Absent fathers, present mothers: images of parenthood in Holocaust survivor narratives

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Date: Spring 2007
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 10,785 words

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Mothering and motherhood figure prominently in the personal narratives of women survivors of the Holocaust. In contrast, men identified as father figures are conspicuously absent from both women's and men's personal narratives, and fatherhood plays a relatively minor role in male narratives. This study argues that the paucity of references to fatherly behavior is attributable to a combination of factors. Gender is an important factor in determining the actual ordeals men and women faced as well as the ways in which they interpreted and narrated those events. While there is evidence that some survivors believed Jewish masculinity and paternal authority to have been called into question by the destruction of Jewish families in the Holocaust, gendered narrative construction appears to account for much of the disparity between father and mother figures

The Nazi attempt to annihilate the Jewish communities of Europe placed Jewish families under tremendous strain. In their efforts to survive and to resist the Nazi threat, relations between family members changed, upsetting gender roles and power positions between mothers and fathers, parents and children. The survivors of the Holocaust, or Shoah, were primarily young adults whose formative years were spent in the grotesque world created by the Nazis. The selections and the inhumane conditions of the slave labor camps ensured that most of the concentration camp survivors would be between the ages of 18 and 45 at the war's end, (1) though some children and older adults survived the war years outside the camps--in hiding, passing as Aryans, or as refugees in the Soviet Union. Virtually all the survivors faced the world without grandparents, parents or older siblings. For the majority, their adolescence had been interrupted, depriving them of the opportunity to experiment with gender roles and courtship within the safety of their communities and families. It was these survivors who reestablished Jewish families in the displaced persons camps of postwar Europe and abroad. It was they who most intimately came to terms with the meanings of Jewish motherhood and fatherhood after Auschwitz.

The genesis of this paper occurred when I began investigating the political life of Jewish survivors in the displaced persons camps of occupied Germany. After interviewing a couple of women survivors, I realized that their narratives did not necessarily revolve around political debates over Zionism or conflicts with Allied officials over immigration policies. Focusing on what their stories were telling me rather than on what they were not telling me, I saw that the demands of motherhood absorbed their physical and emotional energy during the immediate postwar years. That realization in turn led me to concentrate more closely on everyday life in the aftermath of liberation, and on the experiences of women in particular.

As I explored women's memories of their immediate postwar activities, I learned of fears of sexual abuse and concerns about fertility, suggesting a gender-specific experience. The recurrent imagery of mothering in these narratives also caught my attention. Not only biological mothers, but other women survivors also described themselves in maternal terms. By contrast, they referred to helpful men as brotherly, even when the man's age was greater than that of the dependent female survivor. Just as it was dawning on me that the mother-figures were not matched with father-figures, I began reading a memoir that introduced a male individual as having paternal characteristics. Reassured that the absence of father-figures had been a coincidence, or the product of an overly sensitive imagination, I was jolted a few pages later when the "devoted father" was exposed as a former SS officer seeking to evade capture by infiltrating a band of survivors. (2) I began asking what roles mothering and fathering played in survivor narratives.

The notion that men simply did not take care of or attempt to protect others did not correspond to the many instances of mutual aid and sacrifice recorded in the narratives. Male narratives give evidence of close relationships dedicated to survival, including the sharing of food and emotional support, (3) contradicting Joan Ringelheim's suggestion that "men, when they lost their role in the protection of their own families, seemed less able to transform this habit into the protection of others." (4) Given that men did exhibit protective habits, why did so few refer to themselves or to others as father figures? Since women also encountered protective men, why did they not refer to them as surrogate fathers?

Three possible explanations for the absence of fathers and the conspicuous presence of mothers emerged. First, in a few narratives the absence of fathers and fathering appeared to reflect a crisis of paternal authority in the aftermath of the Shoah. Suspicions that Jewish fathers had failed to protect their families while mothers went as martyrs to the gas chambers with their children may have explained the reluctance to portray benevolent male leaders as paternal. Second, and more generally observable, the differences seemed to be the product of gendered narrative styles. Men, accustomed to autobiographical traditions that stress heroic, public action, would naturally record thoughts and activities that fit with this genre, while middle-class women, taught to view themselves as passive, romantic heroines, would emphasize themes of home and hearth. The working-class woman of the shtetl also understood her economic and domestic activities in maternal terms. The paucity of publicly active, independent female role models and the strength of traditional family roles prior to the war would also have limited the language available to women survivors for interpreting and later describing their actions in terms other than maternal. Third, the differences in the narratives might be explained by the reality of life after liberation. In the effort to normalize their existences, survivors married and began having children at remarkably high rates. While men engaged in public activity, such as employment and community leadership in the DP camps or, later, in their countries of immigration, women bore the physical demands of pregnancy and the brunt of the responsibility for feeding and caring for the children. Viewed from this perspective, the narratives simply reflected the different experiences of men and women and the ways they spent their time.

This paper seeks to demonstrate that all three posited explanations are valid to varying degrees. Survivors were individuals who had diverse experiences and interpreted them in different ways. There could not be one answer that fits each and every narrative. However, the evidence suggests that the crisis of paternal authority was limited and that explanations based on gendered narrative construction as well as real differences of experience account for much of what appears to be the absence of fathers in personal narratives of the survivors.


The primary sources used in this study are all forms of personal narrative. 28 written memoirs, equally divided between female and male authors, form the bulk of them. Because of my original interest in post-liberation experiences, I had already selected memoirs that included some description of the postwar period. 26 of the memoirs happened to be accessible to me because they were either in the university library or on the shelf of a bookstore I visited. One was sent to me by the author's daughter, after a mutual friend introduced us. The final memoir, by Benedikt Kautsky, was selected because the author figured prominently in one of the other narratives, and I wanted to compare the two men's impressions of their relationship.

