© Michel Fingerhut 1996-8 ^  


Andreas Lixl-Purcell:
Memoirs as History
in Leo Baeck Yearbook XXXIX, London 1994, p. 227-238 © Andreas Lixl-Purcell 1994
Reproduction interdite sauf pour usage personnel - No reproduction except for personal use only

We are very grateful to Professor Lixl-Purcell for allowing us to make this text available here.
Collections of women's narratives were recently published in the following anthologies: Women of Exile. German-Jewish Autobiographies Since 1933, ed. Andreas Lixl-Purcell. Westport, New York: Greenwood, 1988. Jewish Life in Germany. Memoirs from Three Centuries, ed. Monika Richarz. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991 (This volume contains numerous accounts by women). Erinnerungen deutsch-jüdischer Frauen 1900-1990, ed. Andreas Lixl-Purcell. Leipzig: Reclam, 1992. Überleben heißt Erinnern. Lebensgeschichten deutscher Juden, ed. Wolfgang Herzberg. Berlin: Aufbau, 1991 (half of the accounts in this book were written by women). For interpretations see Margaret L. Rossiter's study Women in the Resistance. Westport, New York, Greenwood, 1986; Marlene E. Heinemann's, Gender and Destiny. Women Writers and the Holocaust. Westport, New York: Greenwood Press, 1986; and a forthcoming study by Sybille Quack on women and the exile experience. The Personal Narratives Group (ed.). Interpreting Women's Lives. Feminist Theory and Personal Narratives. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989, p. 4. See Ellen S. Fine's excellent article on "Women Writers and the Holocaust. Strategies for Survival" in Reflections of the Holocaust in Art and Literature. Ed. Randolph L. Braham. Social Science Monographs, Boulder and The Csengeri Institute for Holocaust Studies. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990, p. 79-96. Consult the Ball-Kaduri collection of autobiographical texts located at the Yad Vashem library in Jerusalem, Israel. The Viennese archive collection, entitled "Dokumentation lebensgeschichtlicher Aufzeichnungen", contains more than 20 unpublished memoirs by Austrian Jews. The texts were collected by Dr. Albert Lichtblau and Dr. Therese Weber. A short list of Jewish women's autobiographies and memoirs published in German after 1989 includes: François Bondy, Mein dreiviertel Jahrhundert: Erinnerungen, Gespräche, Portraits. Ed. Iso Camartin. Zurich: Ammann, 1990; Ruth Fischer, Abtrünnig wider Willen. Ed. Peter Lübbe. Munich: Oldenbourg, 1990; Judith Kerr, Eine eingeweckte Kindheit. Berlin: Argon, 1990; Ruth Ludwig, Pistolen im Zucker: Ein Leben zwischen zwei Welten. Berlin: Ullstein, 1990; Sophie Freud, Meine drei Mütter und andere Leidenschaften. Düsseldorf: Claassen, 1989; Valeska Gert, Ich bin eine Hexe: Kaleidoskop meines Lebens. Munich: Droemer Knaur, 1989; Hilde Spiel, Die hellen und die finsteren Zeiten. Erinnerungen 1911-1946. Munich: List, 1989; Lotte Warburg, Eine vollkommene Närrin durch meine ewigen Gefühle. Ed. Wulf Rüskamp. Bayreuth: Druckhaus Bayreuth, 1989. See Doris Sommer, "Not Just a Personal Story" in Bella Brodzki and Celeste Schenk (eds.). Life/Lines. Theorizing Women's Autobiography. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988. p. 108f. Georges Gusdorf, "Conditions and Limits of Autobiography" in Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, ed. James Olney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980, p. 29. *rene Gruenbaum. "Escape through the Balkans". Unpublished manuscript at the Institute des Österreichischen Widerstands, translated by Katherine Morris. See the article by Katherine Morris in this volume of the Leo Baeck Yearbook. Hilde Domin, "Among Acrobats and Birds", quoted in Women of Exile. German-Jewish Autobiographies Since 1933, ed. by Andreas Lixl-Purcell. Westport; New York: Greenwood Press, 1988, p. 210. Charlotte Wolff, Hindsight. New York: Quartet Books, 1983, p. 161. Ellen Schoenheimer, "Refugee Life in France". In Women of Exile. German-Jewish Autobiographies Since 1933, ed. by Andreas Lixl-Purcell. Westport; New York: Greenwood Press, 1988, p. 109-120. For a more detailed discussion of this topic see Shari Benstock (ed.). The Private Self. Theory and Practice of Women's Autobiographical Writings. