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Reviewed by:
  • Anglo-Jewish Women Writing the Holocaust: Displaced Witnesses
  • Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz, Chair, Graduate Program in Contemporary Jewry
Anglo-Jewish Women Writing the Holocaust: Displaced Witnesses, by Phyllis Lassner. Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. 225 pp. $75.00.

"Why is the Holocaust still being written?" writes Phyllis Lassner in the introduction to her book about Anglo-Jewish writers, poets, and artists who have dealt with the Holocaust in their creations. This serious question positions the book within the genre of research delving into the questions not only of "what" but of "why" various things have been written about the Holocaust in the past generation. Lassner has focused on a number of types of Holocaust related writings and their authors. One is the compositions of Holocaust refugees who reached Great Britain such as Karen Gershon and Lore Segal, and through them, the literature relating to the Kindertransports. However at the same time she also devoted chapters to writers of the second generation (children of Holocaust survivors) such as Anne Karpf and Lisa Appignanesi, and finally, to a number of British writers without a direct connection to the Holocaust who chose to write about the cataclysm such as Elaine Feinstein, Julia Pascal, and Sue Frumin.

Both the writers and the works that Lassner has chosen to examine in her erudite book are multifaceted. Some, such as Gershon, are no longer alive. Others, like Pascal, are middle aged or even younger. Some experienced a portion of the Nazi regime and are writing from memory. Others, born elsewhere or long after the war, are creating memories which never existed, taking the poetic license of fiction to its farthest possible borders. Leafing through the book it appears that the basic commonality of the authors examined is found on the junction of gender, religion, and nationality, or basically the fact that all are Anglo-Jewish women, as the title of the book explains.

Is Lassner's choice of authors representative of all Anglo-Jewish women of a certain generation who wrote about the Holocaust? One is not certain. For example, none of the women cited are Orthodox, but does that mean that no observant Jewish women in England have written about the Holocaust since 1945? It would have been helpful had Lassner begun her book not just with a short explanation of British history and British-Jewish history during and after the Holocaust, but with a broader survey of the existing British-Jewish [End Page 171] women's literature about the Holocaust since the end of the war, locating the various works which she discusses in her book within the larger picture, if such exists.

Each of Lassner's chapters is devoted to a different genre of writing and to a different author or group of authors with a common denominator of category, while not necessarily ascribing to a similar style of writing. In each of the chapters she combines a short synopsis of the works being discussed with a much longer interdisciplinary analysis, replete with the accepted academic jargon of the genre.

Being familiar with at least two of the writers mentioned in the book, I would have liked to read more about their works before the author began her analysis, and more of the works themselves, possible in the form of a few short excerpts which would have given the analysis more substance.

The subject that the author has chosen is fascinating, and she presents the reader with many important insights regarding Holocaust memories and compositions of a variety of women authors. Yet although the topic is women writers, there is little if any gender theory cited in the book, nor was I able to discern any particular gender analysis, something which would have been interesting in view of the authors being discussed. Nor is there any attempt to locate the book within the parameters of religious theory, this being a book about Anglo-Jewish women writers. However, the most disturbing part of the book is the heavy use of literary jargon leading to a plethora of long and rather unintelligible sentences to anyone but the initiated, in which the author speaks of "experiments of intertextuality" and "self...


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pp. 171-172
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