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Creator: Burger, Elizabeth
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2013
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Subjects / Keywords: Holocaust
Jewish Women
Gender Roles
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theses   ( marcgt )
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Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: Jewish women's experiences during the Holocaust have been largely ignored in favor of a predominantly male narrative. Though scholars have disagreed over the benefits of studying gendered Holocaust history, more female oral testimonies have been recorded, revealing the unique experiences that each gender lived through. Women's particular struggles have been the most invisible throughout this area of study. By studying their behavior, historians can add to a greater sense of diversity within Holocaust experiences that allows for more insight to be drawn about life in the ghettos and the camps. This thesis looks at unique patterns of behavior that emerged among women in times of crisis. The first chapter examines the background from which Jewish women were raised, revealing tendencies toward group-based, female communities in both rural areas in Eastern Europe and in urban regions in Central and Western Europe. The second chapter looks at women's behavior in the ghettos, taking into account various factors such as family obligations and community. The final chapter surveys more examples of female group-forming as it occurred in Nazi concentration camps. This thesis is a brief but significant contribution to the underrepresented field of women in Holocaust history.
Statement of Responsibility: by Elizabeth Burger
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2013
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Harvey, David

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Material Information

Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Burger, Elizabeth
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2013
Publication Date: 2013


Subjects / Keywords: Holocaust
Jewish Women
Gender Roles
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: Jewish women's experiences during the Holocaust have been largely ignored in favor of a predominantly male narrative. Though scholars have disagreed over the benefits of studying gendered Holocaust history, more female oral testimonies have been recorded, revealing the unique experiences that each gender lived through. Women's particular struggles have been the most invisible throughout this area of study. By studying their behavior, historians can add to a greater sense of diversity within Holocaust experiences that allows for more insight to be drawn about life in the ghettos and the camps. This thesis looks at unique patterns of behavior that emerged among women in times of crisis. The first chapter examines the background from which Jewish women were raised, revealing tendencies toward group-based, female communities in both rural areas in Eastern Europe and in urban regions in Central and Western Europe. The second chapter looks at women's behavior in the ghettos, taking into account various factors such as family obligations and community. The final chapter surveys more examples of female group-forming as it occurred in Nazi concentration camps. This thesis is a brief but significant contribution to the underrepresented field of women in Holocaust history.
Statement of Responsibility: by Elizabeth Burger
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2013
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Harvey, David

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
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Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2013 B9
System ID: NCFE004727:00001

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SOLIDARITY IN ACTION: JEWISH WOMEN AND COMMUNITY DURING THE HOLOCAUST BY ELIZABETH BURGER A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Social Sciences New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Dr. David Harvey Sarasota, Florida May, 2013


ii Acknowledgement s First and foremost I would like to thank my thesis sponsor Dr. David Harvey for his patience and enthusiasm during this project. Dr. Harvey has seen me through countless history classes and helped me immensely with my future plans, especially with my aspiration to live abroad. He has consistently pushed me to produce my best work and his guidance throughout my time at New College has been invaluable. Thank you! I also have to thank my comm ittee members, Dr. Brendan Goff and Dr. Glenn Cuomo. Both professors have contributed a great deal to my education at New College and have provided great support and assistance during the thesis process. I am very grateful to have their perspectives on my project and luckier still to have the opportunity to learn from them I would also like to thank Dr. Helen Fagin for her encouragement and wisdom regarding my topic. Her story has been a great inspiration for this project. Furthermore, I would like to th ank my friends, coworkers, and chosen family here at New College. I have found a unique group of friends who support me with no holds barred, and I am so lucky to have them in my life. Jonah, Alison, Andrea, Kathleen, Ziona, Lauren, Rosie, Mae, Andrew, Jon Chelsea, Shelby, Amelia, Heather, Farrell, Liz, and Mike I love you and thank you for everything! Also, many thanks to my friends who have been there for me via phone calls and car rides: Naomi, Charles, Ally, Melissa, Ali, Laura, and Erica, thank you, thank you, thank you! Working with Hillel has been one of the best experiences of the last four years. Many thanks to Allison Whitcomb and Rachel Atwood for showing me how wonderful a community we have here and for inspiring me to keep that home alive. has shown me what can be accomplished with much love and cooperation: thank you Diana, Sami, Sarah, Estefan, Andrew, and Matt for all of your help from planning events to letting me film you on Purim. Many thanks also to Rabbi Ed Rosentha l who has been a great source of strength and love throughout my academic and spiritual education as Finally, I have to thank my family for their unwavering support throughout my time a t New College. Though they are far away, their encouragement and love has sustained me, and I am so grateful to have them in my life. Thank you for the opportunity to come here, and especially thank you for absolutely everything!


iii Table of Contents Chapter 1: Jewish Women in Europe Before


iv SOLIDARITY IN ACTION: JEWISH WOMEN AND COMMUNITY DURING THE HOLOCAUST Elizabeth Burger New College of Florida, 2013 ABSTRACT favor of a predominantly male narrative. Though scholars have disagreed over the benefits of studying gendered Holocaust history, more f e m a l e o r a l t e s t i m o n i e s have been particular struggles have been the most invisible throughout this area of st udy. By studying their behavior, historians can add to a greater sense of diversity within Holocaust experiences that allows for more insight to be drawn about life in the ghettos and the camps. This thesis looks at unique patterns of behavior that emerged among women in times of crisis. The first chapter examines the background from which Jewish women were raised, revealing tendencies toward group based, female communities in both rural areas in Eastern Europe and in urban regions in Central and Western Eu rope. factors such as family obligations and community. The final chapter surveys more examples of female group forming as it occurred in Nazi concentration camps. Thi s thesis is a brief but significant contribution to the underrepresented field of women in Holocaust history. Dr. David Harvey Division of Social Sciences


1 Introduction academic discourse. The predominant narrative is male dominated, reflecting mostly on themes of masculinity, male gender roles, and extreme individualism. The male experience tend s to be painted as the general Holocaust experience, obscuring the different obstacles that women faced. Several Holocaust historians have only recently received criti cism from others who believe that the greater suffering of Jewish victims as an entire group should not be separated into specifically gendered experiences. I believe s is important in gaining a g r e a t e r understanding o f how women struggled and coped with difficulties that men did not face based on their physical and social attributes. The commonly accepted Holocaust experience does not allow for discourse on issues r elated solely t o war were influential in impacting how they reacted during their imprisonment. The ways in which women interacted within their families and larger communities affected their later actions during the Holocaust. H owever, not much research has been done on m o s t n o t a b l y those of Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi, for example their experience is explained as exceptionally individualistic, independent, an d survivalist. Though this was by no means the experience of every male, the popular perception of a Holocaust ghetto or with the exception of the typical reading of Ann


2 existence is crucial t o understanding greater impacts of the Holocaust, but is not reflective on what women actively experienced during their time in the ghettos and the camps. Though her account is still a significant contri bution, it ends with her family her experience, though still valid and important, cannot be used to describe the female Holocaust experience. This thesis aims to revea overlooked in favor of a unified, single gendered narrative. In researching Jewish that they were more likely to p articipate in group based work and social settings than were their male counterparts. I hypothesized that this behavior foreshadowed how they interacted during their time in captivity. In researching the topic, I found that in most social situations, women tended to turn to each other in order to form a sense of community or to provide mutual aid in situations where their survival could be affected by such actions. instances of males forming groups in the same sense of mutual aid giving, and women were not guaranteed to search for or find a community. However, women were more likely to seek community based on their patterns of socialization before the war. Women monies and memoirs tend to emphasize the value of community more with grouping were alike, nor that it could not occur among men as well. Defense of studying gendered history


3 subject has resulted in polarizing views and heated disagreements between scholars who greater aspect of suffering as a whole group. Others have reservations about potentially suffering is more valid than another. Instances of t h e s e r e s e r v a t i o n s usually occur regarding camp experiences. There is also concern in the scholarly community about t he accused distortion that occurs when modern historians apply present day feminist theories to the past. Lawrence Langer, an English professor known for his analyses of Holocaust fiction in books and film, is outspoken on his opinions of studying specifi c types of narrative of suffering as a whole. This warning is useful in understanding that each experience is relative to the victim and that experiences should not be c ompared to s ee whose suffering was greater H s point by claiming that suffering is i m two expressions of anguish? The origins of humiliation were often dissimilar for men and women, because womanhood and manhood were threatened in various ways. But the


4 1 Meaning no disrespect to his opinion, comparing the two parent s suffering in the context refuses to recognize that men and women reacted differently depend ing on their backgrounds and the context of violence. Scholar Gabriel Schoenfeld is of a similar opinion. In his short but heavily has become over studied, and the n ew focus on women is part of the problem. Like experiences, noting that several named historians in the field have gone too far in their efforts to impose ideologies onto the past. He refers to such interpretations as revealing his distaste for the practice. 2 However, feminist reimagining seems to have left Schoenfeld with the impression that separating the Holocaust experience between two genders is a waste of ti me and unfair to the women whose life stories are analyzed. Holocaust history altogether, their analyses are harmful to both men and women because they delegitimize their pain, and the y gloss over different experiences in favor of a single u n i t a r y voice. Women survivors in particular are vulnerable to this theoretical position because they are already underrepresented in the popular Holocaust narrative. Memoirs iences surfaced mostly during the 1970s during a 1 Preempting the Holocaust (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 57. 2 Commentary 105/6 (June 1998): 45.


5 history, 3 but before then, women were largely absent from Holocaust memoirs. Scholar Dalia Ofer defends her studies clai ming that great insight can be gained Women in the Holocaust she addresses each of the aforementioned concerns by saying that historians ust] by locating in it the specificity of substantive questions that were raised about the lives of women and how they coped 4 Ofer als o takes care to mention her belief that studying the Holocaust in gender specific terms does not necessarily imply that ideologies from the experiences through different lenses i n order to gain a fuller understanding of the enrich our understanding of the and enlightening. Academic Joan Rin gelheim has also received criticism from scholars history from a feminist perspective. The merits of studying gender specific camp experiences are far reaching. By acknowledg ing the difficulties that women faced, scholars show women that there is room for them in the Holocaust narrative. Discussing gender based violence is also significant in attempting to eliminate the stigma that surrounds topics such as sexual assault. Scho 3 Judith Baumel, Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust (London: Vallentine Mitchell & Co. Ltd, 1998), 46. 4 Dalia Ofer, Intro, 13


6 experienced this ty pe of abuse continuing to ignore the topic can only provide 5 Scholar and Holocaust survivor Nechama Tec the basic, distinguishin 6 I tend to disagree with the fairly polarizing views of the scholars mentioned above. In the male dominated academic world, I have found that there is much less research done on only wome necessary in understanding the greater effects of their specific struggles. Unlike Schoenfeld and Langer, I do not believe that studying the differences between men and women is harmful to the grea ter experience of suffering as a whole. Instead of trivializing history significance, agency, and legitimacy, but also in illuminating previously unexplored aspects of the Holocaust. Organization of thesis This thesis is organized chronologically by period and location into three events: Jewish life in the period directly before the Holocaust began, life in the ghettos, and life in the camps. I chose to divide by time rather than by theme so as to reflect the journey of the majority of Holocaust survivors. I have used a variety of primary and secondary sources to attain both firsthand experiences as well as thematically organized selections of such experiences and their respective analyses. My research has relied heavily on 5 6 Tec, 17.


