Rigorous new research suggests theory on why women at Nazi death camps stopped menstruating on arrival

Posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Candles on Holocaust Remembrance Day

“Nobody put the pieces together until now because nobody interviewed the survivors about their long term sexual and reproductive histories across different countries."

-- Dr. Peggy J. Kleinplatz

By David McFadden
Research Writer

The horrific toll of the Holocaust, with its crimes against humanity amid the state-sponsored mass murder campaign that killed six million Jews and millions of others during World War II, has been scrutinized in numerous academic studies, books, films, and other works over decades.

But one aspect of the extreme cruelty and suffering during this rock-bottom point of human history was never fully examined: Why did roughly 98 % of women imprisoned at Nazi concentration camps experience amenorrhea—or the absence of menstruation—shortly after their arrival?

In a highly compelling new paper, lead author Dr. Peggy J. Kleinplatz of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine suggests that the sudden cessation of menstruation among Jewish women at concentration camps was too uniform to be effected only by trauma and malnutrition—a set of explanations readily accepted by the late 1940s and rarely investigated further.

Her study, blending historical evidence and Holocaust survivors’ own words, submits an additional hypothesis: synthetic steroids were being administered in the daily rations given to female captives in a bid to stop their menstrual cycles and perhaps impair their ability to have children altogether.

“In other horrible mass atrocities in history, this sudden onset of amenorrhea either didn't occur, or occurred slowly in combination with starvation and trauma over a 12- to 18-month period,” says Dr. Kleinplatz, a full professor in the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine. “So my question was: What was happening to these women in the death camps that was distinctive, causing it to occur immediately, and couldn't be explained fully by the hypotheses of either trauma, or malnutrition, or both?"

Read more about this research on the Media Relations website.

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Dr. Peggy J. Kleinplatz

Candles on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Exterior of Auschwitz, the most notorious of the Nazi death camps.


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