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Reviewed by:
  • RSM, Women, the Holocaust, and Genocide by Carol Rittner
  • Eugene J. Fisher
Carol Rittner, RSM, Women, the Holocaust, and Genocide. Greensburg, PA: Seton Hill University, National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education, 2020. Pp. 270. $19.95, paper.

This excellent volume presents the fourteen papers of the 2018 Ethel LeFrank Holocaust Education Conference. It will open the eyes of many readers to the role of women in the Holocaust and other genocides, as victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. Included also are the papers of the 2017, 2018, and 2019 Outstanding Student Scholar of the Holocaust award winners.

After a most helpful introduction by Rittner, the articles take up the roles of women in the Holocaust. Historian Wendy Lower, interviewed by Tim Crain, [End Page 458] describes what many German women "murderers" did as perpetrators in "The Nazi Killing Fields." Martina Cucciara narrates the ambivalent actions of Catholic girls and nuns, ameliorating the carnage, yet ultimately participating in it. Paul Bartrop profiles female SS guards in the camps and their often sadistic behavior. Alex Alvares assesses the complex interplay between the guards as individuals and the structural situations in which they found themselves. Sarah Cushman describes the "deep gray" actions of "privileged women prisoners in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Irena Steinfeldt lifts our spirits by describing what some women did to help others to survive. The articles by Victoria Barnett and Carolyn Manosevitz deserve special attention by readers of this journal, since they feature the interfaith activism of a group of women and the reaching out to other faiths of those suffering through art and its ability to help heal the souls if not the bodies of other victims.

The section on genocide draws on the lessons of the Holocaust to help readers understand other genocidal events. Elisa von Joeden Forgy discusses "what we learn from women," perpetrators, and victims. Elizabeth Baer discusses the role of "gender" in the German genocide of the Herero and Nama in German Southwest Africa in 1904–07 and Ravensbruck in 1941. She emphasizes the role of rape in both, a theme that will be taken up in subsequent essays. John K. Roth analyzes how young men, often boys, came to practice raping women, girls, and sometimes men and boys as a sort of sport. Henry Theriault discusses the interplay between rape and genocide. Mehnaz Afridi, in an important essay, analyzes "Women, Trauma, and Shame" in the Holocaust and in Bosnia. Lee Ann De Reus takes up the complex relations between women and their children born from rape.

The final section features the short essays of the honor students. Brandon McNeill compares the Holocaust to the ISIS genocide of the Yazidi. Kierhan Boyle describes the Nazi use of popular music as propaganda. Jessica Smith analyzes the women of the female concentration camp, Ravensbruck. Adam Bankovich delves into the understanding of nationalism in Nazi Germany and the Cambodian genocide.

This book is one for all readers—the average lay reader, scholars, theologians, philosophers, and others. It will bring to all readers a myriad of facts that they did not know about racism, Antisemitism, genocide, sexism and the way that traditional historical scholarship underestimates the role of women in historical and present tragedies, as well as the possibilities for women to work to resolve and even prevent such mass horrors as the Shoah and similar events that have taken and are taking place around the world. The authors not [End Page 459] only analyze what went wrong but do so in such a way as to offer important insights and possibilities that all who are interested in tikkun olam, the healing of our fractured world, can find ways to act. Educators on all levels can find much here to pass on to their students, including ways to motivate others to work together across racial, ethnic, and religious lines, to work for the betterment of all humanity, bringing us all nearer to a world in which humanity can live in peace and harmony, and hand on a better world to our children and their children. [End Page 460]

Eugene J. Fisher
Saint Leo University, Saint Leo, FL


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pp. 458-460
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