7 interviews, testimonies, and memoirs which I attained through the University of Southern Library has also been a tremendously useful resource. Chapter I describes the two dominant types of Jewish societies that existed in Europe in the years from just after World War I until the implementation of Holocaust policies. In this chapter, I explore shtetls or secluded villages in rural areas, as well as those that existed in mostly Central and Western European cities. Jews from shtetls practiced social customs based on religious traditions, so women were generally relegated to the domestic sphere and spent most of their time among other women rather than with men. I also found that in urban areas, Jewish women tended to be more secular, social groups and rarely socialized with males. These patterns of socialization were influential in affecting how women reacted and formed community with other women during imprisonment in ghettos and concentration camps. established ghettos. The establishment of ghettos, or fenced off neighborhoods where Jews were forced to live before further deportation to camps, forced women to assume new roles and t o redefine how they formed community among each other. Themes of motherhood, obligation towards the family, and emphasis on mutual aid when individuals lacked a family were pervasive in ghetto memoirs. My research revealed an interesting tendency for women w ith families to reprioritize what community may have meant for them in being. Single women tended to form meaningful relationships with others in the same position in order to help each other survive.


8 The final ch concentration camps. Several women historians have discovered social patterns that arose among women in the camps, namely to create networks of mutual aid and emotional support. Though thes e micro communities did not only develop among women, male accounts reveal a tendency to be more individualistic rather than community based. Women had to cope with struggles specific to their bodies, and were able to form meaningful relationships based on aiding each other with these difficulties. evidence of unique behavior that occurred frequently among women. By examining firsthand accounts as well as secondary analyses, I ho pe to present an often neglected area of history that deserves more attention. The thesis begins with an explanation of pre WWII European Jewry and gender roles in order to provide background information of behavior during the war.


9 Chapter 1 Jewish Women in Europe Before the War European Jews were dispersed throughout many countries and lived in various cities and towns, but there is a fairly strong distinction between those who lived in rural regions mostly in Eastern Europe and those who lived in more urban areas in Central and Western Europe. Jews from secluded areas in Eastern Europe generally lived in isolated villages known as shtetls where they were segregated from the greater country and lived according to traditional values. Central and Western European Jews tended to be b e t t e r integrated into secular society, and they mostly lived in metropolitan regions that afforded them social and economic mobility. Figure 1 European Jewish population distribution, ca. 1933 Statistical data reveals an estimated 9.5 million Jews living in Europe around 1933 where they comprised about 1.7% of the population. The majority of Jews who experienced the Holocaust lived in Eastern Europe, where the United States Holocaust


10 Memorial Mu seum (USHMM) estimates about 3 million Jews lived in Poland alone. In Central and Western Europe, the Jewish community was much smaller: about 500,000 Jews lived in Germany and 250,000 in France (Figure 1) 7 It can be implied that roughly half of each population was female. 8 According to where they lived, Jewish women filled determined roles based on location, class, and age. European Jewish women were not a homogenous group; rather, their responsibilities and positions in society varied greatly depend ing on these factors. Despite these differences, Jewish women maintained a sense of group responsibility and need for mutual assistance, values that were upheld by various stratum of Jewish society. These values were not maintained in the same way by all J ewish women, but rather they In this chapter, I will examine the differences between rural Jewish communities and those in urban areas. Location is a determining factor for how t hese Jewish communities were constructed and sustained in the time before WWII. The chapter is shtetl society, and Part II focuses on women living in urban areas. I will be look ing at these Poland meant the establishment of Jewish ghettos in Polish towns and cities. Though Russian pogroms (violent attacks aimed at Jewish communities) ravage d shtetls throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many survived WWI relatively unscathed and were not dissolved until the 1939 evacuations. 7 8 2012,


11 Part I: Shtetls in Eastern Europe Figure 2 The Russian Pale of Settlement, 1825. What was a shtetl ? The term shtetl connotes a certain kind of Jewish community that existed in the Russian Pale of Settlement between the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries. The Pale of Settlement was established by Catherine the Great i n the late 1790s in order to expel Jews from the Russian heartland. 9 The Pale consisted of western Russia as well as great pieces of land in modern day Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine among other countries 9 Ben Cahiers du Monde russe 41, no. 4 (Oct. Dec. 2000): 49 7 498.


12 (Figure 2) 10 Jews, forbidden from living within Russi a proper, still only comprised a minority of the Pale population, but their own population grew steadily after WWI, even with the threat of pogroms and war. At the beginning of WWII, the Jewish population in Poland alone was estimated around 3,500,000 peop le. 11 Shtetls were not uniform, and each was unique, but they had certain basic similarities across many locations. They were located in the countryside, secluded from nearby towns and cities. 12 A central common characteristic of these villages was t h e i r extremely impoverished condition s Shtetls existed in a state of intense poverty, and as such they usually possessed inadequate infrastructure. They are described as appe aring to be makeshift, rickety, and temporary, though they were certainly permanent until their destruction. Zionist historians as well as religious Jews have implied that this style of nomadic living came from a tradition of waiting to return to Israel, but more likely Jews were consistently kicked out of whichever country in which they had settled and were thus used to temporary residence. 13 The shtetls had a unique economic impact on their surrounding areas. Though shtetls were fairly isolated in self mo tivated exclusion, shtetl members did business with the outside community. The architecture was reflective of this behavior. Buildings toward the center of town held the most significance, and those on their periphery lost their value as they went further out. Pinchuk describes the construction of most shtetls as having a 10 Russia Gathers her Jews: the Origins of the Jewish Question in Russia, 1772 1825 (Dekalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1986). 11 Joshu Mistream (March 1981): 25 31. 12 Due to the undocumented nature of the shtetls I was unable to find a clear map that showed where they were located in Europe during this time period. 13 00.


13 14 Most of the structures in town were influenced b y the religious nature of these towns. Synagogues were the focal points of these towns as they were used not only for prayer but also for community events. Prevalence of religion and its effect on gender roles within shtetls In shtetls unlike in secular communities, Jewish laws and customs were pervasive and affected every aspect of the community. Isolation from the greater part of the home country allowed for age old traditions to be maintained for long periods of time without too much influence from th e outside world. In this way, traditional Jewish life in Eastern Europe remained fairly impermeable for several centuries. Dynamics between the two genders were defined by fixed religious and cultural practices. In traditional Jewish communities, the pos itions of the highest esteem were religious: a rabbi, for instance, was the most honored and respected member of the community. Scholars of the Talmud or other religious texts were also coveted roles. According to strict interpretation of the Torah and Tal mud, only men were eligible to devote their lives to religious studies or leadership. Clear, divisive lines between men and women were taught and reinforced in every religious setting. Asccording to scholar Mark Zborowski, these traditions were even ingrai ned in the daily routine: 15 Various sources within Jewish scripture reinforced taboos of women being dangerous, impure, and dirty. The Jewish woman, beginning with the not only because she herself lacks virtue, but still more because she rouses in man a 14 15 Mark Zborowski and Elizabeth Herzog, Life Is With People (New York: Schocken Books, 1952), 133.


14 16 By this rule, women were deemed untrustworthy and capable of convincing men to stray from a righteous path. Women were not allowed to read from the Torah or even touch one because menstruation deemed them unclean and rendered the texts impure. These divisions between the genders were based on religious customs, but because shtetls w ere governed by Jewish law, they were absorbed into mundane practices as well. Jews in the shtetl married younger than was the custom in secular areas as a result of rules governing relations between men and women. The beliefs that encouraged young marria ges reinforced the deep social barrier between the genders. Boys were believed to be out of control of their sexual impulses, so marriage reined them in and allowed them to be physically satisfied in order to focus on studying Likewise, women were conside red to be distractions, disrupting boys from their scholarly pursuits. A policy of avoidance was inherently practiced in the community, dividing the sexes into separate ly from the division of interests and responsibilities, as well as from the avoidance rule and writes anthropologist Mark Zborowski. Gender segregation was a key factor in maintaining the strict divide between men and activities, separating scholarly work from domestic business. 17 shtetls Male education was valued highly in the shtetl All boys attended religious school where they were taught how to read and write in Yiddish, and most learned how to read and write in Hebrew as well. However, the majority of those who had at least partial 16 Zborowski, Life Is With People 134. 17 Zborowski, Life Is With People 137.


15 Hebrew literacy were not proficient in the langu those incapable of it were taught to read the Bible and the prayerbook; yet most men were taught to read mechanically many men could not understand what they read: few had anything like a full command of Hebrew. 18 So though most men were adept at Yiddish, their level of Hebrew depended on their occupational plans. Future rabbis pursued a deeper study of the language, but an average male citizen was nowhere near fluen t Hebrew was mainly used for reading religiou s texts, so its sacredness was highly valued. The more people who knew Hebrew, the more potential there was for age old traditions educational system was to prepare the best students as quickly as possible for Talmud 19 Women were taught even less, and were not required to have formal schooling. As Yiddish was the primary language spoken in the shtetls they had a firm command of the language, but they rarely knew any more Hebrew other than what was required for blessings and prayers. Many girls did learn to read Yiddish, if informally. Girls tended to pick up the skill during secluded, female only settings, such as in private groups w ith the 20 Languages other than Yiddish and Hebrew were rarely brought to these communities, leading to more seclusion against the ever changing populations in Eastern Europe. Excluding these languages from the curriculum was another step in preventing integration and preserving traditional society. Though there were surely individuals who 18 Iris Parush, Reading Jewish Women: Marginali ty and Modernization in Nineteenth Century Eastern European Jewish Society (Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2004), 24. 19 Parush, Reading Jewish Women 25. 20 Parush Reading Jewish Women 25.


16 studied these languages independently, there were rarely systems in place to teach national languages to students. If a student did successfully study a lan guage other than Yiddish or Hebrew, he was likely male. Among the educated elite in these societies, Yiddish was looked down upon as an inferior language to Hebrew because it was associated with the mundane rather than the spiritual. Yiddish also came to be associated with women and their work which was did little to dignify anything w 21 Occupations for women Though men were legally responsible for handling finances, women in Eastern European shtetls shared the duty of with their husbands In an unexpected partnership, wo men in Jewish culture were expected to be the co breadwinners because according to the religion, the highest honor for men was to study Torah and other texts. In her book Daughters of the Shtetl: Life and Labor in the Immigrant Generation Susan Glenn writ es on this unusual situation, calling it a 22 By this logic, having women control a substantial number of economic functions is perfectly sensible. 21 Parush, Reading Jewish Women 28. 22 Susan Glenn, Daughters of the Shtetl: Life and Labor in the Immigrant Generation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), 10.


17 Though generally considered inferior in worth to men, women in these communities maintained a sense of purpose and even authority because they controlle d the household income. Their duties gave them proficiency in dominating both the domestic and economic realms, and when their husbands were out of town, they occasionally assumed his obligations (excepting the religious responsibilities). Women were not t he sole earners, but they maintained a larger role in financial affairs than was roles along with the shared responsibilities for earning a living helped modify patri archal 23 Women and men divided the duties, each taking the one more appropriate to their roles in the community. Husbands were the official figureheads of the occupation, be it business or trading, and their wives served as their assistants, ensuring that everything ran smoothly. When their occupation required travel, the man would leave the village and attend to business, and the women would maintain transactions at home. 24 This gave women a broader experience of communicating within the village, forming close relationships through social interactions. In more industrialized regions, manufacturing became an open venue for women in the shtetls to earn an income without being pigeonholed into working at their though many were unskilled and barely educated. Their lack of training in any specific work made them ideal for factory owners looking for cheap labor, and impoverished J ewish families looked to these jobs to compensate for what was lacking in their income, 23 Glenn Daughters of the Shtetl 14. 24 Glenn, Daughters of the Shtetl 14 15.


