Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust

By Marlene E. Heinemann | Go to book overview
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II
CHARACTERIZATION IN HOLOCAUST NARRATIVES

When some critics of concentration camp literature refer to characterization in the texts they are discussing, they describe a sameness of character from one narrative to another. These tend to follow a predictable sequence of events, which impose limits on the development of character. The camps offer encounters with a finite range of events and people, and consequently memoirs about them reveal only certain facets of personality. For example, Barbara Foley recalls the nearly identical torpor and passivity reported to be experienced by a mature doctor ( Elie Cohen) and a teenaged girl ( Gerda Klein) as they entered their respective camps. 1 Even in accounts of resistance to the process of self dissolution, aimed at by the camps, Foley notes typed rather than particularized responses. While these remarks have a general validity, the closer examination of Holocaust memoirs reveals much greater differentiation. This is especially true if one examines accounts featuring different types of work. The camp labor hierarchy provided quite different opportunities for suffering or evading exhausting work, beatings, starvation, and exposure to the elements. Holocaust memoirs are also often affected by differences in the present-time situation of the writer, which help to determine how the past will be recreated. While the resulting characters often lack the detailed development of

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