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1988. A good example of this narrative technique can be found in Lucie Begov's Holocaust autobiography Mit eigenen Augen. Botschaft einer Auschwitz-Überlebenden. Gerlingen: Bleicher, 1983. Gerda Klein, All But My Life. New York: Hill and Wang, 1957. p. 100. Irene Gruenbaum. "Escape through the Balkans". Unpublished manuscript at the Institute des Österreichischen Widerstands, translated by Katherine Morris. See the article by Katherine Morris in this volume of the Leo Baeck Yearbook. Inge Deutschkron (ed.). ... denn ihrer war die Hölle. Kinder in Gettos und Lagern. Cologne: Wissenschaft und Politik, 1985. See Charlotte Sachs, "Eine >Arisierung< in Holland" in Erinnerungen deutsch-jüdischer Frauen 1900-1990. Ed. Andreas Lixl-Purcell. Leipzig: Reclam-Verlag, 1992, chapter 18, p. 257-262. Thekla Kauffmann, "Auswanderung: Erinnerungen 1933-1947" (1967). Manuscript, memoir collection, Leo Baeck Institute. Margarete Stern, "Wien-Manila (Philippinen)". Manuscript 01/178, Ball-Kaduri collection, Yad Vashem. Published in German in Erinnerungen deutsch-jüdischer Frauen 1900-1990, ed. Andreas Lixl-Purcell. Leipzig: Reclam, 1992. Hertha Beuthner, "Meine persönlichen Aufzeichnungen" (1946). Manuscript, memoir collection, Leo Baeck Institute. An excerpt from this text was published in Erinnerungen deutsch-jüdischer Frauen 1900-1990, ed. Andreas Lixl-Purcell. Leipzig: Reclam, 1992, p. 280-298. See the chapter "Female-Centered Themes: Anatomy and Destiny" in Marlene E. Heinemann's, Gender and Destiny. Women Writers and the Holocaust. Westport, New York: Greenwood Press, 1986, p. 13-35. Women of Exile. German-Jewish Autobiographies Since 1933. Ed. Andreas Lixl-Purcell. Westport; New York: Greenwood Press, 1988, p. 84. Marlene E. Heinemann, Gender and Destiny. Women Writers and the Holocaust. Westport, New York: Greenwood Press, 1986, p. 27. Fania Fénelon, Playing For Time. New York: Atheneum, 1977, p. 158. Paula Littauer, "Jewish Survivors' Report No. 5, "My Experiences during the Persecution of the Jews in Berlin and Brussels 1939-1944" (1945). Manuscript. Ball-Kaduri collection. Yad Vashem. An excerpt of this text can be found in Women of Exile. German-Jewish Autobiographies Since 1933. Ed. Andreas Lixl-Purcell. Westport, New York: Greenwood Press, 1988, p. 133-147. Marlene E. Heinemann's, Gender and Destiny. Women Writers and the Holocaust. Westport, New York: Greenwood Press, 1986, p. 23. See also Sybil Milton, "Women and the Holocaust" in When Biology became Destiny. Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany. Bridenthal, Renate et.al. (eds.). New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984, p. 299f. Regarding the renewed interest in women's autobiographies and biographies see the "Introduction" to Revealing Lives. Autobiography, Biography and Gender. Susan Groag Bell and Marilyn Yalom (eds.) Albany: SUNY Press, 1990, p. 1-11. For an excellent interdisciplinary exploration of feminist theories and personal narratives see the research anthology Interpreting Women's Lives. Ed. The Personal Narratives Group. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. Valuable historical insights concerning the specificity of the Holocaust and the uses of memory can be found in Judith Miller's One by One by One. Facing the Holocaust. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1990.