18 25 based putting w as also a growing industry, allowing women to assemble factory produced goods in their own homes. This kind of group certainly worked in factories, their spiritual lives put emphasis on personal, introsp ective growth. Women were not afforded the opportunity to develop a formally recognized religious life, so their rituals were centered on the mundane rather than the divine. Their priorities focused on domesticity, implying that their jobs were more than j ust their livelihoods. Their occupations and responsibilities towards maintaining a household took precedence. For men, jobs were necessary but not the most significant aspect of their lives. Women placed more value on their occupations than men did becaus e their jobs dominated their priorities whereas men f o r m a l l y had a separate, spiritual sphere i n a c c e s s i b l e t o w o m e n social interactions between women, both as workers and community members. When men were awa y for business, women called upon each other to run the community. Glenn quotes Yiddish novelist Isaac Meier Dick, who wrote of the shtetl during the week when of a gyn 26 His observations, though pointed, imply that women within the shtetl were interdependent on each other when men were not present. The community that women formed within the greater community of 25 Glenn, Daughters of the Shtetl ., 19. 26 Isaac Meier Dick quoted in Daughters of the Shtetl 15.


19 the shtet l r e f l e c t e d their priorities in domestic and work settings. Where men gained confidence from reaching inwards, women practiced a more extroverted approach by engaging with each other in a more extroverted manner. Glenn recalls the experience of a yo come to the small town and they had these little shops .. 2, 3, 4, or 5 girls in a house, working and the girls would be sitting and working and singing 27 Her refle ction indicates a great sense of community and comradeship among women workers whose lives focused on constant interactions with people. Part II: Jewish life and gender roles in urbanized Central and Western Europe Legal changes in Europe al Constituent Assembly passed a bill in September of 1791 that allowed Jews full French citizenship, though the bill is often viewed as something that lifted restrictions rather than legislation that granted rights. Under the bill, Jews were absorbed into French culture, if only on paper. In reality, the bill was still severely limiting, granting only a select few with specialized qualifications the right to serve the country in civil or military service. The vote was uncontested: according to scholar Rona 28 In practice, this translated to a sense that Jews had to deny their religious and ethnic roo ts in order to be considered French. So though Jews were legally absorbed into the framework of French citizenship, they were not necessarily viewed as equal to Christian French 27 Fannie Shapiro quoted in Dauthers of the Shtetl 22. 28 Ronald Schechter, Obstinate Hebrews: Representations of Jews in France, 1715 1815 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003), 152.


20 ws 29 The Napoleonic Code is praised for its avant garde policies of religious tolerance, and it was certainly more progressive than other Western European countries, which adopte dcret infme, Jewish trading rights, restricted loans, and prohibited them from finding replaceme nts for military service under the draft. 30 eliminate most differences between Jews and French citizens, and was influential in changing policy in other Western European countries. It was not until 1846 that Jews were granted full equality under French law. of Jewish emancipation by more conservative governments, such as the French, now made it much more wide 31 After the 1848 revolutions, England, Germany, Austria, and Hungary all adopted policies of equal citizenship for Jews. Italy and Switzerland were major exceptions; more restrictions were enacted on Jews in these countries until the 1870s w hen full legal equality was realized. Though they might not have been considered equal citizens in mainstream culture, urbanized Jews were more easily ass imilated ( when compared to their rural, Eastern European counterparts ) because their affluence allowed for a more average, secular European lifestyle. In referring to the German Jewish community, h istorian Marian 29 William Nicholls, Christian Antisemitism (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., 1993), 299 300. 30 Nicholls, Christian Antisemitism 304. 31 Nicholls, Christian Antisemitism 307.


21 32 Their affluence allo wed for this assimilation to take place. As Jewish men gained more economic success, they were able to raise their standard of living, leading to more education and more integration into German culture. Jews in W e s t e r n Europe were overwhelmingly part o f the professional middle class. Their jobs and lives revolved around a modern, industrialized economy, and most Jews in Western and Central Europe chose to live in urban areas for career opportunities. Jewish men in Germany, for example, worked predominan tly in professional business positions. The growth of Jewish business developed rapidly during the nineteenth century, promoting Jewish men from near pov erty to success in the industry. According to Paula Hyman, author of Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History beginning of the nineteenth century, Jews were poorer than their fellow countrymen, paying a disproportionately low share of taxes; by the end of the century, their higher tax contributions indicate that they were more prosperous th 33 Assimilation and Identity With legal equality came a greater awareness of social boundaries. Though Jews were legally recognized as equal to European citizens, they still faced persistent acts of anti Semitism leading up to the World Wars. The Dreyfus Affair of 1894, for example, revealed strong anti Semitic sentiments that existed in the French military regardless of th e fact that Jewish men actively served in the military as French soldiers. The affair 32 Marion Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 12. 33 Paula E. Hyman, Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: The Roles and Representation of Women (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 17 18.


22 unable to remove the stigma that many hoped had been erased with legal recognition of their rights. Urbanized European Jews adopted the identity of their country of citizenship, but also maintained a strong Jewish identity. Historians who study Jewish history in modern Europe tend to emphasize a belief in one identity superimposed over the other, but the unique blending of secular and religious traditions seen in Jewish communities within European cities implies that identities were often more complicated. For an average Jewish citizen living in a European city, identity was not necessar ily defined by being French or German, since they did not only belong to one group. Marion Kaplan describes 34 Jews maintained aspects of traditional Jewish life and mixed them with new, secular values that were more relevant to their lifestyles. In the case of Jewish city dwellers, assimilation is best understood in compa rison to Jews living in rural villages in Eastern Europe. Jews in shtetls remained under the same restrictions that had been lifted for their counterparts in Western European areas. Jews living in rural areas remained secluded and isolated from mainstream culture, and they had no ability for upward movement in class or economic status. These Jews maintained traditional religious society, valuing Jewish over secular law into these self sustaining villages. Unlike more integrated Jews who spoke the dominant l anguage and perhaps additionally knew Yiddish or Hebrew, Jews in shtetls predominantly spoke in Yiddish. Their illiteracy in other languages (namely Polish and Czech) prohibited them from blending into mainstream culture. 34 Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair, 13.


23 Urban European Jews had assimilated with regard to certain cultural checkpoints. They were competent in the language of their country, which led to greater opportunities in education. The ability to communicate with non Jewish citizens was significant in a llowing for both social and economic growth between Jews and non Jews to occur. Though some kind of formal Jewish schooling was traditionally maintained at least through childhood, more and more Jews began attending secular universities. oles in secular Europe For assimilated Jews, gender roles were not defined by their religion but rather by the cultural norms of the time and place. 35 Jews in European cities were generally secular, identifying first by their country of origin and secondly as Jewish. Because of this integration, traditional Jewish gender roles did not apply f or these communities. Jewish city women were allowed m a n y more opportunit ies than those in villages because of their relative affluence and adoption of secular values T houg h Jews were more assimilated in Europe than ever before, they still experienced clear boundaries that set them apart. Women especially experienced a kind of isolation unfamiliar to their husbands, as women and men in bourgeois culture were relegated to sep arate spheres. Jewish women were allowed to get a fairly limited education (still more than most women at the time) and hold small jobs. However, their limited education and work experience was not enough to instill any independence. Most Jewish women main tained the traditional role as housewife and mother. Scholar Harriet of Jewish emancipation insofar as their fathers or husbands often moved their families to 35 Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair 1 0 12.


24 larger cit ies, climbed the economic ladder into the middle or upper middle class, and 36 As women were relegated to the private sphere, men took initiative in joining the public sphere, and were able to assimilate thanks to their generous education and ability to work out side the home. 37 In most modern Jewish families at the time, women did not need to work in order to provide for their families The husbands were working in professional spheres and were able to make enough money as to provide for their families. For both Jews and non Jews, the education of women was not a priority when women were likely to be married young an d become housewives and mothers; however, Jewish women in these areas tended to be more likely to be educated than those in Eastern Europe. Extended education for women (past high school) was becoming increasingly common among b o t h Jews and non en as a mark of social distinction at a time where only wealthy families could afford to send girls to school. Tho ugh Jewish women were unlikely to hold a professional position in the workplace due to their roles in bourgeois society they were more likel y to be educated than non Jewish women, and they were even expected to receive a degree before getting married. 38 This is a stark contrast to Jewish women of Eastern Europe, where they were unlikely to receive much in the way of education past grade school (at the most). Greater education for women led to more employment opportunities, where women were not necessarily treated as independent, but were able to take on responsibilities outside the 36 Harriet Pass Freidenreich, Female, Jewish, and Educated: The Lives of Central European University Women (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002), 3. 37 Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair 65. 38 Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair, 11


25 home. Though they were given more professional opportunities tha n ever before, women were still far behind men in terms of the types of degrees they were eligible to receive. German universities, for example, did not admit women students until 1914, but Jewish women were among the first to receive professional degrees. In fact, by 1933, about 13 percent of women doctors were Jewish, revealing a new trend of highly educated Jewish intellectuals and professionals that could not have exis ted less than a century earlier especially for women. 39 As the economy worsened in the late 1920s, Jewish women joined the workforce to contribute to the household income, often working alongside their husbands as assistants to the family business or in retail or service positions. industrialized Europe was l argely domestic, but women were presented with more opportunities for employment than ever before. The jobs that these women qualified for were independent, not group based, and were generally in male environments. Office managers and secretaries for the family business were common occupations for percent) of employed Jewish women [in Germany] worked in business and commerce, largely as family assistants (22 percent) an 40 With the onset of the major economic depression following 1929, European women soon found it necessary to join the workforce and contribute to the family income. Though there were high unemployment rates for different s ocial groups, Jewish women found finding employment particularly difficult. New restrictions on employment 39 Kapl an, Between Dignity and Despair 26. 40 I b i d 28.


26 se known as the Aryan Paragraph, which forced the dismissal of Jewish professionals from their posts. 41 The sudden high unemployment rates within the German Jewish community made finding work even more difficult for the average Jewish woman who was modestl y educated and fairly inexperienced in the work world. In order to earn enough to support or even add to the household budget, these women found fairly creative ways of forming small, self motivated businesses with the few skills they had. To this end, Jew ish community centers offered courses to train women in practical occupations such as sewing, tailoring, typing, and language classes. Women worked together to form small, domestic business ventures such as tailoring, or very specific niches such as a cors etiere business. 42 Community and social groups Though Jewish communities remained fairly cohesive in urban areas, they became more unified and organized with rising tensions in Germany. The introduction of the Nuremberg Laws gradually eliminated comfortab le relations between Jews and non lives bridged the gap between family and community those who had been active in 43 Jewish women who had previously interacted fairly often with their non Jewish neighbors in both social and business capacities were soon isolated from these 41 Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair, 24. 42 I b i d 29. 43 I b i d 39.


