Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust

By Carol Rittner; John K. Roth | Go to book overview
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Preface

"But where," she asked, "are the women?" The voice John Roth heard on the long-distance telephone line was Carol Rittner's. She had just received a copy of Holocaust: Religious and Philosophical Implications, which Roth and Michael Berenbaum edited for Paragon House in 1989. It reprinted classic Holocaust reflections by influential writers such as Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi, Yehuda Bauer, and Raul Hilberg. Rittner liked the book, but its contents were male- dominated. Her question was justified.

Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust is our joint response to the questions "Where were the women during the Holocaust?" and "How do the particularities of women's experiences in that event compare and contrast with those of men?" The Holocaust targeted and destroyed women--Jews especially but also non-Jews. The active or passive complicity of other women-- Germans but also non-Germans--facilitated and legitimated the process of destruction that annihilated millions. During the Holocaust women lived in ghettos and in hiding. They struggled to survive in resistance units as well as in concentration camps and killing centers. Other women served in German offices and camps or made homes for the men who did the dirty, killing work that their Nazi oaths of loyalty required. Just as the Nazis tried to persuade German women that no duty was more important than bearing sons for the Third Reich, they also insisted with a vengeance that Jewish motherhood must be eradicated forever.

Despite all this, relatively little attention has been paid to women's experiences before, during, and after the Holocaust. Much of the best witness literature by women, the autobiographical accounts of those who survived the Holocaust, is out of print or not easily accessible. Much of the most widely read scholarship--historical, sociopolitical, philosophical, and religious-- treats the Holocaust as if sexual and gender differences did not make a difference. A lot of significant detail has gone unmentioned if not unnoticed. Thus the particularities of women's experiences and reflections have been submerged and ignored.

-xi-

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