- Jews, Germans and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany
The postwar occupation of Germany was a chaotic, disorderly time that lends itself to the complex historical understanding that has developed over the past few decades. While there is a rich and multifaceted historiography on political, economic, and social developments, two understudied elements-gender and the place of Jews in postwar Germany and in its history-have begun to emerge in recent scholarly literature. The hardest gap to close is bringing together multiple strands of historical events normally isolated by national or thematic approaches into one work. [End Page 642]
Atina Grossmann's latest monograph is emblematic of this new direction in historical studies, interweaving gender and Jews into a dizzying array of topics and issues of the postwar period. It does not seek to be a comprehensive study of this time. Rather, it seeks to present a more holistic understanding, firmly grounded in gender analysis with the Cold War and Zionism as intersecting axes. Her methodological approach, examining "close encounters" among occupying forces, Jews, and the Germans themselves, shows how these three groups did not exist in isolation but interacted on a regular and often mundane basis. By focusing on three gendered aspects of life (the body, sexuality, and reproduction), Grossmann examines the postwar period through a unique set of lenses, calling into question elements of older, less sophisticated explanations and understandings of this historical period. The interaction between these three groups helped to shape and reshape their collective and individual identities, as each group sought to influence the larger, public perception of it. Most importantly, for the Jewish populations, these experiences helped them to "resignify their lives" (3). Yet Grossmann is also careful to avoid a monolithic approach, noting that within each group, many smaller subgroups existed. Germans were divided (among other factors) by their wartime experiences, their political, social, and economic backgrounds, and their gender. They encompassed soldiers, POWs, civilian refugees, expellees, and even Nazis (although few readily admitted it). Jews in Germany were also a complicated mix, many of whom had survived due to their mixed marriages and/or in hiding, dwarfed by a burgeoning population of Polish Jews entering by the tens of thousands. Nationals of the occupying forces included Jews in troops and occupational staff as well as in governmental organizations and voluntary agencies. Although "divided by memory and experience," these groups all existed in the same geographic space, albeit in different worlds (3).
Grossmann uses theory and methodology from gender history and the broader field of gender studies effectively to delve into the complicated interactions between men and women in the postwar period. She argues persuasively that pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood, and their respective political, economic, social, and cultural metaphors, provided a way for Germans and Jews "to comprehend victimization and survival and to conceptualize and imagine future identities as nation" (9). These real experiences and their larger symbolism were ways to grapple with both loss and possibility, coupling celebration with sadness.
The Soviet conquest of Germany was especially brutal in its treatment of women. Women in Berlin were the overwhelming majority in the population, estimated at 169 for every 100 men at that time. Historians will never know how many German women were raped by Soviet troops, but estimates range from 100,000 to two million women, and it is clear that it was both authorized by the Soviet authorities and pervasive. Rape confirmed [End Page 643] German expectations of the bestial Soviets, based on Nazi propaganda, and reinforced their ideas of cultural superiority. It also served as another example of their suffering, on top of all the deprivations and terror of the last months of the war, which became an added element in their self-perception as victims. Relations between German women and western Allied troops, in contrast, were seldom described as rape. Rather, they were more often coded as "voluntary" or "consensual." The ban on fraternization between American troops and local women died a very early death and played a...