27 communities. Though they were largely occupied with the domestic sphe re, this change was still traumatic as friendships were dissolved, infrastructure broken down (interactions with state agents were prohibited), and communication with the world outside the Jewish community disappeared. Jewish social groups, which had alre ady existed in the community, grew in membership. The Jewish Cultural Association, founded in 1933, hired Jewish artists to provide entertainment to a community that had once dominated the cultural art scene. At nearly 70,000 members, the organization fill ed a void left after the Nazis prohibited the performance of Jewish works. The Jewish Cultural Association was a significant outlet for both men and women to feel less isolated from the world to which they had previously belonged. The League of Jewish Wom en, founded in 1904, seceded from the Federation of women who were facing economic, social, and domestic hardships. As it evolved to suit goals became focused on keeping Jewish women connected to each other, helping those in need, encouraging and preparing for emigration, and maintaining Jewish traditions. The League existed in several German regions, the largest membership existing in Berl in. The group unified Jewish women who came from different social classes, education levels, and professions, encouraging women who would likely never communicate with each other during normal times to come together and collaborate. The League was an inte gral part of social life for Jewish women in Germany during the rise of the Nazi regime. Academic meetings were organized and speakers


28 brought in (such as Martin Buber) to maintain morale and keep life as normal as possible for a group who had once enjoyed German intellectual culture. They also encouraged volunteerism and charity to help members of the community who were struggling financially. For unemployed, unskilled women, the League offered basic courses to teach knitting, first aid instruction, cookin g, and other useful services to make them more attractive to employers as well as eliminate their need to hire help. 44 each other reveals the resourcefulness of the Jewish comm unity during a time of crisis. The community had always been fairly active, but the formation of social groups such as the League and the Jewish Cultural Association was an integral factor for Jews to organize, educate, and support each other. The Jewish c ommunity, especially in regard to the women, prioritized mutual aid and overcame m a r g i n a l i z a t i o n in order to help each other. Conclusion: How do they compare? Most Jewish Holocaust victims were from European cities or villages with the majori ty coming from Poland and other Eastern European countries where they lived in secluded shtetls and maintained a traditional way of life. Fairly few had lived in Central and Western European cities, and those who did were comparatively more assimilated int communities tended to practice a stricter tradition than their more secular counterparts in cities. Economic status and class were also divisive factors, as cosmopolitan J ews tended 44 Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair 46 49.


29 to be more integrated into the professional sphere while those living in rural areas worked in agriculture or the homemade craft industry. Gender roles reflected these differences, especially in terms of class, education, and job opportunities. Peasant women in shtetls well much of the work but getting less than equal credit for their efforts. Education for these women stopped at an early stage because their education was not deemed valuable for the lives they would be expected to lead. In contrast, urbanized Jewish women usually lived in a fairly comfortable middle class professional environment. They usually ach ieved at least a complete secondary school education, and many went on to achieve degrees at a university level. They were privileged enough to be housewives for a time, but when they were required to work, they worked i n entry level modern jobs. Though Je wish women from different regions experienced culture and community differently from each other, some similarities do emerge, even if they evolved out of different starting points. Jewish women in both shtetls and urban areas formed communities within them selves, whether to aid in household and community work or to create hospitable spaces where none were created for them. Basic tenets of Jewish gender roles relegated women to the familial sphere where their priorities to family were valued more highly than their obligations anywhere else. The emphasis on family highly concentration camps reve al how deeply women internalized their values.


30 Chapter 2 Life in the Ghettos Though they came from different backgrounds, Jewish families from Eastern and Central Europe experienced an equally devastating shock upon deportation to ghettos. Beginning in 1939, various ghettos were established in recognized areas of Poland and the Sov iet Union to concentrate Jewish populations in segregated, enclosed districts within cities. The ghettos were maintained under Nazi control and were generally holding locations that preceded eventual transport to concentration camps in nearby areas. In th moving into the ghettos. I aim to explain how the transition from normalcy into the ghettos was an extremely stressful ex perience, especially for women. In many cases, women turned inw ard toward their families during their time in the ghettos. Along with to strengthening family ties in order to keep the family safe and protected. This transition motiva ted single women to form meaningful friendships with other women as a coping mechanism. Group forming was not only beneficial for domestic life and survival within the ghetto, but was also significant in aiding growing resistance movements, many of which w ere carried out by female partnerships I have used a variety of secondary sources, most of which refer to direct primary and family dynamics in ghettos. She has culled u seful, relevant pieces from testimonies that address issues in this realm, and she approaches her analysis with a fairly objective


31 Family in the East European Ghettos during Resilience and Courage which contains two substantial chapters on family life in the ghettos, and Sharon Kovno survivor testimonies myself, searching for coded Figure 3 Major ghettos in occupied Europe


32 A brief history of the ghettos Ghettos were sectioned off city districts in which the regional Jewish population was forced to live in a highly concentrated area. 45 They were established widely throughout Eastern Europe (Figure 3 ) but they were not standardized to be exactly the same 46 Dean writes that all ghettos their physical separation from the surrounding population, and some threatened 47 He goes lived neighborhoods used to contain Jews before an impending m ass murder). In Dan The Emergence of Jewish Ghettos During the Holocaust he argues that because each ghetto was so d ifferent in its implantation, even if the basic goals of concentration and isolation were the same. 48 So though structures of the ghetto varied depending on when, where, and why it was created, Jewish inhabitants experienced common struggles, namely isolatio n, poverty, and lack of control over their mobility. 45 46 47 Occupied Europe: The Un Gray Zones: Ambiguity and Compromise in the Holocaust and its Aftermath, ed. by Jonathan Petropoulos and John K. Roth (New York: Berghahn Books, 2005), 209. 48 Dan Michman, The Emergence of Jewish Ghettos Durin g the Holocaust (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 148.


33 Ghetto populations were constantly transient, so solid numbers of all the inhabitants in every ghetto are unknown. However, statistics from the larger ghettos are more calculable. The Warsaw Ghetto, for example, contained about 400,000 Jews in a confined area of just over one mile. 49 The Lodz Ghetto, also located in Poland, contained over 150,000 Jews at any given time. 50 These are rough estimates as populations constantly fluctuated, rising with roundups and deportations and falling when residents were sent to the camps. The primary reasons for the creation of ghettos were to concentrate entire Jewish communities many of which had previously been integrated into non Jewish society into one area so that they would be easily transportable later in time. Though many did not s urvive the harsh ghetto conditions, for most, ghettos were the first stop on the way to Holocaust victims passed through the ghettos, yet these ephemeral communities hav e 51 In addition to being a stopping point en route to further transit, ghettos also served the purpose of completely isolating their inhabitants. Social isolation and physical separatio separate and demonized. Though many Jewish communities did not mingle with non Jewish society in day to day life, ghettoization created a more segregated mindset of Jews as deeply different. This social isolation, reinforced by a fenced, alienated community, served to create a psychological isolation as well. 49 50 Leah accessed February 13, 2013, healt h in ghettos of eastern europe 51 215.


34 Once unable to communicate with the outside community, Jews were cut off from economic freedom as well. Women in part icular were directly affected by this change, as they were usually the ones who would maintain relations with community members for business transactions as well as domestic chores. In order to maintain complete control over their freedoms, German ghettos required able bodied Jews to work in labor battalions or factories serving the German war cause. 52 assignments were not appointed according to skill level or professional expertise, but rather dispensed at the whim of what productio n was needed for the German armies. Economic isolation forced Jews to lose their businesses, compelling them to turn inward to the Jewish community in order to survive. In their accounts, survivors use similar words to describe ghetto experiences, even w hen talking about extremely different places. Ghettos are depicted first and foremost as unimaginably crowded and cramped. Families had no privacy and were stuffed into tenement like housing without proper working facilities. Provisional civilian governmen ts were established to create order, but generally a sense of chaos remained as the ghetto was constantly in flux due to deportations and new arrivals being a constant expectation. Out of this chaos, ghetto residents had to figure out how to maintain balan ce between interpersonal relationships in order to survive and keep their loved ones alive as well. The establishment of the Judenrat or the Jewish council, led to some tension in the ghettos. These councils were comprised of about 24 male Jews whose res ponsibilities were to execute German orders and maintain a census of the area. 53 Only men could serve 52 Michman, The Emergence of Jewish Ghettos During the Holocaust 80. 53 Jewish Social Studies 22, no. 1 (January 1960): 27.


35 on the Judenrat and they were held accountable for enforcing Nazi orders. Still, the Judenrat was fairly autonomous as Nazis rarely interfered with the gh affairs; however, German authorities did maintain direct control over the council so its members had to appeal to both ghetto residents and authorities in order to keep themselves safe. Rumors of deportation were growing during the early 19 40s, just after the German invasion of Poland. Though perhaps Jews in urban areas were more likely to keep up with international news, it was a shock both to them and to those living in secluded communities when entire Jewish populations of cities and town s were deported to ghettos in Eastern Europe. The transition from normalcy to ghetto life was extremely jarring to those who had been leading their lives unaware of the action occurring outside their community. Though women were more informed than their hu sbands, seeing as they maintained communication within and sometimes outside the community, their change in reality was particularly difficult. The emotional vulnerability resulting from the sudden transition from o r d e r to chaos is documented in survivor accounts. In a recorded testimony, Nina Kaleska from Grodno, Poland upper ghetto and the ghetto in not very far from where we lived. And very shortly the entire, the en tire Jewish population of Grodno was being uprooted from their home. And that I remember 54 For Jews who had been residents of their shtetls for several generations, the prospect of being displaced yet again in the great er history of Jewish nomadic life was a frightening concept that reflected international instability. 54 Nina Kaleska, interview, USHMM,


36 Women survivors have reflected on these relationships in an unexpected way given their particular social patterns before the war. Man were also surprisingly unlike their experiences in the final Holocaust phase of being based social structu re toward a domestically centered focus during their time in the ghettos. This behavior might have emerged in response to growing tension in the ghettos as food and other resources became scarce. Rumors of their next relocation (deportation to camps) force d families to maintain their togetherness in hopes that they would not be separated later in time. While living in ghettos, residents were usually unaware of when the next mass deportation would occur, so families took pains to ensure that the members of t he family were kept safe. Family loyalties began to take precedence over previous cultural norms in an effort to make sense of the chaotic situation. With some exceptions (mostly regarding food), women with families focused on their roles as wives and moth ers before working to help the community. However, focus on domesticity was not experienced by all women. Women who were able to maintain a fairly well to do lifestyle by ghetto standards were often able to extend their time outward to the community. Unma rried women or women who had lost their families also focused on community building Organizations sprung up in the ghettos to accommodate women who had no one to help them survive. This pattern is later repeated when women were separated from their famili es in the camps where they formed cohesive groups with defined roles.


37 sphere and focus on the community. Women with families For married women or young women who lived wit h their parents, the trend of prioritizing female companionship and cooperation was abandoned in favor of strengthening family bonds Keeping the family together and providing for each other became the main goals of families who were imprisoned in the ghetto together Also, many had heard rumors of later deportation to the camps where families would be separated immediately. The c o n s t a n t threat of forced separation was another reason for attempting to keep the family unit as tight knit as possible while in the g hettos. Unlike in their communities prior to the war, women refocused their attentions inward. Scholar re possibly the most vital reinforcing the emphasis on protecting the family. 55 Food As conditions in the ghettos worsened, priorities changed, reflecting the drastic circumstances. In their r eflections, Holocaust survivors emphasize the food scarcities in ghettos, noting the community destruction that grew out of forming loyalties to a single group such as a family. Women resorted to using sneaky methods to acquire as much food as possible. Of 55 amily in the Nazi Ghetto: Kovno Journal of Family History 31, no. 3 (July 2006): 270.


