Jews and Gender: The Challenge to Hierarchy

By Jonathan Frankel | Go to book overview

As Families Remember: Holocaust Memoirs
and Their Transmission Elisheva Baumgarten
(THE HEBREW UNIVERSITY)

That a future generation might know—children yet to be born—and in turn tell their children.—Ps. 78:6

Since the end of the Second World War, Holocaust survivors have written of their experiences. Some of their stories have appeared in yizker bikher as part of a joint attempt to capture life in their communities before the war and to bear witness to the destruction of the community by the Nazis. 1 Other survivors have imparted their personal experiences in literary works, some biographical, others fictional. 2 The past two decades have witnessed the rise of oral testimonies in which survivors have revealed details of both their personal past and that of their communities. 3 In addition, memoirs written by survivors have proliferated. While some of these memoirs have been published, others remain in the family and are not intended for outsiders.

Each of these literary genres embodies different representations of the memory of the Holocaust. The representations vary according to the audience for whom the works were written, the author's age during the war and when writing, and the purpose of the piece that was written. This paper will focus on unpublished personal memoirs, specifically, those written by survivors for their families over the past 25 years—a category on which little has been written, but which has been growing more and more rapidly. 4 The 24 memoirs to be described here are not completely private, since they were all sent to the archives at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, but none had been published for mass marketing and all were written expressly in order to recount experiences for the survivor's family. 5 The memoirs were written in English, Hebrew, and French by 16 women and eight men who originated in different parts of Europe and who now live in Israel, North America, and Europe. 6

The war experiences of the writers vary—two thirds of them were in different camps during the war, while the rest survived in hiding. Some lived under Nazi rule for five or six years, others for only a year or two. The memoirs were all written, at least in their final form, three to four decades after the war's end. Portraying the ways in which the survivors have chosen to represent their past, they do not necessarily present an accurate account of this past. I will not discuss their accuracy, but will rather concentrate on what the survivors remember and how these memories are presented. 7

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