All of the authors spent the war years in Nazi-occupied Europe. Three women and three men survived in hiding or with the partisans, while the remainder went through ghettoes and concentration camps. The ages of the women authors at the conclusion of the war ranged from 14 to 41, with an average of 21, while the men's ages ranged from 16 to 51, with an average of 24. Two of the women and three of the men had been married and living in their own households in 1939; the remaining 23 survivors had still been in their parents' homes. Based on the authors' descriptions of their childhood homes and their parents' economic activities, it appeared that ten (71%) of the women were of solidly middle-class social standing, two were from lower-middle class backgrounds, and two came from the working class, while half of the men came from the lower-middle class, one was working class, and the remaining six were middle class. Roughly half of the men were from shtetl backgrounds and the other half from large towns or cities, while approximately two thirds of the women, all of them middle class, were from urban areas, and the remainder came from small towns and villages with large Jewish populations. As is true of Holocaust survivors in general, most of the authors came from families that were at least moderately observant of Jewish traditions; only four (two of them Austrian socialists) had assimilated, secular backgrounds. (5) Geographically, the memoirists are also somewhat representative, with most originating from Poland and Hungary. (6)

Eight of the women referred to themselves as surrogate mothers, and all fourteen wrote about their marriages and children in some detail. Most of the women embraced motherhood as a sign of continuity and survival even as they acknowledged concerns for their and their children's health and future. Only two women spoke of marriage and motherhood with disappointment, because it had derailed their educational plans. Only one woman memoirist mentioned a father figure--the one later revealed as an SS officer. While the emphasis of middle-class and Jewish values on maternity could help explain the central role motherhood plays in these narratives, it was not a foregone conclusion that the women would adopt these roles after the Holocaust. The devastation of Jewish communities provided ample opportunity for Jewish women and men to renegotiate gender roles, just as military defeat allowed German women to restrict their fertility and modify traditional gender relations. (7)

In contrast to the women's mothering, none of the men described themselves as surrogate fathers. Three of them referred to others as father figures, while another three acknowledged that they had feared marriage and fatherhood as a result of their Holocaust experiences. Four others did not state whether or not they even had children. Fatherhood was less central to the men's narratives than mothering was to the women's.

Memoirs are usually carefully crafted and are no more pure a form than oral history for the communication of memories. While there is no interviewer to shape the flow of memory, the author has already selected and rearranged memories for the imagined audience and for the publisher. The act of writing also reshapes the meaning of these memories, as the author seeks an organizational framework or literary tradition to manage the material. This is especially true for survivors who wrote their memoirs with the assistance of a professional author. Lawrence Langer writes:

   Written memoirs, by the very strategies available to their
   authors--style, chronology, analogy, imagery, dialogue, a sense of
   character, a coherent moral vision--strive to narrow this space
   [between the witness's experiences and the audience's ability to
   comprehend them], easing us into their unfamiliar world through
   familiar (and hence comforting?) literary devices. The impulse to
   portray (and thus refine) reality when we write about it seems
   irresistible. (8)

When reading memoirs, we must keep in mind the ways in which survivor-authors may have felt compelled to conform to a literary genre that prizes chronology, heroic action and moral lessons. While this does not invalidate the authenticity of the experiences recorded, it does mean that their interpretations have been molded by the demands of literature.

Another source is a handful of oral histories that I conducted, as well as oral histories conducted and published by others. Most of my interviewees responded to letters I had placed in the Jewish community newspaper in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and in the Northern California Jewish Bulletin in San Francisco. One interview was with a survivor whose daughter put us in contact after she and I met through a Second Generation ListServ. As an interviewer, my goal was to allow the survivors to develop their stories with as little interference from me as possible. (9) The value of oral histories lies in their stream of consciousness presentation, silences, and vocal (and for videotaped interviews, facial) cues to the survivors' meanings. The relatively spontaneous narrative construction creates points of entry for the audience, through the discontinuities and unexpected juxtapositions of memories that written memoirs frequently smooth over.

Since my interest was in their immediate postwar experiences, the tape-recorded interviews began with brief, objective questions about the survivor's prewar family background and wartime experiences. The bulk of the interviews focused on open-ended questions about the survivor's feelings and actions after liberation, and about the DP camps: first impressions, daily life, most vivid memories, etc. The interviews lasted from one and a half to four hours. The three women survivors and one DP child focused on domestic life and the impact of motherhood. The one male survivor discussed family and fatherhood only upon prompting by the interviewer and disclosed great reservations about fatherhood after the Holocaust.

One final source drawn upon in this paper is a scene from a fictional work. Ida Fink, the author, survived the Holocaust in hiding. While she does not contest the classification of her works as fiction, she also insists that the stories "really happened." (10) I have chosen to include this scene because it succinctly expresses sentiments that I have gleaned from other survivor narratives. While the details are the creation of the author, it reflects the lived experiences of some survivors. Also, as James Young points out about diaries and memoirs:

   When we turn to literary testimony of the Holocaust, we do so for
   knowledge--not evidence--of events. Instead of looking for evidence
   of experiences, the reader might concede that narrative testimony
   documents not the experiences it relates but rather the conceptual
   presuppositions through which the narrator has apprehended
   experience. (11)

Instead of presenting her knowledge of events in the more traditionally authentic genre of memoir, Fink chose to write fiction; nevertheless, the work expresses her understanding of the experiences of the Holocaust.

Crisis of Paternal Authority

Before the outbreak of World War II, European Jewish families were structured along patriarchal lines. By and large, middle-class Jewish homes in both western and eastern Europe adopted the tenets of bourgeois domesticity, which assigned responsibility for the maintenance of the home and for conspicuous leisure and consumption to the female members of the family, while the men pursued economic and professional activities. In eastern Europe, women of the Jewish working classes had more external economic responsibilities than their western counterparts. In religious families, women accepted greater public roles in order to free men for study and community service. (12) Orthodox men still had an economic role to play, but they did not bear the entire burden of providing for the family.

Regardless of class background, urban/shtetl and secular/religious distinctions, women were the organizers of the household in terms of procuring food and clothing, caring for possessions, maintaining cleanliness and providing emotional and practical support for the family. While these duties may have necessitated activity outside of the home, it was viewed in terms of maternal and wifely roles. Men had the responsibility for planning the children's future and protecting the family from the brutality of the public world, in addition to their professional and civic roles. Fathers were expected to be the authority in the family, and children often viewed them as stern and remote. Mothers cared for the young children and were often more accessible to them. (13) Nazi occupation disrupted this state of affairs.

