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Charlotte Delbo's Voice: The Conscious and Unconscious Determinants of a Woman Writer Nicole Thatcher Rentrer du camp rentrer dans le rang après l'histoire le tous les jours après le maquis le traintrain de la vie. [..·] Sortir de l'histoire pour entrer dans la vie essayez donc vous autres et vous verrez. (Mesure de nos jours, 82) THESE VERSES, WRITTEN AFTER Charlotte Delbo's return to France from Nazi concentration camps, encapsulate the considerable shift in the relationship of women with war brought by World War II. The total war character of this conflict gave women the opportunity to play an increasing role in the action: not only did they participate in the war effort through their work, but they also appeared as combatants, even in commanding positions in the case of the Soviet armed forces. Furthermore, as Billie Melman reminds us, with the German occupation of many countries, such as France in 1940, "the impact of the war on entire populations blurred the borderlines between 'front' and 'rear' in their gendered perspective,"1 allowing women, like men, to take an active part in the war in non-traditional ways, one being underground resistance. In this newly defined battlefield, women were able to make a personal decision to join the fight, with the accompanying risks of injury, arrest, imprisonment, torture and death. It was very consciously that Delbo chose to become involved in the French Communist resistance. Abandoning the South American tour of Louis Jouvet's theatrical company, in which she held the post of Jouvet's secretary, she rejoined her husband, Georges Dudach, in Paris, in November 1941. There, attached to the Communist underground resistance movement, they both worked at publishing clandestine material. Arrested by the French police in May 1942, and imprisoned in La Santé, they were transferred to the Gestapo. Dudach was executed in May 1942 and Delbo sent to Romainville prison, and from there to Auschwitz-Birkenau, in January 1943, in a convoy of 230 women. Delbo's involvement in the French resistance and her 35 months of capVol . XL, No. 2 41 L'Esprit Créateur tivity may have been a short period in her lifetime (1913-1985), but they were a watershed which affected her to the end of her life. In this essay, I aim to analyse how her writings reflect her war experience and what singularises them as feminine, although Delbo declared that she was not a woman in her writing.21 will look firstly, and more particularly, at the representation of her specific experience in a Nazi extermination-concentration camp, and secondly at her view of war, with its accompanying concepts of patriotism, sacrifice and heroism. The predominant representation of war in Delbo's writings is that of the Nazi concentrationary universe, and more particularly of Auschwitz-Birkenau : it is a firsthand account of her own and other women's experience. This character of participatory witness of war until recently was mainly the prerogative of men, and consequently "sets apart her representation, alongside that of other ex-detainee women writers." However, having segregated them, the Nazis did not treat women and men differently in concentration camps, and thus it would seem that a woman's account should be similar to a man's: women and men were both subjected to ill-treatment, strenuous physical and often senseless work, in abysmal conditions of hygiene, nutrition and accommodation . They were made to work to the limits of their physical strength, before dying of exhaustion, lack of food, water and medical care. However, as Marlene E. Heinemann remarks: "Even the most impartial and sensitive male observer will be unable to provide an inside picture of women's experiences in the Nazi camps, since male and female prisoners were segregated in separate camps."3 Thus the singularity of Delbo's representation results in part from the segregation of men from women. It is a convoy of women and a women's extermination camp, Birkenau, placed under the supervision of female guards and SS that Delbo makes us "see," in her trilogy Auschwitz et après4 in particular; it is her experience and that of other women detainees that she makes us share...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 41-51
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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