38 the delivery man to place her order of potatoes in the house through the back door so that her neighbors would not see the package. 56 Measures such as these reflected a shift in how women wo rked in order to keep their own families fed before helping anyone else. However, women unexpectedly helped each other and collaborated over recipes and food preparation, if not for actual scavenging. This behavior was an exception to the general rule of o women would take initiative to share what they could. Hilda Halpern, a survivor from Czechoslovakia and a resident of the Czech Mukacevo ghetto, recalls this phenomenon from her own firs thand experience with sharing food. While they still had a bit of money implying a sense of p ride and comfort that she herself took away from the experience and that others surely did as well. 57 58 In this way, women were responsible for creating a sense of home and calm comfort in an otherwise t e r r i f y i n g situation. This is revealed in the creation of recipe books, many of which survive today. Women would collaborate and create ghetto cookbooks consisting of collections of many different types of recipes f rom different places throughout Europe. Creating cookbooks served to help women work together on a project with emotional significance, as Jewish women even today are particularly attached to food as a sign of comfort and care for their families. In her in troduction to the ghetto recipe book Cara De 56 Studies in Contemporary Jewry Vol. XIV, (1998): 147. 57 Hi lda Halpern, testimony, segment #59, tape recording for USC Visual History Archive, Florida. 58


39 what we eat, the foods and foodways we associate with the rituals of childhood, marriage, and parenthood, moments around the table, cel ebrations are critical components of our identities. To recall them in desperate circumstances is to reinforce a sense of self and to assist us in our struggle to 59 They also served as an escape from daily woes and reminded them of more prospe rous times. Daydreaming about home recipes returned women to their identities and strengthened their sense of heritage, as many recipes included in these books had been passed down for several generations. is one of few recipe books tha t survived the ghettos. It reveals an unexpected amount of cooperation compared to what many survivors recall to be a stingy attitude toward food. Survivor Bianca Brown believes that the act of remembering recipes and collaborating to preserve them was hel pful to women not only for ideas on what to cook, but for their emotional state. She recollects evenings where women would share their ideas on how to recreate recipes from home in the middle of the 60 In this way, women formed relationships among themselves that preserved their former way of life. The previous pattern of women communicating amongst one another was also maintained. Though the physical aspects of atta ining and consuming food were no longer shared among the female community the way it might have been in earlier, less meager times, women were able to share an emotional bond by remembering and recording the ties to their backgrounds. 59 Cara De Silva, (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1993), xxvi 60 Bianca Brown, in xxviii.


40 Though everyone in th e family was granted some responsibility with finding food, they were held accountable to the mother. Women kept food inventories and cooked whatever they could find for meals. Family dinners were usually maintained as an important aspect of daily life tha t reinforced the family structure. 61 As the resident capable at all times, lessening any time for them to cooperate with the female community in ways they might have bef ore the war. Strict adherence to their traditional roles was challenged by ghetto circumstances. part of it, remained intact, they called upon their inner resources to 62 again reinforcing justification for new behavior regarding priorities toward the family. However, prior values of obedience as well as established gender roles kept women extremely isolated as they removed themselves from the outside community to focus on smaller groups. This behavior is especially reflected in food politics within the family. Guter recalls her mother taking control of the food situation while her father, unaccustomed to domestic responsibilities, was often something, a bone the woman made soup out of it The woman contributed so that life would continue somehow in an accustomed way The men sort 63 Wives had to take on the responsibility for the two of them in ways that they had not 61 accessed February 15, 2013, during holocaust 62 63 Guter in Resilience and Courage: Women, Men, and the Holocaust by Nachama Tec (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 51 52.


41 prior roles as domestic leaders to cope with their new situation and were able to attain some self worth from maintaining this role. As men were experiencing a kind of hopelessness based on their lack of self worth (which evolved from losing their jobs and being unable to support the family in terms of income), women were forced to step up in order to keep the accounts of food acquisition and preparation. David Sierakowiak, a prisoner of the Lodz ghetto, wrote about the relationship dynamic between his father and mother during their time in the ghetto just before his being of the family that she cared f from giving her food portions to her family members rather than keeping them to sustain herself. 64 This behavior represents the importance placed on caregiving, a feminine role based on ideas of motherhood and wifely obligations. Unfortunately, Sierakowiak (whose interview is also utilized in Resilience and Courage ) also recalls a dangerous behavior that affected his family and undoubtedly others as well. The distinctly defined gender roles s et for men and women were not weighted equally in terms of superiority. He remembers an incident where his father would demand more food from his mother. His mother viewed her own worth as less than that of her husband, and so she ceded part of her own rat ion to him in addition to what he already had. Sierakowiak recalls his mother slowly wasting away, blaming her decline on father went so far as to take more from her in ad dition to stealing his own son and 64


42 65 In her commentary, Tec reports that in her research, she found no occurrence among male family members. Housing Housi ng shortages were also a common problem for families. Families tended to alienate others in the community so that they could live together as a unit, disregarding others to maintain stability for themselves. Overcrowding forced families into poor living co nditions with no privacy. Apartments could be crowded with several families at a time, d i s s o l v i n g privacy between family 66 Forced overcrowding was another notable factor that kept the family dynamic in s that families who lived together in these conditions received comfort and strength from their overcrowding. It provided them with a sense of 67 This is a fairly optimistic view that certain ly may have been experienced by some families, but it did not occur for all families who were able to maintain some cohesion in the ghetto. directly affected change in famil y roles and identities. She refers to several survivor accounts that reflect growing tension caused by living together in extreme proximity. Relationships between couples often quickly fell apart as a result of overcrowding. Ofer cites the extreme case of Moshe Papugai, a ghetto resident who turned himself over to the 65 Dawid Sierakowiak, in Resilience and Courage 62. 66 67 I b i d 271.


43 Nazis after having a fight with his wife. 68 revealing of great tensions that could occur even within families. To this end, Ofer emphasizes the role of women with families to focus fully on their relationships so that they could be maintained. She claims that family relationships lives of their families with sensitivit y and great care in order not to disrupt completely the balance within the family and the respective status of each partner in preserving order in 69 Assuming this responsibility left little time and energy for women with families to expand thei r giving toward the community. Children and community Women with children had a particularly large burden to bear. Not only were w o m e n responsible for maintaining their relationships with their husbands, but they were also the primary caregivers for their children. Though the community provided opportunities f or children to socialize and have as normal an upbringing as possible (which will be examined later in this chapter), women were still called upon to make great sacrifices for their children in ways that their husbands were not. In her article on their children and pouring their lives into them, much like they would have done before the war. 70 Ghetto life only exacerbated the need for this coping. The obligation and need to being was often the main priority of women with families, and so they were less likely to participate in community building. 68 69 70 Women in the Holocaust, ed. by Dalia Ofer and Lenore J. Weitzman (Binghamton, NY: Vail Ballou Press, 1998), 163.


44 Women revealed this prioritization on their children when dealing with the issue of food. 71 was a strong factor in the sense of responsibility that women felt toward their families, suggesting the deeply rooted sense of purpose that women found in protecting their children. Survivors recall their themselves would go without food. Mothers took this burden upon themselves, valuing being over their own health and welfare. Ita Shapiro, a survivor w ho was a child during the time she and her family spent Shapiro family had been fairly well off before the war, they, like others, had to learn to survive on less than they wer whatever food they had and distributing it among the family members. When asked about because she said I 72 insistence on rationing the food between family members, ensuring that the family would interview, 73 Mrs. portion was a l s o not questioned, so perhaps giving more to her husband and children was expected from her as a wife and mother. 71 72 Ita Shapiro in Resilience and Courage 57. 73 I b i d 58.


45 This behavior suggests a sense of worth attach ed to sacrificing for the sake of required from mothers and wives. When prompte d to remember mealtimes, daughter survivors tend to remember their own portions and those of their siblings and fathers, but few discuss seeing their mothers eat much at all. Observations about the dinner table may seem trivial in the greater context of fo od conflicts, but they are highly revealing of family dynamics and the roles assigned to each member. Women who had children owed them their full attention; however, the role of women as mothers was so pervasive and the Jewish emphasis on the family was so strong that childless women would devote their time to finding safe places for children that were not their own. In many instances, children were the catalyst for women to work together in the community. Organizations like the Mdchenheim and various underground teaching circles emerged among women to keep children, both orphans and those with parents, occupied and safe within the ghetto. In her memoir Fortress of My Youth Jana Friesov recalls her time spent in the Mdchenheim in the T erezn ghetto. She describes the struggles that parents faced regarding their children: lack of education, overcrowding, malnourishment, and isolation from the rest of the community were common problems that parents could not overcome in the setting of a g hetto. To create a more stable environment for children, the Jewish Council of Elders (Friesov refers to the council as the ltestenrat but it is synonymous with the Judenrat


46 ltestenrat succe ssfully petitioned for the establishment of hostels and group homes for orphaned children, the creation of which was initiated by groups within the community. 74 Mdchenheim as a dynam of one young man, Mrs. Rsa (as Friesov called her) selected only women to serve as more stable replacement for the family that the girls left behind. Friesov had described the ghetto as a potentially dangerous place for children to grow up because the environment did not allow for examples of morals and discipline. She remembers the Mdchenheim carers as being p articularly patient in dealing with children who had not had to abide by rules set by authority figures at any time in their and to adolescents that even here in this relatively sheltered cell, the Heim which was now our home, rules and regulations were necessary [the carers] had to fight us, fight 75 In the Mdchenheim women who were not related to the residents took o n maternal roles in order to keep the children of the community safe and provide a community where the quality of life was much better than what they had experienced living in the ghetto without a stable home. When discussing the Mdchenheim Friesov assi gns different roles to each of the carers that she lived under during her time in the house. The carer in room 15 was proactive in keeping the girls motivated to tidy their surroundings. She was seen as the most practical of the carers, forcing the girls t o keep everything clean as to not allow for 74 Jana Maria Friesov, Fortress of My Youth: Memoir of a Terezn Survivor (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002), 97 98. 75 Friesov, Fortress of My Youth 99.


47 76 Ghetto conditions required thi s sort of role assigning to give community members a sense of purpose. Role assigning also was key in keeping relationships in balance. In groups of women, this behavior was not uncommon in times of stress. Such relationships became shadows of former femal e partnerships at home before the war. By assigning each woman in a group a specific role, she became part of a self directed support system among women that motivated the group to stay together and work toward a common cause. In the setting of ghetto home s, they worked to promote stability and welfare among displaced children. Education community, and spiritual resistance A significant method of creating a sense of normalcy for children was the establishment of underground (hidden) schools. Ghetto inhabitants took the initiative to teach various lessons to small groups of children. Attending school, if informally, kept children from falling too far behind in their education. Latin grammar, geography, Hebrew, and reading were popular subjects taught in these enclaves. Teachers were not exclusively women (Janusz Korczak founded an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto and taught lessons to Jewish children ), but many informal teachers happened to be women who would organize small classes for girls. 77 Instances of informal lessons happened most often among women who had come from educated backgrounds, so most of these women had lived in cities before the ghetto. 76 Friesov, Fortress of My Youth 100 101 77 Janusz Korczak, Ghet to Diary (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1978).