Anti-Jewish legislation initially struck at the ability of Jewish men to support their families. (14) Orthodox men, readily identifiable by their beards, earlocks and clothing, faced threats of physical violence and often avoided leaving the house. In her study of Jewish families in occupied Poland, Renee Fodor observes, "The father sat around the house without work, and his authority diminished. He became apathetic, fearful and helpless." (15) Later, in ghettos such as Lodz, those who worked faced greater chances of survival, but not all men were able to secure jobs. (16) Their loss of social status and the struggle for food weakened the father's position in the family. Even in the ghettoes, Orthodox men encountered humiliating "beard actions" and loss of employment if they did not shave. (17) Meanwhile, women's duties increased; for some, they included responsibility for previously masculine endeavors, such as paid employment, negotiating with outside authorities, and protecting the family and the home. These added tasks created stress and often interfered with women's abilities to care for young children. Even though men were home, women felt unable to ask for their assistance in household duties. (18) The men, they believed, had suffered enough humiliation.

The initial deportations of Jewish men and the belief that women and children had less to fear from the civilized Germans led Jewish families to reorganize for the protection of the men. Instead of fathers protecting their wives and children, they became the protected ones. Some men fled to the East, leaving their families behind. (19) Others remained at home and hid whenever an unexpected knock came at the door. To protect their men, the women now confronted whoever stood on the other side. (20) Thomas Blatt recalls his mother pushing his father aside to answer the door to the Gestapo. (21) In moments of defiance, Gerda Weissmann Klein's father announced that he would not hide, but his resolve disappeared at a stern look from his wife. (22) Later, in the ghetto, Klein refused to inform the Gestapo of her father's whereabouts, despite a gun pressed to her chest. Afterwards, she relates, "white as paper, Papa staggered out of the wardrobe. He had heard the threats but had not known that the pistol was already touching my breast. Papa's eyes were glassy. He lay exhausted on his bed and I brought him water." (23) While there is no tone of reproach in Klein's narrative, the reversal of roles is clear: The child faces death to preserve the father and nurses him in the aftermath.

The failure of fathers to fulfill their socially constructed gender roles also permeates Ida Fink's fictional account of a three-year-old boy who is taught to delay anyone coming to the door by pretending to be unable to locate the key. The ruse is intended to provide time for his father to escape. He is required to practice the drill repeatedly. When asked what he will tell the Germans about his parents' whereabouts, he responds, "Mama's at work." When asked about his father, the boy replies, "He's dead." (24) In effect, the father is dead, as he no longer fulfills the socially-constructed paternal role of protector.

Although only one of the authors mentions disillusionment with her mother, half of the memoirists, male and female, record their fathers' helplessness and humiliation under the Nazis. The loss of paternal authority began for two of the fathers under Soviet occupation in Lithuania and Poland. An additional two male writers recall seeing other fathers fail to protect their children, and another wrote of his own child's death in his arms. Not surprisingly, some Jewish men appear to have suffered a crisis of fatherhood after liberation. The inability of fathers to safeguard their families led those who survived to suffer feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability. Aaron Hass, the interviewer of one such father, reports: "David Himmelstein feels guilty about replacing his first- and second-born, who were taken from him.... Furthermore, to enjoy his post-Holocaust children ... would feel like another betrayal of the two daughters he was unable to protect." (25) The fathers' failure to protect their families from Nazi persecution aroused intense feelings of inadequacy and guilt.

Some of the male survivors whose fathers had been unable to shield them from harm imagined that they could do no better, leading them to delay or avoid paternity. Elie Wiesel writes, "The failure of my father and of all he symbolized long made me fear having a child." (26) One man who avoided paternity explained his reasoning in an interview with me:

   Interviewer: But you didn't want to have a family of your own,
   [Zoltan F. interjects: No. No.] or did it just not happen?

   Zoltan F.: My thoughts were for a long time that since I cannot
   guarantee a decent life, I did not want to be the cause of life. One
   of the hardest things, psychologically, was to see my father
   helpless. He was a very strong person, but he could not do anything
   about what happened. [Tells story of his father's betrayal by a
   trusted neighbor, and his own desire for revenge.] For a long time
   I felt horrible that I didn't resist. But also I thought that I
   couldn't take another loss. The loss of the family was very painful,
   and the only way you can help not to take another loss is not to ...
   In fact, even these days I'm very anxious when a friend doesn't
   come. But I don't know for sure; just to be complete, I've had girl
   friends that were very suitable. ... I don't know if somehow I had
   met someone I really liked and reciprocated, maybe--but now that I
   don't have any children--my mother used to say that if you don't
   have any children you don't know what suffering is, you don't know
   what pleasure is, it's an old Hungarian saying.... In any case, as
   far as having children is concerned, obviously I'm ambivalent about
   it, but I stand by my decision not to get married and not to have
   any children, because the camps were just an exaggeration of the
   problems of human life, sickness and so on. Also, I remember saying
   that from the minute you are born you are sentenced to death. (27)

The intertwining of Zoltan F.'s explanation of his decision not to create a family with his recollection of his father's victimization exposes the connection between them. If Zoltan F.'s strong father was unable to protect him, how could he, already exhausted by his efforts to survive the Shoah, protect children of his own?