I. Women's Memoirs and the Study of Holocaust History

Given the wealth of Jewish memoir literature focusing on Nazi-Germany, exile and the Holocaust, the occasional factual shortcomings of individual recollections should not stand in the way of their reception as primary historical sources. This is particularly true of women's autobiographies written during and after the Holocaust. Women's recollections extend our knowledge of Jewish history through their focus on gender specific issues surrounding ethnic persecution, destruction and resistance. The attention to gender based concerns within women's narratives permeates the organization of personal and professional accounts, family histories, children's fates and destinies, as well as Holocaust documentaries and testimonies of sexual subjugation, violence and mutilation.

Women's survivor literature provides us with different documentary perspectives based on alternative patterns of experience.1 From the historical point of view women's memoirs contain a wealth of new information about their social and political networks which often illuminate an entirely different dialectic of resistance and survival. Written against the grain of gender indifferent historiography, women's memoirs, diaries, and letters draw unsettling new profiles of the past, and thus launch provocative interpretations of women's roles, fates, and destinies.

One of the most important differences between women's testimonials and other documentary genres from this period is precisely the insistence of women survivors on revealing relationships among forms of oppression, and among those who suffered or profited from it. Attention to the details of everyday life, emphasis on the gender politics of the camps, focus on the fate of dependents, identification with other women and their families provide the reader with unique historical data. By focusing on external circumstances and their tragic impact on individuals, a privileged access to an experience emerges, the female experience in particular2, that no other historical genre can provide.

Moreover, women's documentaries prove doubly important for the study of Holocaust history and literature. From the semiotic point of view, the emergence of women's Holocaust autobiographies marks an important turning point in the development from modern to postmodern memoir literature. For the first time in literary history, a whole generation of women writers consciously focused on gender specific patterns of narration in favor of presenting new conceptual models that highlight women's experiences in history.

The importance of women's memoir literature within Jewish historiography, and the history of the women's movement in particular, is reflected in the recognition that the lack of one's own literature would perpetuate a primary form of political oppression. By deciding to speak with their own voices, to write about their own lives, and to interpret their own experiences in the form of memoirs, testimonials, and chronicles, women have empowered themselves as mediators of historical knowledge, and thus appropriated new roles of political behavior. To be sure, women have always written memoirs, but most women autobiographers before the Holocaust were noted professionals, dancers, writers, doctors, actors, artists, or politicians. Married and single women from all walks of life without fame or fortune, however, seldom before had offered their lives to public view.

The collective determination to break out of the historical molds of silence and submission is one of the most striking features of women's Holocaust and exile autobiographies written after 1933. Current and future Jewish scholarship needs to recognize as landmark legacies the importance of women's narratives towards illuminating the gender specific aspects3 of the struggles of Jewish communities in times of persecution and imprisonment.

By far the largest and most up to date Jewish women's memoir collection available today can be found at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York. The archives contain well over 120 personal accounts of German-Jewish women who fled from Nazi-Germany or who survived the Holocaust camps. The Houghton Library at Harvard University holds another collection of recollections, submitted in 1940 for an essay contest entitled "My Life in Germany before and after January 30, 1933". These historical documents were written in both English and German and present a close up view of women's experiences inside the Third Reich and in exile. Unique to this collection is the fact that these narratives were collected before the final stage of the Nazi-Holocaust had begun, and the authors were thus not yet aware of the full dimension of death and destruction they had escaped.

The third collection contains the transcripts of a post-war oral-history project in many languages initiated by the Wiener Library in London and the Yad Vashem archives in Jerusalem.4 Among the texts are unusually descriptive accounts by German-Jewish women who managed to escape the Nazi terror during the height of the war. A fourth memoir collection was assembled by the Sociology Department at the University of Vienna5 and the Center for Anti-Semitism Research at the Technical University in Berlin. It primarily contains accounts from Austrian Jews, among them more than twenty women, whose recollections were compiled by Dr. Albert Lichtblau during the 1980's. All together, these four collections hold well over 350 documents written by women from all walks of life that illuminate every aspect of Holocaust history.

The full spectrum of these autobiographical texts ranges from personal histories, witness' accounts, court depositions, oral reports, private diaries and letters on the one hand to polished autobiographies including family histories, retrospectives and historical reflections on the other. The unpublished texts available in these archives document women's social, cultural, and political activities before and after emigration, the gender based discrimination patterns operating against them inside and outside of Germany, the isolated struggles of individuals within the Nazi Gulag, their survival strategies, and their involvement with resistance movements. Most of these memoirs were written during or shortly after the war, others as recently6 as the late 1980's.