48 may have be en valued by families from more integrated communities, but others viewed lessons as a welcome diversion from the difficulties of daily life. The role of women teachers was not only to educate, but also to provide spiritual leadership for their pupils and teachers both took on the additional responsibility as spiritual mentors as well because they provided a distraction from the outside world and reminded their students that life ex isted outside the ghetto. This sort of spiritual leadership was unique among groups of women, and was not considered religious (women could not be ordained anyway), but rather a way to draw strength from one another. In her testimony, Dr. Helen Fagin spea ks of her experiences with underground teaching in the Warsaw Ghetto. Inspired by her younger sister who had not had a chance to get a formal education before living in the ghetto, Dr. Fagin began teaching clandestine lessons to her sibling as well as to s everal other girls who began attending regularly. She 78 at a determined time each d ay, and she would teach classes based on her own limited education. She did not follow any curriculum, but rather taught what she could remember from random subjects such as Latin and literature. She herself had read a copy of Gone With the Wind in its Pol relating the classic story to them. In recalling her methods, Dr. Fagin emphasized her role as a distraction from the chaos surrounding the children. She believes that her retelling of Gone W ith the Wind 78 Helen Fagin interview, USC Shoah Foundation, Segment 44


49 were so solemn and so sorrowful I would take them to an altogether different world 79 Frieda Aaron had only completed several years o f elementary school before the war. She remembers the dangers of clandestine schools, knowing that if they had been discovered, both the students and the teachers would be severely punished. She describes her experience with secret schools in the Warsaw Gh 80 Cla ndestine schools emerged once women recognized the value of spiritual well being. Though informal, such schools reinforced a sense of community among women, encouraging them to work together. Conclusion Many Jewish Holocaust victims were forced into ghet tos in Eastern Europe before they were transported to concentration camps. The ghettos, usually constructed in cities, were fenced off neighborhoods where thousands of people were concentrated into a space too small for its numbers. Ghetto inhabitants were prohibited from leaving, and they faced other restrictions that removed all semblances of their former lives. Jews were forced to give up their residences and businesses, eliminating their prior economic status. Ghetto residents faced extreme poverty, pri mitive infrastructure, and transient populations. The transition to life in the ghettos was jarring and intense for those who were forced to leave their homes. In the wake of this chaos, women in particular demonstrated 79 Helen Fagin, testimony, segment #45, tape recording for USC Visual History Archive, Florida. 80 Frieda Aaron, testimony, segment #46, tape re cording for USC Visual History Archive.


50 behaviors that were revealing of the ir socialization before the war. Women with families (mostly those who were married and especially those with children) tended to turn inwards and focus on maintaining health and a decent quality of life for the family. This behavior is revealed in how wom en reacted to food and housing politics in the community and in the family. Women without families, especially younger teenage girls without parents, tended to band together and form organizations that provided community for each other. The Mdchenheim in Terezn is an excellent example of women taking the initiative to watch out for other women, especially young girls. Clandestine schools also emerged, revealing a tendency for women to work together to promote values of education as well as spiritual suppo rt. This behavior is somewhat unlike what occurred in the camps for a number of reasons. First, families were not separated in the ghettos, so women were more likely to prioritize their families while they were still together. Second, the forced separation of families in the camps was usually highly traumatic, and women reached out for more support from each other once they were there. Last, though infrastructure was not even close to being sufficient in the ghettos, the camps were so severely lacking in ba sic resources that there was a larger need for cooperation in order to survive. In the following chapter, I will examine how women formed small, cooperative groups in the camps, aiding in physical and emotional well being and even survival. Once introduced to the highly dangerous and unpredictable conditions of the camps, these groups naturally emerged in reaction to trauma and were helpful in giving women the support systems that they had been accustomed to creating before the war.


51 Chapter 3 Women and Com munity in the Camps Figure 4 Major Nazi Camps in Europe, January 1944 81 For most Jews, concentration camps were the next and final destination of the Holocaust. Scattered throughout Europe but mostly concentrated in the east, Jews for hard labor at first, and then later death camps began to perform mass exterminations. About 20,000 camps were established to imprison millions of victims, amo ng them Jews, political prisoners, homosexuals, and Roma. 82 The camps were established in various countries throughout Europe with the majority in German occupied 81 MediaId=354 82


52 Eastern Europe (Figure 1). 83 Though they started out as labor camps, eventually some were conve rted or built as death camps, becoming the final destination for those who were unfortunate enough to end up there. In this chapter, I will primarily look at Birkenau, one of the largest camps, which is located in Poland. A great number of women survivors testified t o having been through either of these camps at some point during their journey, and many survived these camps because they were assigned to labor rather than immediate death. Prisone rs in the camps were subject to traumatic experiences and extremely harsh co nditions that t h r e a t e n e d t h e i r v e r y survival. The standard of living was practically nonexistent; in most camps, prisoners lived in a state of squalor, with hundreds of prisoners a ssigned to a single barrack. Starvation and physical violence were common forms of abuse. The camps were guarded by the German police force (the Schutzstaffel or SS ) who built a hierarchy of control where the SS commandant had the most control, the positions declining in power and prestige until the prisoner labor detail. 84 Part of the method for creating emotional turmoil involved using non German inmates (Jews as often as other prisoners) to do the dirty work at the lowest end of command. This invo lved disciplining the barracks, organizing the work detail, and administering punishment to groups of inmates. Such work created divisions even among prisoners who would have otherwise been united against their oppressors. 83 84 Birkenau Memorial and Museum, accessed March 2013, art=2


53 Families were immediately separa ted upon arrival at the camps, as the sexes were automatically divided and many were chosen for immediate death. 85 Male prisoners were assigned hard labor details, and women were usually assigned to work in factories doing more detailed work. 86 As women live d and worked alongside each other, instances of cooperation naturally grew out of a need for community and mutual aid. Holocaust narrative that is usually from a male perspective. based on their physical challenges and prior socialization, are absent from this narrative. Holocaust scholars debate on the validity of studying gendered Holocaust history, but to resist studying specifically gendered experience s is to ignore the different ways in which men and women coped with camp trauma. In this chapter, I will discuss the benefits of studying gendered Holocaust experiences with regard to camp life. The debate over unified suffering still stands among Holocau st scholars for various reasons, but this chapter addresses several ways in which the female experience was unique and different from the male experience I believe that studying each is not possible, and t his chapter will examine the patterns of community that emerged for some women. Such groups did occasionally occur among male populations, but not nearly as frequent ly as they did among women The groups that emerged tended to have s imilar patterns of behavior, such as role assigning or supportive dependent relationships. Groups of women would help each other in times of crisis, such as with food or with 85 accessed February 20, 2013, during holocaust 86


54 reproductive issues. Surprisingly, women would not turn to each other in cases of sexual assault due to the stigma and victim blaming that surrounded sexual violence. Defense of studying gendered history Female bodied prisoners faced unique challenges based on their physical characteristics. In general, the male Holocaust narrative does not provide for these specific experiences in th e camps for several reasons. First, women from more religious areas (especially in Eastern Europe) did not discuss matters of the body, considering such subjects taboo and private. Silence surrounding bodies was reinforced by religious traditions that kept experiences were overshadowed by the more popular male narrative that is most often used in Holocaust st udies to portray a general exper ience of most victims. Finally, scholars who study the Holocaust through a gendered lens tend to be subject to scrutiny by scholars who reject taking a gender based approach. Scholars who study w experiences are dissuaded from isolating one gender, and many historians have neglected Gender specific violence was a crucial aspect of life in camps for both women gnored because of the sensitive nature of finding sources to confirm sexual viole nce, believing that women survivors were already at a disadvantage in that as a group, Jewish women (especially those who were more


55 observant) were particularly modest and private about their bodies. In addition to this, they were not instructed to speak o ut about their experiences with sexual abuse because of the shame and stigma attached to such events. To this effect, Waxman argues that the silences women in a way that deliberately alienates them from their families and 87 research reveals miss event that happened, but only vaguely, and they will use a different person as the subject rather than themselves. 88 Traditional Jewish law as interpreted in many secluded Jewish communiti es w as also a detrimental for women worth. Rules dictating what 89 For men, the study of Kabbalah reaffirms the separation of soul and body, a practice that emerged in rabbinic literature during the first century. 90 Women were not introduced to the same belief: of the many laws that dictated how righteous Jews should lead their lives, many address by their bodies. Niddah or the practice of separating menstruating women from men, requires private, invasive methods of ensuring that a woman is no lo 87 Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust ed. by Sonja M. Hedgepeth and Rochelle G. Saidel (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2010), 129. 88 89 Every sect of Judaism is different and this belief is not necessarily held true by all Jews; however, those of Ashkenazi tr aditions do maintain this dichotomy. 90 Religion and the Body, ed. by Sarah Coakley (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 72.


56 physical intimacy is forbidden, and women must subject themselves and their bodies to 91 Women are barred from participating in religious ceremonies and traditions, such as their exclusion from the minyan (prayer assembly of ten men), their prohibition from reading Torah, and their inability to assume a leadership position in synagogue. 92 In religious courts, women are continuously denied attention: only husbands are permi tted to initiate a divorce, and 93 Women must keep their bodies covered in modest garments, especially after marriage (a tradition that was nearly impossible to maintain once in the camps). These religious a nd cultural traditions reinforced that there was no separation between body and soul for women, as their worth and value was taken in the context of their bodies. It can be deduced that women felt great shame when their bodies were threatened because their integrity would also be questioned. Scholar Nomi Levenkron has been confronted with the difficulty of researching sexual assault that occurred during the Holocaust. She believes that the reason for Jewish ed by the society in which they were raised. The Jewish community condoned silence, creating the implication that victims victim] grew up will tend to examine her actions through a magnifying glass, trying to identify the ways in which her own actions contributed to the sexual assault on her, and 91 ions, Systemic Attributions: Menstrual Separation Gender and Society Vol. 18, No. 3 (Jun., 2004), pp. 393. 92 Blu Greenberg, On Women & Judaism (Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1981), 8. 93 Greenberg, On Women & Judaism, 7.


57 94 This denial is harmful to women who have experienced sexual abuse and who feel like t hey cannot talk about their experiences without feeling deep shame. Though not all cases of gender specific violence were sexual understanding why they do not recall these instances in their testimonies or memoirs, at least not directly. In Holocaust studies, the majority of memoirs that make up a collective understanding of the camp experience are written by male survivors. Though they certainly mention women, their exper iences are not fully inclusive of the unique issues may also be a contributing factor to the silencing of their stories. The male narrative tends to reveal a more individu alistic approach to survival, perhaps because men did not experience the same kind of targeted, gender specific violence that occurred among women. The female body, vulnerable to attacks on reproduction as well as to higher instances of sexual assault, inf mal e experience d o e s n o t e n c o m p a s s Learning of these instances of gender specific violence are significant in helping scholars understand a larger picture of what women went through during their time in the camps, but such experiences were not the only factors that defined the female experience. Recent historians (mostly female) have noticed a trend in women survivor testimonies that address cooperation and mutual aid through group forming in the camps These historians have been challenged by Langer 94 Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women du edited by Sonja M. Hedgepeth and Rochelle G. Saidel (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2010), 13.


58 about mutual support among women in the camps, the context of the narratives shows us how seldom such alliances made any difference in the long range effects of the ordeal for defending his argument that studying the separate genders is useless in light of the larger survivor narrative. 95 However, many historians have found that these patterns were significant to women survivors who claimed that such relationships among women were not only beneficial to their emotional health but to their physical well being as well. Judith Baumel suggests that sexual segregation in the camps was a substantial g themselves. Her research has implied that interactions among women in the camps were significant in creating supportive bases and motivation for survival. She has found that many women survivors f unique gender interaction n face of tremendum and crisis 96 U n l i k e L a n g e r s a s s e s s m e n t t h a t s u c h g r o u p s w e r e i n s i g n i f i c a n t i n h i n d s i g h t B a u m e l s a n a l y s i s r e v e a l s t h a t t h e s e g r o u p s w e r e i n d e e d b e n e f i c i a l f o r w o m e n p r i s o n e r s Group forming in times of crisis Mutual aid among women prisoners may have occurred for any number of reasons. Prior socialization which motivated women to come together in the domestic and public spheres s h a p e d the behavior that followed within the camps. As described in the first chapter, European Jewish women from various regions and levels of observance 95 96 Judith Baumel, Double Jeopardy 25.