Leon Zelman's memoir also reflects ambivalence toward fathers. He describes his own father, who died as a civilian casualty during the German invasion of Poland, as "a distant figure." (28) In the Lodz ghetto, Zelman witnessed a father kill his own baby so that its cries would not reveal a hiding place: "And even then I didn't feel much. I had already seen too much." (29) And yet it must have complicated his understanding of what constitutes a father's role. Following his mother's death, Zelman entered an orphanage under the protection of the Jewish ghetto administrator, Mordecai Rumkowski, who became a father figure, albeit a distant one. Zelman recited a poem he had written in Rumkowski's honor: "We thank you, our President / You are our father / You make the sun shine for us / You give us food and drink / You take care of us." (30) Later, he became aware of Rumkowski's role in fulfilling Nazi demands for Jewish victims to feed the gas chambers. In his short life, Zelman had learned that fathers die leaving their families unprotected, fathers smother their own children to save others, and a father figure saves some children while sending others to their death. He now regards his poem as "naive words of thanksgiving" and struggles to reconcile his feelings of gratitude with his conviction that "No one has the right to decide who can live and who must die, not even with the intention of thereby saving others." (31)

Given Zelman's wartime experiences, it is not surprising that father-figures play little role in his postwar memories. Despite his leadership role with the Association of Jewish University Students in Vienna and, later, the birth of his daughter, Zelman does not refer to himself as a father or fatherly. His dealings with the Viennese Jewish community brought him into contact with older Jews, but he felt them to be strangers, and though he sought love and a sense of family among the east European Jews, no one but the Austrian pulmonary specialist who treated his tuberculosis is named as having "resolved to play the role of a stern father." (32) It is to his mother's memory that Zelman confides his dreams and with which he celebrates his successes. (33)

The reluctance of both male and female survivors to identify male protectors as father-figures could thus be seen as a manifestation of a loss of faith in the power of Jewish fathers. Yet, while this may be true for some survivors, many interpreted things differently. In the first place, few blame their fathers for not protecting them better. Some saw their fathers as continuing posthumously to guide them through the horrors of the concentration camps. Gerda Weissmann Klein indirectly credits her father with saving her from suicide because of a promise he had extracted from her. (34) Another survivor recalls, "I always felt like my father was watching over me, helping make decisions, telling me what to do." (35) Yet another asserts, "He got me through. My father was watching over me, helping me make decisions, telling me what to do. I wasn't that smart; there was some higher power getting me through.... I think it was my father." (36) Even in death, these fathers "safeguarded" their children. Rather than a crisis of paternal authority, we have idolization of fathers.

In the second place, mothers received similarly mixed assessments of the fulfillment of their role of protecting young children. (37) Some women knowingly chose to accompany their children to death even when presented with the option of saving themselves. Survivors portrayed this decision as one of admirable maternal devotion, implying that women who chose otherwise were unnatural and inferior mothers. (38) Indeed, some women rejected their children in an effort to save themselves and earned the scorn of others. (39) The fate of the children, however, was determined by the Nazis, not by the mothers. While some mothers may have comforted their children on their way to death, mothers were no more successful than fathers in ensuring the children's survival.

In the third place, some survivors report closer relationships with their fathers once the persecution began. Elie Wiesel recalls his father's prewar inattentiveness to family affairs and his preoccupation with community business. "Once a cousin came to see us at Sighet. She had been staying with us and eating at our table for over a fortnight before my father noticed her presence for the first time." (40) It is in the concentration camps that Wiesel and his father form a strong personal bond. Recalling Rosh Hashanah in Auschwitz, Wiesel says of his relationship with his father, "We had never understood one another so clearly." (41) Later, on the death march, it is Wiesel's devotion to his father that gives him the energy to endure. (42) Klein also reports growing closer to her father after the Nazi occupation of Poland. Stripped of his factory and confined to the house, Klein's father decides to supervise his daughter's education at home. Klein writes, "I often felt that up to now I had not really known Papa. In the many months that we worked together he revealed his dreams and his frustrations." (43) Deprived of their public functions, some Jewish fathers interacted more with their children than before, potentially strengthening their relationships with their offspring. In this sense, fathers once absent from the home because of their business and community responsibilities became physically and often emotionally present for their families.

Still, while survivors mourn the loss of both mothers and fathers, it appears that when there is an expression of disillusionment with a parent, it is more likely to be directed towards the father than towards the mother. (44) Generally, the disillusionment arises from the father's inability to protect his family and his humiliating impotence in the face of the persecuting authorities, but occasionally it stems from disapproval of the choices he made in attempting to survive. But if fathers were expected to ensure the physical safety of the children, mothers were expected to nurture them and protect their emotional state; both, ultimately, failed to withstand the Nazi menace. Thus, the disruption of family relationships and the undermining of the socially constructed paternal role in the family can, at best, only partially explain the absence of fathering and father-figures from survivor narratives.

Gendered Narrative Construction

The hypothesis that gendered narrative construction accounts for the prevalence of mothering and the scarcity of fathering in survivor accounts is more promising. In When Memory Speaks: Reflections on Autobiography, Jill Ker Conway argues that the Western literary tradition encourages men to present their lives as heroic tales of action, while women are taught to view themselves as passive, romantic heroines whose lives happen to them and acquire meaning through love and family. (45) These assumptions about how one's life is to be interpreted and what one's audience anticipates from the narrative can lead autobiographers to "censorship for public self-presentation." (46) Women whose private papers demonstrate that they carefully planned their courses of action may recast those experiences as unexpected coincidences, denying their own agency. Men, on the other hand, may gloss over their emotions or familial relationships in order to emphasize their decisive action in the public sphere.

Did this Western tradition affect European Jewry? Certainly, widespread acceptance of bourgeois domesticity and secular education in western Europe would have influenced the Jews of that region. In eastern Europe, though the influence of secular literature was less pervasive, assimilationist and bourgeois families influenced by the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) would have been familiar with this literary tradition. Nearly one third of interwar Polish Jewry was Orthodox-traditionalist, (47) but even this group had contact with outside influences. While the sons of these families attended Jewish schools, the daughters frequently received a public education, exposing them to secular culture. (48) The Beis Yaakov schools, a Polish Orthodox attempt to stem this trend by providing supplemental Jewish education to girls, began to gain a following in the 1930s but did not supplant secular education. A study of entries to three YIVO autobiographical writing competitions in the 1930s demonstrates that the young authors were greatly influenced by non-Jewish European literature, regardless of their religious upbringing. While the study does not investigate gender differences, it does note that the male writers discussed sexual awakening and experience, while the female authors wrote in later adolescence about love. (49) Moreover, even if survivors had not encountered the Western autobiographical tradition before the war, they would have done so by the time they recorded their narratives.

