS | The Reader's Guide Feature | Chicago Reader

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Going through transcripts of the Bergen-Belsen trials conducted by the British government after World War II, historian Wendy Maier was surprised to find that 19 of the 44 defendants were women, three of whom were convicted and hanged. She hadn't heard much about female perpetrators of the Holocaust before; they became the subject of her master's thesis and of a book she's now writing. "Women couldn't join the Nazi party," Maier says. "They couldn't be members of the SS. But they could become concentration camp guards, and there was a long waiting list for those jobs. There were about 5,000 female guards that we know of; 300 of them were brought to trial." A recruitment ad aimed at women is one of the artifacts Maier, an Oakton Community College adjunct professor, will display during her lecture, An Investigation of Female Perpetrators of Genocide and Other Crimes During the Holocaust. It's at 3 on Friday, April 9, in room 1625 at the school, 1600 E. Golf Rd. in Des Plaines. A related exhibit of photographs by Skokie resident Phil Drell, "Witness to the Holocaust," runs April 12 to April 26 at Oakton's Skokie campus. Drell, whose previous experience had been photographing children at Camp Henry Horner, was part of the army's Special Motion Picture Coverage Unit. Assigned to film events like the invasion of Normandy, Drell also carried a still camera with which he captured searing images of the end of the war and the liberation of Dachau. Exhibition hours are 8 to 8 daily at the campus, 7701 N. Lincoln in Skokie. Both events are free; call 847-635-1600 for more information.

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