59 women found themselves working together in the home while men were rarely presen t for domestic tasks. After mild periods of industrialization, these women also worked together in determined feminine vocations. Jewish women from Central and Western Europe also tended to associate among groups of economically and socially similar women. As restrictions on Jewish socializing became more limiting, these women turned inward to maintain relationships and draw support from each other. The idea that women could find comfort and support from each other set up a framework for women to do the sam e in times of crisis. Group forming among women created networks of support that helped women in various ways. Groups would emerge based on commonalities between women. Prisoners would unite over small similarities: finding distant relatives, a common lan guage, or common friends would be the catalyst for small partnerships to form. According to various accounts, women would defer to defined roles within the group. Each role evolved into a specific kind of leadership: one would be the spiritual leader, one would be being, and so on. Along with role assigning, women tended to come together in times of notable crisis, such as collaborating on methods to deal with problems a rising from the body. These sorts of partnerships were based on specific issues that only affected women, namely struggles regarding their reproductive abilities. Interestingly, though women were at a greater risk for rape and other forms of sexual assaul t, women rarely bonded over sharing these experiences. Rather, stigmas that had existed in their culture before the war were still pervasive, and female victims of sexual violence were often shunned or blamed for their abuse by other women. Few


60 examples of sexual violence exist in testimonies, perhaps for this very reason. Groups could maintain their cohesion by uniting themselves against a common enemy, and this has at times included demonizing victims of sexual abuse. Women prisoners were by no means the only group to form mutual assistance collectives. Male prisoners have left behind various records of such behavior, some of modified some of the patriarchal values the pri suggesting that this behavior was inherently feminine. 97 According to Nechama Tec, a Holocaust scholar who has studied the differences between male and female behavior, men and women both formed such groups in the camps, and both should be given equal attention. 98 However, the notion that such group forming was a feminine behavior s u g g e s t s that cooperation may have been more prevalent among women. Tec also acknowledges this, and quotes were struggling for themselves most of the time they fought alone, as a single unit Women always cooperated. Even if 99 This is not to trivialize the male grouping experience, but it suggests that women survivors felt that this behavior was more natural to them rather than to men. In her research, scholar Rochelle Saidel has emotionally and form surrogat 100 showing that though men may have also 97 Claudia Koonz in Resil ience and Courage Tec, 177. 98 Tec, Resilience and Courage 178. 99 Felicja Karay in Resilience and Courage Tec, 177. 100 Rochelle Saidel, Jewish Women of Ravensbrck (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004), 208.


61 Judith Baumel their time in the camps. She recognizes that women survivors seem to claim grouping as locations that supp motivating women to reach out to one another. However, she also considers factors such physical/sexual v iolence, and past relationships formed in the ghettos as other motivating 101 Her ideas s u g g e s t that women might be at a greater likelihood than m e n to develop such bonds in the camp s due to these preexisting or gender specific factors. Structure of Groups & Role Assignment Groups of women were not defined by any regular pattern or structure, but testimonies from various women reveal certain tendencies that were repeated across dif ferent lengths of time and camp locations. These groups were assembled according to similar criteria, they generally contained a comparable number of members, and they tended to be comprised of women who would take on different roles in the group. Though n ot all groups functioned in the same way, these factors tended to create fairly parallel experiences. Since they occurred naturally and often without guidance or precedent to how a successful group could function, it is safe to assume that no two groups we re alike; however, since they shared overlapping characteristics, generalizing based on the three factors of assembling, membership, and role assigning is beneficial in 101 Baumel, Double Jeopardy 71.


62 understanding this pattern in a broader way. Though they were all different, studying e ach as only random occurrences trivializes their significance and effectiveness. 102 In his research, he found that groups usually contained no more than eight individuals at any given time, but that this number was highly variable because of the unstable nature of camp populations. In testimonies and memoirs, groups varied around a four or five person average with app roximately eight people comprising a large group. Davidson also researched the common roots that women in a group shared. He emphasizes the idea that groups were based on relationships that had already been n formed on a nucleus of previous 103 Often relatives would stick together in two person partnerships (mother daughter, for example), but more often groups would be larger and c ontain friends or comrades as well as relatives. 104 were factors in bonding women together to form these mutua l assistance groups 105 Though most instances of groups contained specific role assigning, often the roles would overlap. Baumel refers to a sort of interdependence that frequently developed between two or more women where one woman would be the giver and on e would be the receiver. This theory applies to emotional support as well as physical and material 102 Baume l, Double Jeopardy 68 69. 103 Shamai Davidson in Double Jeopardy 68. 104 Tec, Resilience and Courage 177. 105 Baumel, Double Jeopardy 71.


63 th. 106 In a given group of women, these relationships would naturally develop, and specific roles would either arise or not based on the group dynamic. Mental/Emotional Health o f crisis. As mentioned above, in most groups, women assigned each other roles in order to maintain optimism and take care of each other. This behavior is well documented in the case of the Zehnnerschaft a group of ten women who bonded together during thei r time in the Plaszow concentration camp. 107 In her article and how they were effective at strengthening mental resolve in times of stress. She i the camps and found that the ten girls, bonded together over having attended a common school system, fell into certain roles that determined how they acted within the grou p. Baumel argues that the women in the Zehnnerschaft did not treat each other as dynamics. 108 Some of the women took on a more maternal role, leading the more emotionally de patronizing, but such relationships were similar to mother daughter interactions where one woman was the caregiver and the other was the receiver. 106 Baumer, Double Jeopardy 75. 107 I b i d 71. 108 I b i d 75.


64 One of the most important roles t hat appears in other group accounts is that of the spiritual leader. In the Zehnnerschaft this role fell to Rivka Englard who was remembered for having maintained a positive attitude and a sense of optimism even in moments of despair. Rachel Shantzer, a m that worked to calm her and the other girls when they were feeling particularly dejected: moral discussions we used to ha ve before the war we would walk and talk and 109 Baumel emphasizes the importance of spiritual leadership in maintaining emotional levity during trying times. Singing was also used to alleviate suffering and take women to a fant asy world where they could temporarily forget their troubles and allow themselves to be transported to an earlier time. Tec writes about numerous testimonies that reference informal singing performances in the evenings, performances that would remind women of their prior lives and give them hope to keep living so that they may return home another day. Tec quotes survivor Bracha Winter reacted to me positively Just that fact that I was 110 111 Singing was also something traditionally done during the holidays, so when prominent holidays occ urred, women would recreate a semblance 109 Rachel Shantzer in Double Jeopardy Baumel, 76. 110 Bracha Winter Ghilai in Resilience and Courage Tec, 198. 111 Celina Stranchen in Resilience and Courage Tec, 197.


65 of former celebrations by singing holiday songs and remembering how they celebrated in the past. 112 The spiritual leader in any given group might also have encouraged her members to indulge in daydreaming and fantasy in order to remove themselves from their surroundings. Spiritual leaders have been known to encourage other women to share their dreams with the group for this purpose. Survivor Irena Lusky recalls sharing stories about what she and other women would dream of having after their release, claiming that they 113 Food Extreme starvation is always a central point in Holocaust memoirs, both male and female. The lack of food caused desperation in a lmost all accounts, but women tended to work together to remedy this issue both physically and emotionally while men were usually more individualistic, providing for themselves when they had the chance rather than forming such relationships. Though this is not the case for all women or all men, in general, women worked together more often to aid in acquiring food. In addition to physically providing food for each other, women also gave each other emotional support in the form of remembering recipes that the y had used before the war. Cooking in comforting and helpful in creating spiritual resistance. Food dominates every testimony: the lack of it, the acquisition of it, and the quality of it were the priorities of every prisoner in the camps. Regarding the issue of 112 Women in the Holocaust, 335 113 Irena Lusky in Resilience and Courage Tec, 199.


66 where food could be used to aid in survival. In many female groups, women worked partnerships with women to organize potato stealing among other activities. 114 Food seemed to be the exception to the role assigning that occurred for spiritual and emotional fulfillment. Even when there was no food to be had, women found comfort in sharing memories about past recipes and food they had made or consumed before the war. Sharing recipes was especially good for morale because it reflected a sense of looking forward to the future. 115 Women were able to reclaim their feminine identities through recalling how they cooked for their families and their formal roles as mothers, daughters, a nd wives. Most elaborate recipes were used for Jewish celebrations, so remembering them could even be considered spiritual resistance because it reminded women to concentrate on their religious roots Several recipe books emerged out of the Holocaust, revea ling the great significance of sharing these memories. The likelihood that such compilations would survive the camps was extremely low; nevertheless, sparse records do still survive. In is a notable recipe book that survived Terezn, a ghe tto turned concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. 116 The book was found hand sewn and hand written in a variety of different scripts from the many women who contributed to it, a 114 115 116 ed. by Cara De Silva (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1996).


67 testament to the importance of food and how it shaped their identities as Jewish women. Though they may not have had the resources to compile such documents like in Terezn (where people had access to paper while it was still a ghetto), such collaborations are e forgotten. Recipes Remembered and the Holocaust Survivor Cookbook are two fairly recent 117 That the memories even existed to be recorded decades later shows a strict commitment to Jewish values and traditions in the private sphere. Pregnancy Reproduction and its associated burdens were gender specific difficulties that only female bodied pri soners addressed. Nazi eugenics policies prohibited pregnant women from surviving in the camps, 118 and women who were showing their pregnancy upon arrival were immediately sent to the gas chambers via Red Cross trucks that were supposedly going to clinics wh ere the women could receive medical care. 119 Pregnant women represented a threat to the annihilation of the Jewish people, so they were among the most vulnerable prisoners in the camps. After this ruling was acknowledged, women began to take measures to help those in need figure out how to deal with their situation. Not many records exist on pregnancy and abortion as these were extremely private matters with deeply rooted emotions of shame and loss of identity. However, a few 117 Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival ed. by June Feiss Hersh (New York: Ruder Finn Press, 2011) and Holocaust Survivor Cookbook ed. by Joanne Caras (Caras & Assoc., 2007). 118 Women in the Holocaust 329. 119 R obert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 171.


68 records from doctors and observer s do still exist, and they reveal an interesting way in which colla boration occurred among women l i v i n g i n t e r r o r I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz serves as a standard for how pregnancy and abortion were addressed in concentration camps. A gy necologist their pregnancy and later through childbirth. When she arrived in Auschwitz, she was chosen to work under Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Auschwitz doctor kn own for his obsession with human experiments, especially twins. 120 She was commanded to perform medical experiments under his control, but she began to hear of prisoners who were pregnant and hiding their condition, attempts that would only last so long befo re they would be found out. Dr. Perl began to visit groups of women in the middle of the night in order to ascertain who was pregnant and needed assistance. Dr. Perl (and the women who recruited her) encouraged pregnant women to let her abort the child in a primitive setting with no medical tools or running water spared. 121 These rendezvous would be secretly organized by women in order to help those in their midst. Occasionally women would come to the camps pregnant but not showing, in which case they would attempt to hide their condition as long as possible. Starvation prevented women from gaining the usual pregnancy weight, and sometimes women would even be able to carry the child to term without being caught. Rochelle Sai del notes of a few significant cases where women would kill newborns in order to save the life of the mother or, more likely, the baby would be born stillborn as a result of the extreme 120 Eva Mozes Kor, Echoes From Auschwitz : (Candles, 2000). 121 Gisela Perl, I Was a Do ctor in Auschwitz (Madison, CT: International Universities Press, 1948), 81.