Autobiographies are ever-changing. As Ruth Linden states, "life histories represent moments--sometimes crucial, sometimes not--when people remember and reinterpret themselves." (50) As the circumstances of their remembering change, sometimes bringing formerly marginalized memories into center stage, autobiographers reorganize and reinterpret their life stories, They also anticipate and adapt to the interests of their audience--for example, to the expectation of men to be epic heroes and of women to be romantic heroines.

Such gender differences became apparent in the oral history interviews I conducted. Women survivors automatically focused on activities involving homemaking and mothering. Only when asked, late in the interview, about political activity in the DP camps did they share memories about camp riots and demonstrations. Perhaps my being a woman encouraged them to report domestic activities. Had their interviewer been male, would they have focused more on political events?

It was just as I was becoming aware of the gender issue that I interviewed Zoltan F. (51) As usual, I began by requesting some background information on his prewar family life and wartime experiences, before asking him to tell me about his recollections of the immediate postwar period. Zoltan F. told me about his contact with the U.S. military authorities and about conditions at the DP children's home on the banks of the Chiemsee in Bavaria. He mentioned lying about his age in order to qualify for an early visa to the United States. He then expressed bewilderment at what more I could possibly want to know. He seemed almost apologetic that his tale was not more exciting or substantial. After a few more directed questions, I asked something I had never found it necessary to ask of the women I interviewed, since they had all volunteered the information. Did he believe that his experiences in the Shoah had shaped his attitude toward family? Not only was Zoltan's answer in the affirmative (see above); it was apparent that he had thought a great deal about the meaning of family, and that he was willing to share his thoughts--but only once he knew his audience was interested. (52) The absence of such discussions from male autobiography may thus be an indication not of lack of concern for the topic, but of self-censorship. For years, women hesitated to come forward with their narratives out of a sense that their essentially domestic accounts would not interest an audience. Men, too, operated on the assumption that only public exploits deserved to be chronicled.

Beyond literary tradition, narrative is gendered by the role models available to the storyteller. Men raised to believe that many public roles are available to them, in contradistinction to their familial roles, will have a variety of ways in which to describe their actions. Jewish communal leaders, charged by tradition with protecting the widow and the orphan, can exhibit protective behavior without interpreting it as paternal. With so many possibilities for self-definition, "fatherhood" can be reserved for biological relationships. Women, taught that motherly and wifely roles are their only determinant even when those roles take them into the public sphere in search of employment, will have fewer linguistic options and be more likely to understand their activities as "mothering." In her important essay, Ringelheim asks, "Do women apply and modify previous gender roles more easily than do men?" (53) Our discussion suggests that men did not need to modify previous gender roles, because they already had so many ways in which to understand their actions. It is women, with limited gender-role options, who needed to adapt those roles to new circumstances. Moreover, survivors viewed reproduction not only as a private consideration, but also as an important social and political act. (54) In this environment, women's maternal roles assumed elevated status, perhaps further encouraging women to interpret their activities in maternal terms.

The inability of women to describe female leadership in terms other than motherly, along with the Jewish community's heightened emphasis on the value of women's reproductive and childrearing roles, help explain why even women survivors who had not given birth to children of their own referred to themselves as mothers. Just over half of the female memoirists described themselves as mothers to persons who were not their biological children. In provenance, class, religious observance and age, these surrogate mothers reflect the demographic distribution of the overall sample of female narrators included in this study.

Older sisters became mother figures for their surviving sister(s) and other girl survivors; (55) a mature woman described her behavior towards a teenage survivor as that of a mother; (56) a young orphan girl organized a house for other orphans and mothered them. (57) Two of the male memoirists mention surrogate mother figures as well--non-Jewish women who aided in their survival. (58) In these narratives, mothering is associated not only with affection for others, but with a leadership role in providing for the physical and emotional care of one's charges. At a kibbutz for survivors in Hungary, a teenaged survivor assumed what she refers to as a "mothering" role: "I was all: a big sister, a wise friend, counselor, negotiator, teacher, nurse, 'to each his own.'" (59) Here "mothering" encompassed a variety of activities, all of which involved selfless giving to others. The "mother" also frequently assigned roles to other group members in the quest for food and shelter and served as the arbiter of conflict and legislator of codes of conduct; she was the authority within the "family" and acted as its primary spokesperson in relations with outside authorities. (60) This is the model of motherhood that the survivors witnessed during the era of Nazi occupation, when fathers had fled or needed to hide and mothers assumed more public responsibilities.

Foster mothers report having felt under a tremendous burden. Even mature women, such as Helen Waterford, found the responsibilities overwhelming. Waterford recalls: "My relationship with Becky developed as mother-daughter. I had to make decisions for two in unknown situations, when I was hardly able to decide anything for myself. But I felt responsible for this child." (61) Assuming the role of a mother figure was more than a romantic whim; it involved major commitments and obligations. Erna Rubinstein, who was 24 upon liberation, recalls a discussion with her surviving sisters and friends:

   We discussed our growing family. It was clear that we needed someone
   to head the family and impose order. From that moment on, my family
   of sisters began calling me Maminka, which means "Mother" in Czech.
   While this added to their security, it tremendously increased my
   feeling of responsibility." (62)

Rubinstein had already been a leader of the group, but with the title of mother, her sense of responsibility for the other family members deepened.

Many of the foster mothers were little more than children themselves. While living with the partisans, nineteen-year-old Faye Schulman took a young Jewish girl under her protection. "I was not ready for the role of mother. Sometimes it was more obligation than love that kept me linked to her. But if I had the choice, I would do it again." A teenager at liberation, Georgia Gabor says of her mothering experiences: "It was nice to be wanted, but it drained me. I hungered for parental love--to be liked for what I was, not just for what I could give. I needed to have a mother, not to be one." (63) The need to be needed and to perform a familial role often led these young women to assume the burden of maternal responsibility. Some foster mothers, and biological ones as well, appear dedicated to providing to others the type of maternal care of which they themselves had been deprived. At the same time, the younger surrogate mothers understandably resented forfeiting their own childhoods, and all were frustrated by the demands of their charges.

