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  • A Response to Gabriel Schoenfeld
  • Sara R. Horowitz

Gabriel Schoenfeld has read my essay attentively enough to object to the footnote in which I characterize his Commentary article as "ideologically driven." However, he is not correct in his complaint that in my brief discussion of his article I offer no evidence to support my use of that term. True, my essay does not put forward a detailed critique of Mr. Schoenfeld's Commentary article (perhaps this is what so piques the journalist), nor will I do so here, for reasons that will become clear. In response to his letter, I am prepared to elaborate upon what I wrote and to correct the more egregious errors he makes regarding my essay.

I distinguish ideological bias from open inquiry and honest disagreement. I chose the term "ideologically driven" advisedly, and used it only with respect to Mr. Schoenfeld's Commentary article, but not any other work with which I took issue. I stand by this characterization. Mr. Schoenfeld expresses disappointment that I do not supply sufficient "evidence" to buttress my assertions concerning his ideological stance and the distorted reading it engenders. That evidence, however, is to be found in abundance both in the Commentary article and in his correspondence with Prooftexts.

As the Commentary piece makes clear, Mr. Schoenfeld likes neither women's studies nor gender studies, not one little bit. He sees no value in their various methodologies when applied to any field, and in particular when brought into the compass of the Holocaust. The a priori judgment against an entire field and set of [End Page 279] and "target[ing] the male sex." Although he may arrange his highly selective (and often decontextualized) array of quotations to reflect his opinion, his criticism is nonetheless based on a false premise and does not represent the state of the field. One need look no further than the essays in the special issue of Prooftexts to see this.

Mr. Schoenfeld is certainly entitled not to like gender studies, and to object to its importation into studies of the Holocaust. But if his ideas are to be taken seriously, he must criticize it honestly and not merely write a prickly pastiche.

Moreover, one need look no further than Mr. Schoenfeld's letter to the editors of Prooftexts to conclude that he deliberately misreads when it suits his purpose. For example, given the close scrutiny that Mr. Schoenfeld tendered my essay, it is surprising that he should point to my "claim" (his word) that "Ringelblum's words . . . lend . . . posthumous approval, as it were, to the project" (my words, his ellipses) of gender studies, and indignantly accuse me of "grave robbery." The words he cites occur in a portion of the essay that analyzes rhetorical and strategic uses of Emmanuel Ringelblum's injunction "to dedicate a proper page to the Jewish woman" (Ringelblum's words) by both proponents and critics of studies of women in the Holocaust. I noted that the ghetto chronicler's words figured importantly but differently in these works. By cropping my original statement and displaying it out of context, Schoenfeld distorts my meaning, falsifying what I wrote so that he can discredit it. This is what I actually wrote:

Interestingly, proponents as well as critics of studies of women in the Holocaust frequently invoke Ringelblum's injunction to study the position and experiences of women in ghettos. . . . In support of gender studies, the citation from Ringelblum's ghetto writing functions rhetorically to disarm potential criticism. Ringelblum's words authorize the writing at hand, lending posthumous approval, as it were, to the project. A focus on women, so construed, does not present a feminist or postmodern imposition on material alien to it, but a belated fulfillment of the desires of ghetto inhabitants. . . . Conversely, in criticism attacking gender-focused studies, Ringelblum's words affirm the possibility of [End Page 281] arriving at an "honest" study of the various kinds of Jews, a possibility contrasted with the studies at hand, seen as ideologically driven.

(Prooftexts 20 [winter/spring 2000]: 182)

The topic sentence makes it quite plain that, contrary to Mr. Schoenfeld's assertion, I do not regard Ringelblum as belonging exclusively to either side...


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