Not paternalism or sensationalism prompted women survivors to write their histories and to speak about the most difficult times of their lives. What motivated them was not only the wish to offer inspiration and advice to younger generations but also the urgency to propagate individual truths, and the lessons of their personal sufferings, disillusionments, and achievements. Their memoirs were written neither for personal growth, nor for glory but are offered instead to a broad public as part of a general strategy7 to overcome the dehumanizing history of racism, sexism and oppression.

For most women authors, writing their autobiographies was a distinctly political act requiring careful justification. The common autobiographical objectives center foremost on the mobilization of historical memory in order to expose the processes of victimization and the possibilities of resistance against all odds. Read from this vantage point, women's memoirs can be understood as part of a larger struggle for solidarity and self determination among oppressed and silenced groups. As one autobiographer put it: "We have our whole lives to tell, lives that have been censored, repressed, and suppressed from official versions of history, literature and culture." Women in their texts often point beyond the dialectic of resistance and capitulation, and, as autobiographies, these texts might thus be seen as a "revenge on history"8 and the destruction it caused.

II. Characteristics of Women's Holocaust and Exile Memoirs

One of the recurrent characteristics of women's Holocaust and exile autobiographies is an open-ended structure which doesn't always adhere to chronological and linear orders of presentation. The narratives often follow bird's eye perspectives designed to illuminate the ruptures between childhood memories and adult retrospectives from a vantage point above the devastated biographical landscapes. This process of inter-weaving past and present comes across in a passage by Irene Gruenbaum9 (Katherine Moriss' article in this volume of the yearbook focuses on Gruenbaum's memoirs), who described the patterns of her memory in this way: "My thoughts become entangled, they rush back and forth, remembering again and again the people whom I once knew and loved, who no longer exist. They are around me while I write. I feel their presence."

What makes women's autobiographies so interesting is the fact that rather than evoking the suffering during the war years they juxtapose the present with what preceded it in the past. The vignettes of life before the Holocaust are offered to situate the reader in a present which otherwise would reflect no historical continuity at all. These non-conformist narrative formats transport the conviction that the discourse of struggle and resistance can only be reconstructed in an open-ended and syncretic process of trial, error, and defiance.

Reflecting on this learning and healing process, Hilde Domin, a noted post-war poet10 who had escaped from Germany to the Dominican Republic in 1940, offered the following metaphor for the ruptured contours of her life in exile and thereafter:

I, Hilde Domin, am amazingly young. I was born in 1951, crying, as everyone does at birth. It was not in Germany, even though German was my mother tongue. Spanish was spoken, and many coconut palms grew in the garden around our house. More precisely, there were eleven palms, all male trees and hence without fruit. My parents were dead when I was borne. My mother had died a few weeks earlier.

But, of course, I had always been there. "Always" goes back to just before the so-called first war. Of course my parents were alive then, of course German was spoken, the nursemaid whom I remember was certainly no mulatto, and entirely ordinary trees grew on the boulevard in front of the house, maples, I believe. In front of the house there stood and still stands a small Japanese almond tree. The maples have been cut down. Nevertheless, the street was much wider when I was a child. At least twice as wide.

When I, Hilde Domin, opened my eyes, tear-reddened, in that house on the edge of the world where pepper and sugar and mango trees grow, but a rose only with difficulty, and apples, and wheat, and birches not at all, I was orphaned and exiled. But I arose and went home into the word. "I fixed myself a room in the air, among acrobats and birds." From where I can not be exiled. ...

For many authors, the attempts to reconnect the mosaics of their memories and to break the rings of silence and isolation resulted in conscious postures of self-affirmation and social critique, a narrative practice that permeates the entire genre of texts. By questioning the popular images of women's dependencies and vulnerabilities, and by overcoming outdated models of female identity, many memoir writers constructed different notions of autonomy and destiny.