Men engaged in similar activities of care-giving and organizing groups of survivors, but they rarely referred to the relationships in familial or romanticized terms. (64) Self-identification with the victorious Allies and partisans encouraged Jewish male survivors, especially those charged with organizing institutions and mobilizing resources and people, to adopt a more martial form of masculinity. (65) In addition to dressing in military and partisan-style clothing, they adopted military language as a means of interpreting and expressing their experiences. (66) For example, a male survivor recalled his decision to teach children and organize theatrical performances in the DP camp:

   "Yakov," I told myself, "You have duties. You are like a soldier
   whose officers have perished in combat. The Germans killed the
   Jewish intellectuals at the beginning of the slaughter, and we, the
   survivors, must maintain our cultural heritage." (67)

It is difficult to imagine a female survivor describing her determination to maintain Jewish culture and educate Jewish children as a military mission. She would be much more likely to describe her motivation in maternal terms.

In describing close friendships, male survivors tend to use the language of brotherhood and friendship. Samuel Pisar recalls the two friends with whom he survived the camps. Ben was a year his senior at 13, while Niko was a worldly 30-something. "Niko was ... a resourceful older ally in the daily struggle against death. With Ben, he became my constant companion in the concentration camps. With Ben, Niko became my brother for life." (68) Although Niko was significantly older, and he acted as protector and role model even after liberation, Pisar viewed him as a brother. Similarly, in Auschwitz Bert Linder was taken under the protective wing of his father's colleague, the Austrian Social Democrat Benedikt Kautsky. Linder describes the much older Kautsky as a best friend and mentor. (69) Again, the age difference and the role played by the older inmate could reasonably have been interpreted in father-son language, but it was not.

Niko did not leave behind a memoir that might have shed light on how he interpreted his relationship with his young charges, Pisar and Ben. Kautsky, however, did write about his concentration camp experiences. It reads like a sociological study, and the few names he mentions do not include Linder's. As a Jewish Social Democrat, however, Linder likely falls into Kautsky's category of comrade, a relationship to which the latter refers in relating his experiences at Buchenwald, where he was interned prior to his arrival in Auschwitz: "I myself was witness to how the Social Democratic group in Buchenwald made the effort to care for each of its members, the starving, and above all the Jews among them." (70) The care and mentoring that a female survivor would have been tempted to describe in maternal terms is here the comradeship of the organized political left. Rather than an imitation of romanticized domestic relationships, Kautsky and Linder can view their interactions as part of a heroic political struggle. The multiple roles available to men permit them a greater variety of language for describing these relationships.

There are a few instances of male survivors attempting to express a deeper emotional bond. In these cases, the literary conventions seem to constrain them. Thomas Blatt owed his survival in the ghetto to the repeated assistance of an older man. The subchapter that focuses on this relationship bears the heading: "Zelinger, my friend." It is only upon recording the man's death that Blatt states simply, "I felt as if I had lost another father." (71) The preceding narrative, dry and unemotional, had barely hinted at friendship, let alone a father-son bond. Likewise, Benjamin Jacobs has difficulty expressing his close ties to the two teenage survivors he befriended in postwar Germany. Jacobs is the authority figure of the group, and he worries about the boys' education and future. They think of him as an older brother, and for him they are "my boys." Later he acknowledges: "I had gotten so used to them that we had grown into a family." (72) This is the closest that he comes to claiming a paternal role for himself. Having documented the role reversal he experienced with his father, (73) Jacobs's restraint could be a sign of a lack of confidence in paternal figures, or it could be a reflection of masculine discomfort with sentimentality in autobiographical writing.

Gender appears to be an important element in survivor narrative construction. Both the internalization of Western traditions of autobiography and the narrators' assumptions regarding the interests of their audiences lead men and women to construct their narratives in different fashions. In addition, the lack of female role models whose power could be described in non-maternal terms predisposed female survivors to cast themselves in maternal roles whenever they assumed a measure of authority. Men had a greater array of roles through which they could understand and describe their activities.

There are some limits to this explanation, however. While it can provide insight as to why men do not refer to themselves in paternal terms, it fails to explain why women's narratives also demonstrate an absence of fathers. Even when the self-described foster mother relied on male assistance, particularly from friendly Allied military personnel, she neither shared her authority with a father figure, nor does she describe the protecting male as paternal, though she may describe him as a brother or an uncle. This is a complicating factor that seems to suggest a difference in the perceptions of parental roles in the aftermath of the Holocaust, in which the martyrdom of comforting motherhood contrasted with the failure of paternal authority. Thus, gendered narrative construction cannot simply replace the crisis of paternal authority as an explanation, but must be supplemented by it.

Gendered Experiences

Could the presence of mothers and the absence of fathers be more a reflection of reality than a matter of gendered styles of narration? Perhaps women's narratives focus more on homemaking and mothering because those really were the women's primary activities. Conversely, the absence from both male and female narratives of males engaged in fathering could be the result of men spending their time away from the family unit in the postwar era.

Certainly, pregnancy preoccupied the expectant mothers more than the fathers. While fathers may make passing mention in their memoirs of celebrating the birth of a child, the mothers recall the physical strain of pregnancy on a body barely recovered from years of malnutrition. It is the mothers who underwent the physical changes, often without the benefit of medical care, since they had learned to fear doctors and hospitals.

The lack of early medical advice might not have been missed, had the survivors had access to the wisdom of experienced mothers. The Nazi extermination policies, however, had selected older women and those with young children for the gas chambers, so that very few women survivors had first-hand knowledge of childbirth. This lack of human resources meant that survivors went through pregnancy with little knowledge about what to expect and what was normal. Many pregnant survivors did not understand what was happening to them when their labor began. (74) Little wonder, then, that this very real and significant experience would figure prominently in women's narratives.

