Women and the Holocaust: Narrative and Representation

Article excerpt

edited by Esther Fuchs. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1999. 148 pp. $30.00.

The experience of the Holocaust has been written about and told mostly by men. In the past decade, a small but growing literature of women's experiences during the Holocaust has emerged. Some argue that focusing on gender differences trivializes their Holocaust experience by making invidious comparisons among victims, or detracts from the notion that Jews were persecuted because they were Jews. Nonetheless, testimonies and memoirs by women survivors reveal that Nazi theory and practice impacted males and females differently, and gender roles affected how men and women handled their Holocaust experience, and how they remember and narrate their stories.

This edited volume adds to this small but growing literature that gives voice to women's experiences. It shows a variety of ways in which scholars can highlight women's experiences by using gender as an analytical category in understanding how the Holocaust victimized women and men differently.

Women and the Holocaust contains eleven diverse contributions. For instance, in "Lesbians and the Holocaust" R. Amy Elman convincingly shows how gender impacted Nazi policy and persecution against homosexuals. She argues that Nazi legislation prohibited male homosexuality but not lesbianism, because lesbians posed a less serious threat to the Nazis than gay men since they were fewer in number, politically less prominent, and harder to identify. In "Reproduction and Resistance During the Holocaust," Katharina von Kellenbach frames genocide as an attack on women's reproductive functioning. She argues that becoming pregnant and giving birth during the Holocaust was an act of resistance against the Nazi policy of genocide as it presents the possibility of a future to Jews.

Two chapters deal with Holocaust representation in film. Laurence Baron's "Women as Resistance Fighters in Recent Popular Films: The Case of Hanna Senesh and Helen Moszkiewiez" shows how gender can be exploited in feature films. By comparing their representations in films to their historical record, Baron shows how directors embellished the stories and fabricated new episodes for dramatic or political purposes. Likewise, in "The Construction of Heroines in Holocaust Films: The Jewess as Beautiful Soul," Esther Fuchs, the volume editor, examines how women heroines are portrayed in a small sample of films from 1950s through the 1990s. She argues that Jewish heroines are consistently idealized in traditionally female ways, as compassionate, idealistic, hopeful, humble, altruistic, and optimistic.

In "Women as Agents of Suffering and Redemption in the Poetry of Nelly Sachs," Erlis Glass Wickersham focuses on the representation of women in the poetry of this Nobel Laureate. …