- Experience and Expression: Women, the Nazis, and the Holocaust
This excellent multi-disciplinary anthology presents a selection of essays, all from a feminist perspective, concerning women in the Holocaust. For professionals in Holocaust studies, the volume provides a thorough overview of the field and its controversies; for the newcomer to feminist studies of the Holocaust, it provides lively essays in clear, accessible language. At the heart of Experience and Expression is an interest in tackling theoretical issues, particularly the questions of why studies of women in the Holocaust are necessary and what gendered approaches to the Holocaust studies can teach us. The introduction provides a 13-page history of "gendered approaches" to the Holocaust, while Part I presents a pair of essays suggesting a theoretical framework for gendered study. John K. Roth's essay defends the inclusion of women in Holocaust studies against those who, like Gabriel Schoenfeld, find gender studies "witless and malicious" (p. 6). [End Page 144] Roth argues that since good teaching and research about the Holocaust demand "particularity"—a close attention to details—then a study of women's lives during the Holocaust is both "legitimate and necessary" (p. 6). Pascale Rachel Bos addresses the question of how to address gender in Holocaust literature. She posits that men and women "experience, remember, and recount events differently" (p. 33). Bos's categories become the basis for the sectional divisions of the book.
Part II, "Women' Experiences: Gender, the Nazis, and the Holocaust," focuses exclusively on non-Jewish women, both victims and perpetrators. Four essays address Roma and Sinti (Gypsy) women, Polish slave laborers in Germany, German nurses involved with the Nazi euthanasia program, and a postwar nurses's trial at Hadamar. Part III, "Gender and Memory: The Uses of Memoirs," includes four essays on French resistance, gendered responses to hunger, Tikkun Atzmi (mending of the self), and Anne Frank as inspirational victim. Despite the title's emphasis on memoirs, the essays in this section go beyond memoirs strictly defined to include diaries, fictional autobiographies, and personal interviews. Part IV, "Women's Expressions: Postwar Reflections in Art, Fiction, and Film," offers three essays on art installations, gendered coping strategies in American fiction, and sexuality in literature and film of the Holocaust. This section reinforces themes and topics also covered earlier in the anthology, such as food fantasies, resistance, and the diary of Anne Frank.
Three essays will serve to suggest the scope of this book, two from the section on Experience and one from the section on Memory. Historian Anna Rosmus, the figure behind "the nasty girl" in the film of that title, focuses on "Involuntary Abortions for Polish Forced Laborers." Curious about two mass graves near her home town of Passau, Germany, she pursues their history through documents and interviews with former slave laborers whom she is able to locate. Her research reveals a program of forced abortions for Polish laborers "organized by the Nazi state, nationwide" (p. 77). Children of Polish forced laborers were murdered, as well, in so-called "children's homes," where they were victims of tainted food. Rosmus notes that the local population protested the expansion of the cemetery to bury these children and, in the 1950s, eradicated all signs of the mass graves, pulling down crosses and planting trees. Later, a vacation cottage was built on the site. This article, fueled by a fiery sense of outrage, is noteworthy for its careful treatment of a little-known and difficult-to-document topic and for its effort to capture both past and present attitudes toward the murders. Rosmus concludes with a lament for the "growing gap between reality and the way reality is represented" in Germany (p. 91).
Susan Benedict's essay, "Caring While Killing: Nursing in the 'Euthanasia' Centers," attempts to understand how nurses, most of whom were not Nazis, could have been persuaded to be involved in administering lethal doses of poison to patients. Benedict, herself Professor of Nursing at the Medical University of South Carolina, examines the cultural...