Writing as Resistance: Four Women Confronting the Holocaust: Edith Stein, Simone Weil, Anne Frank, Etty Hillesum (review)
- Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
- Purdue University Press
- Volume 18, Number 1, Fall 1999
- pp. 175-177
- Additional Information
Book Reviews 175 view these peacemakers failed, but they did what they should have done. Their hopeless quest did not transform the world, and their cause remains as lost as ever. But their moral example and the "Inner Light" which radiated provided an impressive witness to the power of love. The abiding lesson of the Quaker encounter with Nazism was that evil and violence persist, but Quakers must not and will not abet such destructive forces. John S. Conway Department of History University of British Columbia Writing as Resistance: Four Women Confronting the Holocaust: Edith Stein, Simone Weil, Anne Frank, Etty Hillesum, by Rachel Feldhay Brenner. Philadelphia: Penn State University Press, 1997. 216 pp. $26.50. Ever since the Nazi era the humanist project, and especially art, has been put in question . The Shoah was specifically a Jewish catastrophe, but it also had disastrous implications for all of westem civilization. Rachel Feldhay Brenner's "four women" were at the very heart ofthe Holocaust, and she uses their lives and writings as a test of the viability ofhumanism. While Simone Weil starved herselfto death in London as a more or less direct result of the Nazi occupation of Europe, Edith Stein, Anne Frank, and Etty Hillesum were all killed in Nazi camps. They were all women condemned to die as Jews by Nazi Germany, yet all ofthem to a greater or lesser extent were products ofa secular humanist or Christian education. Brenner asks herselfwhat these writers did as women writers, as Jews, as humanists against the murderous might of the Nazi empire. Brenner has chosen a fascinating topic but has not written a compelling book. Discussions of "resistance" and "writing" are both cramped as a result of Brenner's attempt to cover a broader field than the title suggests. After highlighting the terms in the title she uses "resistance" very loosely to cover a wide variety of vaguely oppositional practices, and "writing" as resistance is poorly distinguished from other instances of writing or the resistance of the authors' lives. By spending a longer time on a discussion of the diaries and autobiographies Brenner could have acknowledged the worth ofthe eponymous writings that she claims are important but to which she barely allocates thirty pages. After an introduction which gives some context for thinking about the women's resistance, Writing as Resistance comprises four discrete parts dealing with resistance in terms ofhumanism, Judaism, autobiography, andwomanhood, respectively. One way oflinking the observations on these topics would have been to use each ofthe women's stories to establish her unique position in the text. The opening chapters leave the 176 SHOFAR Fa111999 Vol. 18, No. I subjects ofthe book confusingly undifferentiated as mere names in lists such as who did or did not subscribe to Judaism, who was baptized, who was under direct threat from the Nazis. It is only as the second part begins on page 50 that Brenner really conCentrates on providing a coherent account of each individual. It is no coincidence that this is the point at which the book begins to talk about religious identification, which, although Brenner refuses to accede explicit priority to any perspective, is clearly the topic that intrigues her most and is the one to which she returns in the conclusion. There are three books that Brenner should have written, instead ofthis one volume. The first is an explanation of the thought of Simone Weil from the perspective of a woman writing in the Holocaust. The incisive analysis that Brenner begins in her description of Weil's mystico-philosophical concept of "de-creation" could have unfolded, and the speculations that she makes about the relationship between the metaphorical abnegation of self and the physical act of suicide could have been more fully substantiated. The second book that Brenner should have written is a book about "Resistance and Religious Identification." This is the title of Part Two, which is the only section of the book in which it appears that she invests the results ofher comparison with any personal or general urgency. Within the more manageable framework of that heading, Brenner could have focused her sporadic but intense analyses of these four women and suggested how the...