The recognition that the culturally prescribed female role models offered few solutions to the problems of their lives convinced many authors to experiment with new autobiographical formats capable of documenting their personal experiences as well as their political insights. In the following excerpt from her memoir "Hindsight", Charlotte Wolff11 reflects on her attempts to overcome social restrictions, and to live on the resources of her own "intelligence and wits":

We are many persons in one, and contradictory drives can bring spice and confusion into one's life. I had enough spice and a great deal of confusion in my early days in London. Life was like a motion picture, constantly changing in scenery and faces. [...] People who live uneasily in a world of their own need crutches to get along in the world around them. The roles of women and men have started to be interchangeable, which will lead to a better, balanced society in the future. But in the social plight of our age we have to reconcile ourselves to half measures. We are forced to use multiple personalities like players acting different plays.
Embracing new behavior patterns and reinventing one's identity and purpose in life removed not only the loyalty to obsolete social codes, but also the obligation to adhere to established topologies of power. What was judged as subversive and unconventional, renegade and provocative behavior in pre-Holocaust times suddenly became the generator for a new sense of security and new strategies for survival. Women who survived the Holocaust or exile never speak of resistance as something apart from survival. To be alive meant to have resisted the terrors of their times.

Another feature of women's memoirs is the attempt of the writers to appear as objective as possible in presenting the history of their lives. This intention is reflected in the avoidance of emotional displays, and the refrain from personal or political accusations so as not to offend the reader by being too angry, or by showing too much outrage. Their refusal to be inflammatory is truly remarkable. The authors rely instead on the extraordinary histories of their odysseys to expose the crimes and horrors of the Nazi genocide.

An example of this objective style of reporting can be found in the short autobiographical text by Ellen Schoenheimer, whose account focuses on the family's ordeal in France after Hitler's invasion in 1940. Schoenheimer's text12 describes the plight of a mother who rescues her son, Pierre, after a German bomb attack of a Jewish refugee convoy south of Paris, where the youngster suffered a most dangerous bullet wound to his head. Despite the devastation all around her, the mother succeeded in rushing Pierre to a nearby French catholic hospital where she volunteered to work as an unpaid nurse in order to stay at her son's side. About her experiences in this hospital she reports the following facts:

I asked after two weeks if the child would ever be able to move his head again, and the doctor replied: "You ask too many questions, I do not even know if the child will live." If one knows these catholic hospitals, one understands that this reply was not prompted by a lack of compassion. It is their faith that makes them so outspoken. The doctor told me from the beginning: "There is no more hope!" That meant since he did not see any hope for the child, he as a human could not do anything. The decision was up to God, the doctors could only assist the patients by easing their pain, but not more, help must come from God. This attitude results in a lack of action in severe cases, contrary to other hospitals, where an attempt is made to influence the condition by injections, blood transfusions or oxygen.

But the turn came all the same. Maybe it all sounds slightly exaggerated on paper - but after all these weeks, my nerves were overwrought. On account of the illness of another nurse, I was transferred to the ward for severe infectious diseases. I was not happy about it because it meant that I would only be able to see Pierre at night, after I had changed my cloths, since I was not permitted to go from one ward into another. There I took care for five days of a very intelligent nine-year-old girl. Her condition was deteriorated and she consisted only of skin, bones and gorgeous blond curls which fell out the moment one touched her head. The doctors prescribed "remedies" and one morning towards eleven o'clock, there was foam on her lips, and I, who had never met such a situation before, called the head nurse, who folded the hands of the little girl, and asked me if I wanted to help her. Not knowing what that implied, I answered in the affirmative. Then I had to wash the body, to dress her, to put a thin chain with a cross around the neck and a bow in the hair, to wrap the body in a sheet and to lay it out in the mortuary. Then I had to call the parents. I do not know how I accomplished all this. I had only one thought - today it is this little girl's turn, tomorrow it might be my son's - and this gave me the strength to face the ordeal.

Many women's autobiographies show an implied and often explicit plural subject rather than the singular subject associated with conventional autobiographies. Women's sense of self is often more continuous with others which allows them to experience themselves "relationally".13 There is a pronounced emphasis by women authors on their interconnectedness with other people and their histories rather than on the trials and struggles of the self.

The narrator's relationship to her social environment establishes herself as a particular individual whose fate resembles that of many others. Letting other voices speak and be heard in women's testimonials restores the voices of all those who forfeited theirs. This positioning of the author allows for a special relationship with the reader who is called into the text as silent confidant14 without having to assume an identity with the writer or the group around her.