69 conditions under which the mother survived. Saidel cites a testimony f rom survivor Lola 122 The gruesome nature of this experience, stated so bluntly, reflects the community that emerged among women who empathized with each other regardless of their differences. This practice probably occurred more than is actually cited since there are very few testimonies that reference this sort of behavior, but it is revealing of the efforts women made to aid those in desperation who would have in order to keep themselves alive. 123 Sexual Violence Though being victimized due to incidents of sexual violence has the potential to unify women in emotional support of one another, victims of this particular kind of abuse rarely shared their experiences with others. Most Jewish women prisoners came from a fairly sheltered and uninformed viewpoint regarding sexual e ncounters. Traditionally, men and women are instructed to abstain from sexual relations until marriage. 124 This ideology, paired with expected traditions of modesty for women, led to great stigmas surrounding the body and its role in sex. As mentioned in the introduction, women valued their bodies to the extent that they were deemed appropriate to their dominant male counterparts. The internalization of these values led to victim blaming as well as shaming for those who suffered sexual assault in the camps. W hen rape is mentioned in a 122 Lola Taubman in The Jewish Women of Ravensbrck Saidel, 211. 123 Term coined by Lawrence Langer to describe a choice that is made during a life or death situation where neither c hoice is ideal; rather, the person has to choose between the lesser of two evils. 124 Reuven Bulka, Jewish Marriage: A Halakhic Ethic (Jersey City, NJ: KTAV Publishing House, 1986), 104.


70 vague character in the narrative, even if the narrator herself was the one assaulted. 125 This t r a n s f e r e n c e to take on that role as the victim is r evealing of the stigma that still affects women survivors years after this violence occurred. Levenkron writes about the types of difficult situations in which women found themselves situated. Using the body as barter was not a foreign concept in the camps especially when the tradeoff meant that a prisoner could survive another day. In the 126 is applicable again especially in regard to food, hiding places, or various helpful objects (such as s tring, a spoon, or other valuables that aided in survival) 127 Levenkron describes women who were suspected of bartering sex as being alienated from other women who treated the f 128 In the case of barter, where there w a s a choi c e women were quick to judge and distance themselves from women who used their sexuality to their advantage. Even in situations where sexual activity was not a choice, but rather a vi olent act from which the victim did not benefit, other women did not empathize, though the same act could have easily happened to them. Instead of bonding over this shared threat and potentially working to protect each other (emotionally if not physically) women turned away from victims of sexual abuse because they viewed sexual activity outside of marriage as dirty and sacrilegious, regardless of context. Levenkron supplements this behavior by analyzing the role of sexuality in cultures where modesty defi ned the 125 126 Lawrence Langer, Versions o f Survival (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1982), 72. 127 Gisela Perl, I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz 77. 128


71 collective, 129 claiming that sexualities created boundaries for a group, and breaching those boundaries was unacceptable. 130 Some survivors have mentioned a hierarchy even in terms of sexual assault. In article that only women who maintained a certain level of attractiveness in the camps were ever who still had some very fact of looking healthy, of having body weight, of looking human, or looking 131 Certainly she did not imply that she w them attractive to men because they were healthier than most. Finally, those who engaged in sexual activity with superiors in exchange for preferential treatment were in the worst posi tion regarding their relationships with other women. They were looked down upon with revulsion and distrust, even if this kind of this, viewing the act as traitorous and the participant as lacking in self respect. Levenkron She writes that women received a simple message regarding such affairs: it was better to 129 It is a fair assumption that most Jewish women had maintained a fairly strong code of modest presentation; even those in Central and Eastern Europe who were more integrated and did not follow Orthodox rules of dress probably maintained a high standard of dress based on their socioeconomic standing. 130 131 Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women i n the Holocaust 83.


72 132 In the aftermath After camps were liberated, prisoners were displaced to refugee camps throughout Europe in order to recuperate and begin planning their in evitable relocation. Many tried to return to their home countries, but they were either not welcome to return or returned to find that their villages were destroyed. Displaced Jews began to emigrate westward, finding homes in the U.S., Israel (entrance was easier after 1948 independence), France, Canada, and Great Britain. After their ordeal in the camps, survivors tried to create a new sense of normalcy. They learned English and worked, and some were privileged enough to attain an education. Jewish men a nd women alike were granted the same opportunities as other citizens in whichever country they resided. For some women, this was the first time that they had the ability to be schooled and learn a trade independent of their families. Helen Fagin, as mentio ned in the second chapter, earned her doctorate and became an esteemed English and Holocaust literature professor. Eva Kor, author of Echoes from Auschwitz Holocaust. Before that, she was also a successful realtor. Though some women like Dr. Fagin and Eva Kor were able to talk about their experiences with the public, others simply kept silent. This phenomenon occurred among men as well, but women in particular were more reluc tant to discuss their experiences, especially those relating to physical abuse in the camps. Children of Holocaust survivors 132


73 have written countless memoirs about living with a parent with a silent history. At a talk with university students in February 201 3, Elie Wiesel spoke about the differences between how male survivors recounted their memories and how women did the same, stressing that women would rarely revisit their memories aloud and when they did, they almost never shared such memories with men. Th is behavior reveals internalized shame and self blame for their misfortunes, and also supports the hypothesis that women kept this sort of talk among themselves in community based safe spaces. Conclusion is useful in eliminating the of a unified Holocaust narrative, scholars miss out on learning important insights of the o contributes to a silencing of their voices, especially on issues that are already spoken about less, such as sexual assault. The ways in which Jewish women formed groups were fairly unique to their gender. Women tended to bond together over some common link: language, location, family, education, or any other commonality could create a meaningful relationship between women that could serve to help both parties involved. Groups tended to be fairly small, containing about eight people at their biggest, and the dynamics within the group were usually balanced between supportive dependent relationships. Women would help each other attain food for physical well being, and they would often share stories about food as well as recipes in order to stay positive a nd hopeful for the end of the war. A spiritual leader was often found in groups of women,


74 and she was the designated person who would initiate optimistic behavior. Though not all groups had specific role assigning, usually a spiritual leader would naturall y emerge. Reproductive issues also affected female prisoners in ways that males would never experience. Pregnant women faced immediate danger, so they were forced to find methods to eliminate the pregnancy or else risk death for themselves. To this end, D r. Gisela Perl and others like her worked to offer secret abortions for women in order to save their lives. Finally, cases of sexual assault were unaffected by grouping. Sexual violence was particularly alienating for Jewish women prisoners who had been r aised to believe that the victim always had a choice in the matter. Victim blaming is a prevalent theme in memoirs that discuss sexual assault, and so many women experienced shame and self blame after abuse. The experience was isolating, and group forming did little to alleviate that pressure.


75 Conclusion In conclusion, this thesis examines the socialization of Jewish women in the years preceding World War II and presents evidence of social patterns that formed among these women during the Holocaust. Though some historians have studied the role of community among Jewish women in captivity, few scholars have prioritized Jewish scholarship, and this thesis aims to explore more of the female experience that is missed in the predominantly male Holocaust narrative. Group forming appears in many female survivor accounts where it is almost always missing in those of males. This thesis examines such accounts as well as th e background history in order to understand the context from which they emerged to prove that women were more likely to cooperate together than males because of their socialization prior to the war. Scholars have debated the value of isolating one gender in academic studies of the Holocaust. The dominant narrative is that of the male experience, and though this omits half of the population that suffered under Nazi oppression, some historians do not feel that studying the female experience should be priorit ized. These scholars believe that studying only one gender lessens the suffering experienced by the targeted group as a whole. Newer works that disagree with this opinion have emerged during the last twenty years to defend the study of gendered Holocaust h istory. These sources argue that by and the total suffering of all is not diminished but rather understood in a different light. Unsurprisingly, most of the secondary sources used in this thesis were written by female scholars.


76 Before the war, European Jews lived mainly in two types of societies. Those in Eastern Europe tended to live in more rural areas, especially in small, secluded villages called shtetls. Shtetl re sidents maintained a traditional religious lifestyle with agrarian and craft working industries and little contact with people outside the village. Gender roles were strictly defined by Jewish traditions: men controlled business and maintained pious religi based handiwork to bring in money. Women in shtetls were not permitted to join their husbands in religious observances; rather, they formed social groups with other women base d on domestic tasks and work opportunities. Jews living in cities mostly in Central and Western Europe were usually city residents, living among non Jewish citizens in urban neighborhoods. Compared to their Eastern European counterparts, they were fairly well assimilated into society, at least in terms of physical integration. Jewish identity in these area s is complicated to understand, but many survivors have expressed a sense of shock regarding Nazi impositions on their freedoms because they considered themselves equal citizens with non Jews. They tended to be considerably less religious than Jews living in shtetls so gender roles were interpreted more liberally. Though their main duties resided in the domestic sphere, Jewish women were more likely to be educated through college. They tended to lead similar lives as non Jewish women in their community wit hout being prohibited by religious restrictions they might have faced in a more traditional setting. However, as more and more restrictions were imposed on urban Jews, women began to associate more amongst themselves, forming social groups so that they wou ld not feel ostracized from


77 the greater community. This tendency to group together came out of different needs than women in shtetls but it occurred nonetheless. Beginning in 1939, European Jews were forced to move from their communities into ghettos com prised of secluded city districts where residents were required to live. Ghetto residences were extremely cramped and the living conditions and infrastructure were far from acceptable. Residents were forced to give up their businesses and mostly everybody lived i n p o v e r t y Ghetto populations were constantly shifting as people were brought in and then deported to camps throughout Eastern Europe, but it can be estimated that approximately half of the ghetto residents at any given point were female Men and women in the ghettos were forced to redefine their gender roles and previous obligations toward friends and work. Women in particular responded uniquely to their new priorities depending on their status as a family member or as the only one respo nsible for herself. Women who were wives and mothers tended to shift their focus inward toward the family rather than reach outward for social support. The need for adequate shelter and food consumed the time in which women might have spent forming social groups and working together. Women who entered the ghetto without family did work together and formed small communities amongst themselves in order to create a sense of a surrogate family, especially in regard to caring for orphaned children in the ghetto. The next stop for most ghetto residents was to one of the 20,000 concentration revealed more of a return to their lives before the war. Immediately upon arrival, women were separated from their husbands, children, and other family members. They lived in deplorable conditions among other women and were forced to perform manual labor


78 while enduring physical hardships such as extreme starvation. In the setting of this crisis, wo together in order to provide each other with emotional support and mutual aid. This behavior is revealed in many facets of camp life, especially with regard to physical well bei ng and emotional strength. Women faced unique struggles due to the nature of their bodies, struggles that are often overlooked because men did not deal with the same issues. Reproductive health and ethical dilemmas regarding pregnancy and terminations were addressed among small groups of women who would direct those in need to those who could help. Women in groups would form supportive dependent relationships with each other and assign roles in order to keep morale high and instill a sense of purpose a n d h o p e among members. Interestingly, though women were at a much higher risk of sexual assault, they did not work together to discuss such issues or prevent them. Rather, women tended to blame the victim for allowing such violence to occur, and thus were not able to bo nd over the experience. This thesis has shown that socialization before the war influenced Jewish group forming was instrumental in aiding the well being and even the survi val of many. experiences deserve equal attention so that they can fill in a greater understanding of this were diverse range of experiences that occurred.


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