With motherhood came new fears for the women survivors. Many had witnessed the brutal murder of Jewish babies during the war. One survivor who gave birth recalled her sister's abject terror upon seeing the newborn child and her own disbelief that a Jewish child could live:

   I didn't want to take [the baby] in my arms. In my mind babies had
   to be killed. No Jewish baby had the right to live. I couldn't
   imagine that I could keep this baby.... My nightmares came back,
   and I started thinking again about Mother being taken away from us
   at Auschwitz, about how I had always thought we could have saved
   her. (75)

Later, with the help of her American neighbors, this woman began to accept her child and her own role as a mother. Other testimonies by women survivors reiterate this association of children with death and the fear that Jewish children would not survive. (76) Haunted by images of mothers murdered with their children, Jewish women survivors were aware of the vulnerability of mothers and of what they sensed was their ultimate inability to protect their children. Maternal concerns became heightened, and sometimes obsessive, under these circumstances.

After the children's birth, men's and women's experiences of parenting continued to be different. The mothers assumed responsibility for feeding and diapering, activities that required tremendous time and energy. Many women survivors report not having been able to produce enough breast milk to satisfy the babies' needs. For those in the DP camps, rations were also insufficient for this purpose. Some sought remedies on the black market, (77) and even those who did not take that route devoted significant time to procuring food. Hannah M. estimates that she spent half a day standing in line for milk, and some of Faye D.'s earliest memories are of waiting in line with her mother for their milk rations. (78) The search for food alone demanded most of the mothers' time, a reality reflected in their narratives.

Many camps had inadequate water and power supplies. Without laundry facilities, dryers or clotheslines, diaper washing could be an all-night process (79) that began with hauling water from a communal location and heating it on a stove in a crowded room. The demands of childrearing frequently meant that the mothers abandoned other activities; for example, both Hannah M. and Hilda M. forfeited attending school. Only a few were able to combine motherhood with outside employment; Hilda M. brought her daughter to the knitting room, while Erna Rubinstein, having found work with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, could afford to hire a nanny. Most mothers, however, spent their time engaged in domestic duties, and this informs their memories.

Fear for their children's safety meant that the mothers were constantly on guard. "We were so afraid for our children. We wouldn't let our children out of our sight when they were going down to play or something." (80) This constant vigilance could not be alleviated by assistance from grandmothers or other trusted women. By 1947, the American Joint Distribution Committee recognized that DP women bore the burden of dealing with poor living conditions and childrearing and assigned some women workers to train them to cope with the situation. (81)

With mothers taking care of the domestic duties, fathers were freed to spend their time in public activity. Like Jacob Biber, the men founded schools and organized cultural events. They worked for the camp administration and participated in political demonstrations and electoral campaigns for camp committees and for the Central Committee for Liberated Jews. They ran projectors at the camp cinema, served as mediators to resolve disputes, and learned new trades in classes set up by ORT. If they assumed positions of responsibility, they did so as community leaders, musicians, lawyers--but not as father-figures. If they did not live in the DP camps, their time was still consumed with employment, dealing with immigration authorities, and other public activity. Two male memoirists, possibly speaking for many others, mentioned being too busy establishing and maintaining their businesses to be involved with childrearing. (82) The reality of men's activities is reflected in their narratives: They spent their time in other ways than the women. That difference is compounded by gendered narrative construction.


Early scholarship on the influence of gender during the Shoah tended to romanticize women's relationships and suggest that women survived "better" than men. (83) These studies emphasized women's nurturing and domestic skills, in contrast to men's rationality and abstraction. Even after acknowledging that both men and women formed mutual assistance groups, they have asserted that those formed by women developed faster and deeper bonds. (84) Many of these conclusions have been reached through literal readings of survivor memoirs, without regard for how gendered memory and narrative construction have emphasized or repressed certain experiences. (85)

My investigation has endeavored to demonstrate the significant influence of gender on interpretations of experiences and on narrative styles. Jewish women and men both faced gender-specific threats in Nazi-occupied Europe. (86) Both relied on close relationships to support their struggle for survival; however, socially constructed gender expectations affected the ways in which they interpreted and reported those relationships. On the surface, these differences had the effect of obscuring close male friendships and interdependent relationships, while emphasizing female ones.

With the societal emphasis on women's nurturing and domestic nature, women understood their experiences in familial terms and narrated them within that framework. As Elizabeth Baer and Myrna Goldenberg state, "gender-based experience before the rise of Hitler conspicuously shaped women's responses to the Holocaust; moreover, gender-based experience influenced the way women survivors interpreted and transmitted their experiences." (87) Gender expectations led Jewish women to view themselves as taking part in interdependent relationships and to understand that being a woman meant being a sister, a daughter or a mother in terms not only of biology but also of social interactions. A female leader and caregiver became a mother figure, even if her "children" were nearly her own age.

In contrast, men were able to identify themselves as leaders and caregivers beyond the family framework. As businessmen, scholars, community leaders or philanthropists, Jewish men could understand their relationships with one another as those of mentor-advisee, teacher-student, donor-recipient, and so on. In equal relationships and among those in the socialist or Zionist movements, they could be comrades or even brothers. With so many appellations available to male narrators, and to female narrators in discussing men, the term "father" could be reserved for relationships with biological offspring. This difference in language should not be misconstrued to mean that less significant or emotional attachments were formed between men in the mutual assistance groups than those that developed among women. Rather, the socialization of men and women prior to the Holocaust encouraged them to interpret their actions in gendered ways, and survivors later chose gendered narrative styles in which to express their memories.

The survivors' experiences and their understandings of them varied greatly. As with any discussion about survivors, there can be no one answer. What this study does indicate is that gender was an important factor in determining the actual ordeals men and women faced, as well as the ways in which they interpreted and narrated those events. Sometimes men and women were indeed engaged in different activities. At the same time, we need to be aware in reading their narratives that gendered narrative construction can obscure or exaggerate similarities and differences. While there is evidence that some survivors believed Jewish masculinity and paternal authority to have been called into question by the destruction of Jewish families in the Holocaust, gendered narrative construction appears to account for much of the disparity between father and mother figures. Reading with gender in mind, we find that Jewish surrogate fathers and male caregivers were not as absent as they first appeared to be.


(1.) Jacqueline Giere, "Einleitung," in Fritz Bauer Institut (ed.), Uberlebt und unterwegs: Judische Displaced Persons in Nachkriegsdeutschland (Frankfurt/New York: Campus Verlag, 1997), p. 17.