III. Women's Memoirs as Historical and Political Learning Tools

When women emigrés and survivors of the Holocaust narrate their life stories, we can hardly place the results in the traditional category of memoir literature. Rather, these intensely lived testimonials offer a striking mixture of private, political and historical lessons. Women's Holocaust and exile memoirs confront the reader with alternative models of female autonomy and identity. Social relationships between women and men, and between women and women changed drastically in times of persecution and imprisonment. For women, this often led to an intensification, strengthening and deepening of their relationships with each other, and to new forms of political solidarity and collaboration among themselves.

When exile and the Holocaust did not break up and destroy personal bonds between women, it often enhanced the process leading to a greater degree of self-reliance. Gerda Klein's Holocaust memoir15 entitled "All But My Life" reveals such a learning process based on courage and assertiveness. In a revealing passage, Klein reflects on a surprising display of her own defiance and fearlessness while confronting a corrupt camp official. She projects an aggressive attitude that seemed very much unlike her former timid self and finally acknowledges the new role and strength as her own:

I was thoroughly shaken. I hardly knew myself. I had never spoken like that. I had never felt like that. I was different in a thousand ways from yesterday. But the knowledge that such strength was within me gave me the courage to go on.
Women's memoirs often reflect the emergence of a feminist awareness and a new sense of cultural and social independence that is manifested in critical stances towards patriarchal behavior. Especially women living on their own resources in exile had to learn quickly how to assert themselves in a man's world. Irene Gruenbaum16 was one of them, and she remembers an incident in Albania, where she met a group of fellow refugees outside a Jewish meeting place. The men were engaged in conversation but when she approached they suddenly fell silent. Angrily, she confronted them about their boys club mentality.
Do you think it is right to keep information from me that is perhaps as important for my life as it is for yours and your family? Does it hurt your pride, that a woman wants to take part in your men's discussion? Have you forgotten that [my husband] is not with me, and that I have to think for myself?"
Women's memoirs illuminate better than other historical sources the significance of women's contributions to the internal fabric of Jewish communities in Germany and in exile. Nowhere else do we encounter more detailed portraits of feminist networks and support groups. And nowhere else but in women's memoirs do we learn more concerning the fate of children, the tragedies of their deportations, or the burden of their emigration, education and acculturation abroad. Inge Deutschkron, for example, in her excellent anthology17 entitled "... denn ihrer war die Hölle. Kinder in Gettos und Lagern" provides us with rare accounts of children's fates in the Nazi Gulag. In this and many other historical case studies, women's works provide the only available accounts of what happened to children and their mothers who vanished in the Holocaust.

Furthermore, the Yad Vashem files in Jerusalem contain several dozen reports of single and married women who succeeded in saving their children as well as their relatives from the clutches of the Nazi bureaucracy. For instance, one of the most remarkable stories concerning the courageous rescue of a Jewish girl in the Netherlands can be found in her mother's autobiography. Charlotte Sachs18 describes in painstaking detail her family's ordeal in Amsterdam where she approached a branch of the "German Aryanization Commission" in 1942 in order to save her 15 year-old Jewish daughter from arrest and deportation. She fabricated the story that the child was fathered by an "aryan" German whom she had dated years ago in Berlin but who had since migrated to the United States. The mother's efforts succeeded in registering the girl for a "racial-biological examination" by Nazi doctors who concluded that, based on her blond hair and germanic looks, she must indeed be a so-called "Mischling 1. Grades". This bold strategy saved her daughter from wearing the yellow star and subsequently from certain deportation to Auschwitz.

Another case of courage and initiative involves Thekla Kauffmann19 whose testimony at the Leo Baeck Institute offers a unique look at the strategies of the "Relief Agency for German Jews" in Stuttgart between 1936 and 1941. Kauffmann, a former member of the Wurttemberg state parliament and a vocal activist in the women's movement single handedly launched a successful rescue operation of German-Jewish children to the United States. Her skillful advice and legal assistance in obtaining emigration permits, affidavits, and exit visas saved more than 200 youngsters from Nazi persecution.

