Portrayal Of Gender In Holocaust Memory

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Portrayal of Gender in Holocaust Memory

For too long the Holocaust has been seen in male terms, obscuring the nature of the specific roles, work, and suffering of women. Now steps are being taken towards correcting this in a flurry of recently published works, including the excellent volume, Women in the Holocaust. While Ofer and Weitzman emphasize that men and women did not have completely different experiences, the editors highlight significant areas of divergence. First, the gender roles of Jewish men and women of the day were obviously distinct.

This factor led many Jews to believe that their persecution would be focused on the men and spare women and children. Instead, the Nazis would go after the entire Jewish population, subjecting men and women to horrors sometimes similar, sometimes different. Second, again because of the gender roles of the day, Jewish men and women reacted differently to the difficulties they faced. The question of the importance of gender as a focus of investigation in Holocaust studies has long been disputed in intellectual circles, stimulating curious analysis and sometimes provoking heated resistance to its relevance. Other aspects of the Holocaust have been selected for special attention and examination, including the experiences of gypsies, homosexuals and heterosexuals, Jews and non-Jews, etc. However, not only is the question of the relevance of gender in the Holocaust controversial in the first place, but those supporting the issue find further intense debate over the most appropriate way to handle it. How relevant is gender in the Holocaust? What role has gender played, if any, and how can an analysis of gender contribute best towards our understanding of the Holocaust?

There are a number of reasons for the resistance to gender as a focus of study. One reason, although probably the least convincing one, is that gender as an area of study is just simply either uninteresting or unimportant (Sara Horowitz Women in Holocaust Literature: Engendering Trauma Memory Pp. 90).

Some scholars have even agreed that it is important to keep gender out of Holocaust studies. This concern is based on the belief that any differentiation of Holocaust victims risks taking away the important fact that Jews were selected for persecution and murder for being Jews. Others suspect that this approach was employed by feminist opportunists taking advantage of the Holocaust for the application of their feminist beliefs and interests, and see this as a grave misuse of the phenomenal tragedy of the Holocaust. Another concern is that such a specific investigation might cause people to lose sight of the view of the Holocaust as a “singular cataclysmic event”-thereby leading to a trivialization of the Holocaust (Sara Horowitz Pp. 90).

Although the first conference on women and the Holocaust was not to take place until 1983,1 the question of gender gained increasing interest and spawned more and more discussion in the 1970s. Both dissenting and supporting voices were heard on the subject in Holocaust conferences, sometimes with more passion than other times. At a Holocaust conference in 1979, ...
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