A new book "Life, Death and Sacrifice: Women and Family in the Holocaust" published this year, unfolds the narratives of Jewish women who were degraded, tortured and murdered.
Edited by Dr. Esther Hertzog, senior lecturer and head of the Anthropology studies at Beit Berl Academic College, the volume is based on three international conferences on "Women and the Holocaust" that took place between 2001 and 2005, organized by the author and her colleagues at Beit Berl College, Beit Terezin and Beit Lochamei Hagetaot.
These conferences have contributed to the growing public awareness in Israel to the potential and significance of research on the Holocaust from a feminist point of view. The fifteen articles included in the book were written by prominent scholars and offer insights from diverse academic disciplines: history, political science, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and gender studies.
The book offers gender perspectives to the commemoration of the personal and collective memory of those murdered; it affords them a kind of existence after physical and social death as individuals and as a group, as members of families and as active members of their communities.
The book's cover (Designed by Rony Ben Ziony)
The book also highlights women's altruism and courage through narratives of self-sacrificing Jewish mothers who gave their lives to save their children or were exterminated with them, of Jewish and non-Jewish underground fighters and of non-Jewish women who saved Jews.
It also brings the story of women who collaborated with the Nazi regime by denouncing Jewish families. The ongoing presence of Holocaust memories in the everyday lives of women survivors and in encounters with their new families is yet another perspective discussed here.
The book implies that focusing on women's perspectives enables us to break down politically constructed divisions between women, as if they belonged to essentially distinct, hostile collectives. Thus, whereas conservative Holocaust research relates to the Jewish genocide and places all Jews (men and women alike) in total opposition to all Germans (men and women) under the Nazi regime, a feminist/gendered approach highlights the oppression of women, inflicted by a patriarchal chauvinist regime, which the Nazism was, on both sides (although to extremely different extents and shapes).
Deconstructing the Jewish – non Jewish dichotomy introduces a more complex understanding of the Holocaust and the Nazi era.
Thus, for example, the article by Helga Amesberger and Brigitte Halbmayr from the University of Vienna, show how the patriarchal base of the Nazi regime undermined the total social boundaries between women who belonged to the "right," "Aryan" race and those who were outcasts, the "non-Aryans", with all sexually controlled on the basis of their gender.
Similiarly, Kirsty Chatwood, from the University of Edinburgh contributes to blurring the distinctions between perpetrators and victims, as Jewish men were found to be able of carrying out acts of sexual assault on their Jewish female partners.
Eva Fogelman (a psychologist from the US) also supports this non-conventional approach suggesting that righteousness and evil are not distributed between the "persecutors" and the "victims"; rather, both are found across all social divisions and borders. Fogelman rejects any argument of essentialist gender differences with respect to the types and motives of rescue and heroism.
Another example for casting doubts on the gendered essentialist approach is provided by Vandana Joshi's (from India) article on women denouncers. Joshi shows how women can be vicious in contrast to the compassionate-protective and altruistic stereotype attributed to them.