There are numerous other reports that document the extent of women's participation in rescue operations that are still hidden in history. Margarete Stern,20 a young housewife and mother of two children, tells about her volunteer work in the Viennese Kultusgemeinde where she succeeded in saving her husband and several other men who had been arrested after the Kristallnacht-Pogrom in 1938. Risking her own life, she deleted their names from deportation lists, and substituted the names of Jewish men who had already fled the country shortly before the lists were drawn up. Her witness account is also the only known historical source describing the fate of the Jewish exile community in the Philippines. Stern was one of the very few refugees from Europe who survived the brutal treatment of the Japanese after their occupation of Manila. The pain and shame surrounding Stern's imprisonment caused her not to elaborate on any gender specific aspects of her torments except by stating that "I don't want to speak about the tortures and horrors of this time, other than saying that more than 90 percent [of us] in Fort Santiago did not survive imprisonment. "

Coming to terms with the dehumanizing issues surrounding the Holocaust and exile life became crucial for the struggle for survival, and frequently became the central theme of women's memoirs. One of the common denominators of the varied testimonial genres is the conscious decision to challenge the cultural and literary traditions, even then, when this challenge might not have been explicitly intended.

IV. The Added Dimension: Gender Generated Patterns of Persecution

What makes women's memoirs so interesting and important for our understanding of Holocaust history is that they focus on the lesser known dimensions of this tragedy. To be sure, most accounts tell of hardships and fear, of desperation and courage, of perseverance and humiliation, of external and internal conditions surrounding life in the camps and in exile. Yet, women's autobiographies portray an added sense of victims' vulnerabilities. Women faced the ordeals of deportation and transplantation in different ways than men. Women often had to overcome overt patterns of sexual discrimination operating against them inside Germany as well as in male dominated exile communities.

Hertha Beuthner21 describes such ordeals in the Jewish ghetto in Shanghai, where, as a single women, she was not able to rent a room of her own. Instead, she was forced to move in with other refugee families or work as a live-in-maid in other homes where she was constantly harassed by the men of the house.

The dynamics of gender based socialization and oppression emerges much more clearly in women's narratives. Abuse and exploitation by SS-officials as instruments of terror and control involved primarily women.22 The themes of sexual violence and humiliation are therefore constant fixtures in most of the works written by and about women. In many aspects, women's sexuality constituted an additional dimension of Nazi persecution. Their memoirs document how the machinery of destruction did single them out as women, as wives and as mothers. There are frequent references how Nazi bureaucrats took advantage of their vulnerabilities as single women, as caretakers of their families or as guardians of their children.

Annemarie Wolfram23 relates such a case of sexual harassment in her autobiographical account deposited at the Houghton Library in 1940. It concerns the victimization of her mother and other women by Gestapo officers as seen through the eyes of a young daughter. While working to obtain emigration visas for her imprisoned husband, herself and the children, the mother was forced to cooperate with the Nazi bureaucracy, and one officer in particular, who knew how to exploit the situation on sexual terms. The daughter reports the following episode:

A few of Mom's women friends said they thought that Mom's particular Gestapo officer was unusually nice and friendly. When Mom heard this she laughed full of bitterness, "I call this the friendliness of a cannibal. It's written all over his face how overjoyed he feels with anticipation. As if he were thinking: 'How appetizing she is looking. How good she will taste.' And Mommy was right. One time the guy said to her, "We know each other very well by now, don't we. I can see, you are wearing a different blouse today. You really look very attractive in it." [...] Mom cried.
Sexuality played a crucial role in the history of Jewish persecution and annihilation, one which may not be overlooked in the portrayal of the overall destruction. Women's memoirs provide us with detailed descriptions of gender based discrimination that constantly threatened their survival. Marlene Heinemann's excellent study "Gender and Destiny. Women Writers and the Holocaust" provides a thorough investigation of sexual abuse cases reported in the literature. Although the exchange of sex for greater survival odds in the camps was also part of the male experience, Heinemann24 points out that sexual exploitation as an instrument of power was primarily directed towards female inmates. A quote25 from Fania Fénelon's autobiography "Playing For Time" underscores the brutality and gender specificity of such abuse in the camps:
A couple of months previous, [commander Tauber] had brought a thousand women out into the snow, lined them up, entirely naked, in the freezing air, then moving along their ranks, lifted their breasts with the tip of his whip. Those whose breasts sagged went to the left, those whose breasts remained firm went to the right and were spared a little longer, except of course for those who perished from the cold.
The range of cases documenting women's gender based victimization defies the categorizations subsumed under the terms sexual abuse, assault, cruelty and rape. It should also be pointed out, that the physical and psychological traumas resulting from such brutalities must have prevented many women from ever reporting their case histories in writing.

