A racist ideology fueled the Nazi genocide, complemented by the central role sexism played in Nazi thought and action. But if the status of German women in the Third Reich was distinctly second-class no matter what the official pronouncements said about mutual respect, that fact entailed that the status of "non-Aryan" women, and even of some "degenerate" German women, was much lower still. Though not at first perhaps, Jewish women in particular would eventually find themselves lowest on the Nazi scale of values.
Although they suffered oppression early on from the anti-Jewish legislation that the Nazis passed, German Jewish women were largely spared the worst brutalities until World War II broke out. Once the war was under way, the Nazis escalated their oppression, sparing no one, neither women nor children. As the Nazis targeted their victims--Jewish and non-Jewish, non-German and German--how did women respond? What choices did they have? What power was theirs? How did they cope?
Already the voices of experience in this book's first part have addressed aspects of those questions. That beginning is supplemented now by seven voices of interpretation who take the inquiry further. Five of them--Gisela Bock, Marion A. Kaplan, Sybil Milton, Vera Laska, and Claudia Koonz-- reckon with the larger sociopolitical picture as only good historians can. Two others--Gitta Sereny and Magda Trocmé--focus on the experiences of individuals. As all of these writers explore how Nazi racism and sexism conspired to take both a Hedwig Höss and a Gertrud Kolmar to the anus mundi that was Auschwitz, they also shed light on steps that still need to be taken to remove people from harm's way.
In her poem "We Jews," Kolmar yearned for voices that could speak for those whose throats are gagged, their bleeding cries suppressed. She wanted those voices to echo "down the shaft of all eternity." On first hearing, her poetic hope might seem to call for different voices than those that emphasize historical analysis and concern for detail. But if one listens twice, the dissonance recedes, for the accumulation of small detail creates the fullest picture, and the clear, even cool, statement of fact best reveals the immensity of the "Final Solution." Gertrud Kolmar's yearning receives the care it deserves, if not the fulfillment it seeks, in the hands that have written what comes next about women and the Holocaust.