Sometimes, however, women were able to rig the racism, sexism, and sadism of their tormenters in order to secure their own survival. There are a number of reported cases where women outsmarted the patriarchal system by turning their vulnerabilities into unique tools for escape. This became apparent when women exploited the role of sexual temptress in order to outmaneuver Nazi officials, and thus succeeded in overcoming their oppressors. Paula Littauer26 describes her tactics as a Jewish refugee, when she escaped from Berlin in 1943. She attempted to go across the border with a fake French passport. In order to save herself and her women friend from detection by Nazi customs officials on the train, she offered to pay a German prostitute to travel with her. At the border, the German woman began to flirt with the officer and seduced him at the right time in an adjacent train compartment. The scheme worked. Littauer slipped across the check point and survived the war as an illegal refugee in Belgium. The wit of women like her point to gender generated strategies of resistance based on resourcefulness and courage.

Sexuality, maternity, fertility, and its exploitation, experiences of relevance to women at all times, have a special importance in women's Holocaust history. In the context of mass death and compulsory sterility, the association of women with reproduction and the preservation of life confronted them with added torments. It is not surprising therefore that the trials of mothers and daughters figure prominently in many memoirs, which shed important new light27 on a still obscure dimension of Holocaust history.

V. Conclusion: More Memoir Research

The legacies of women's memoirs extend well beyond the established paradigms of remembrance. Besides accounting for the objective, factual, and historical reality, women's memoirs succeed in infusing our understanding of the Shoa with a new gender based specificity without which the historical realm would remain remote and abstract. The dehumanizing history of persecution, oppression, and destruction of Jewish life did very much differentiate between the sexes. Rather than abstracting from these differences in order to distill universal historical lessons, we need to focus more on the distinct circumstances separating male and female experiences. Only if we understand the added restrictions and the disadvantages women faced especially during these times, can we begin to reconstruct the suffering, renunciation and strength that are all too easily forgotten. It is the vicissitudes of real people, a mother, a father, brothers or sisters from whom younger generations of readers can grasp a vicarious validation of their own place in history. Perhaps this is the reason why the public reception28 of autobiographies and biographies is proliferating as never before.

Without understanding the private, the human, and the individual cost of this tragedy, the significance of Shoa history can not be grasped. As much as objective interpretations may succeed in providing us with analytical insights into the barbarism that informed Nazi politics, they can not supply us with subjective and emotional frameworks. But it is exactly this private sense of solidarity and identification with the victims of the Holocaust that establishes a contextual bridge to understanding the past. The authenticity, solidarity, and credibility which these memoirs project to the public at large offer unique historical sources for teaching the memory of the Holocaust.

No more powerful tools exist to describe the human condition than personal narratives. To be sure, memoir literature sometimes contains inaccurate historical information when it comes to dates, names, and facts, but it would be a mistake indeed, were we to judge these texts as any other documentary literature. Holocaust memoirs contain more than the conventional blend of fact and fiction. They should not be interpreted only in terms of their historical accuracy or their literary qualities. The dehumanizing of history that surrounds the Shoa can only be conquered by humanizing its memory. Rather than focusing on the mere chronology of events, this literature teaches us a different knowledge of Holocaust history, one which personalizes its tragedies and commemorates its victims. In the broad reception of these memoirs lies our best hope that future generations will indeed learn how to avoid the catastrophes of the past.

It is for women like Irene Gruenbaum, Paula Littauer, Charlotte Sachs, Margarete Stern and the silent others they represent, as well as for ourselves, that we should continue to study their lives and preserve their memories. They express modes of thoughts and experiences vastly different from our own. As we cast our communicative nets ever wider, searching for those close as well as those far away, the spectrum of voices from otherwise obscure individuals helps us learn tolerance for differences as well as for similarities. What better place to continue the dialog29 about the gender specificity of Holocaust history, human nature and the nature of human possibilities.


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