(2.) Sara Zyskind, Stolen Years (Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1981), pp. 260 and 266.

(3.) On the significance of mutual aid and "pairing relationships" to men as well as women in the concentration camps, see Shamai Davidson, "Group Formation and Human Reciprocity in the Nazi Concentration Camps," in Holding on to Humanity: The Message of Holocaust Survivors--The Shamai Davidson Papers, ed. Israel W. Charny (New York: New York University Press, 1992), esp. pp. 131-132, 138; Terrence Des Pres, The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), pp. 133-135; and Elie Wiesel, All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), pp. 80-81.

(4.) Joan Ringelheim, "Women and the Holocaust: A Reconsideration of Research," Signs, 10 (1985), p. 747.

(5.) Six of the men and six of the women (43%) came from orthodox or highly observant households. These numbers are representative of Holocaust survivors in general. Reeve Robert Brenner found that 41% of survivors had been either ultra-Orthodox or highly observant before the war, and 14% were moderately observant. Of the 45% that Brenner classified as nonobservant, a large majority had maintained some religious practices, such as participating in a Passover Seder and lighting Hanukah candles, and many fasted on Yom Kippur or recited the Kaddish, the commemorative prayer for dead; see idem, The Faith and Doubt of Holocaust Survivors (New York: Free Press, 1980), p. 37.

(6.) 61% came from Poland, 14% from Hungary, 7% from Lithuania, and 18% from Germany or Austria. The numbers for Germany and Austria are disproportionately high, partly because of my decision to use the Austrian Kautsky's memoir and partly by chance. In September 1947 the Jewish DPs in Germany were 81% Polish, 6% Hungarian, 4% Czech, 3% Lithuanian, 2% Russian, 1% German and 3% other. See Leonard Dinnerstein, America and the Survivors of the Holocaust (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), p. 279.

(7.) Atina Grossmann, "Trauma, Memory and Motherhood: Germans and Jewish Displaced Persons in Post-Nazi Germany, 1945-1949," Archiv fur Sozialgeschichte, 38 (1998), pp. 215-239; Robert G. Moeller, Protecting Motherhood: Women and the Family in the Politics of Postwar West Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 33.

(8.) Lawrence Langer, Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991), p. 19.

(9.) Langer reports some rather distressingly intrusive interviewers who either stopped listening when they no longer wanted to hear what the survivors had to say or effectively silenced them by refusing to accept that no redemptive interpretation could be put upon their experiences. See Langer, Holocaust Testimonies (above, note 8), pp. 63f., 116, 158. See also Geoffrey H. Hartman, "Learning from Survivors: The Yale Testimony Project," Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 9 (1995), p. 200.

(10.) Quoted in Sara R. Horowitz, "Auto/Biography and Fiction after Auschwitz: Probing the Boundaries of Second-Generation Aesthetics," in Efraim Sicher (ed.), Breaking Crystal: Writing and Memory after Auschwitz (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998), p. 283. Fink was referring specifically to her works Scrap of Time and The Journey, but I believe this comment applies equally to "The Key Game."

(11.) James E. Young, Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust: Narrative and the Consequences of Interpretation (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990), p. 37.

(12.) Paula E. Hyman, "The Jewish Family in Modern Europe," in Dalia Ofer and Lenore J. Weitzman (eds.), Women in the Holocaust (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 32.

(13.) Renee Fodor, "The Impact of the Nazi Occupation of Poland on the Jewish Mother-Child Relationship," YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science, 11 (1956/1957), pp. 270-271.

(14.) Marion Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 7.

(15.) Fodor, "Impact of the Nazi Occupation" (above, note 13), p. 271; see also Michal Unger, "Women in the Lodz Ghetto," in Ofer and Weitzman, Women in the Holocaust (above, note 12), p. 135; and The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan, ed. Abraham I. Katsh (New York: Collier Books, 1973), pp. 180-181, 192.

(16.) Warsaw Diary (above, note 15), pp. 230-231. By June 1942 Lodz had many workshops, and 70,000 of the 100,000 potential workers were employed. The unemployed faced threats of deportation and the break-up of families. Jews resettled from distant regions had few connections among the ghetto populace and therefore frequently had difficulty securing work. See, Lucjan Dobroszycki (ed.), The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, 1941-1944 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984), pp. 154, 199.

(17.) Dobroszycki, Chronicle (above, note 16), pp. 61, 206; Katsh, Warsaw Diary (above, note 15), pp. 320, 331.

(18.) Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair (above, note 14), pp. 8, 56; Unger, "Women in the Lodz Ghetto" (above, note 15), p. 135.

(19.) Unger, "Women in the Lodz Ghetto" (above, note 15), p. 124.

(20.) In one such case, Leo Bretholz recalls hiding in an attic storage unit while his teenage girlfriend distracted the amorous Vichy gendarme sent to find him. He writes: "she protected me when I should have protected her" (Leap into Darkness [New York: Anchor Books, 1998], p. 136).

(21.) Thomas Toivi Blatt, From the Ashes of Sobibor (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1997), p. 22; see also Benjamin Jacobs, The Dentist of Auschwitz (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1995), p. 21.

(22.) Gerda Weissmann Klein, All But My Life (New York: Hill and Wang, 1957), p. 12.

(23.) Ibid., p. 80.

(24.) Ida Fink, "The Key Game," in Women in the Holocaust (above, note 12), p. 122.

(25.) Aaron Hass, The Aftermath: Living with the Holocaust (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 29.

(26.) Elie Wiesel, And the Sea is Never Full (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), p. 43. See also Samuel Pisar, Of Blood and Hope (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1979), p. 146.

(27.) Zoltan F., taped interview with the author, February 10, 1997.

(28.) Leon Zelman, After Survival (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1998), p. 13.

(29.) Ibid., p. 44.

(30.) Ibid., p. 48.

(31.) Ibid., p. 53. According to Zelman, he tries not to glorify Rumkowski and yet cannot pass judgment on him; ibid., pp. 33-34, 53.

(32.) Ibid., p. 121.

(33.) Ibid., pp. 104, 127 and 166.

(34.) Klein, All But My Life (above, note 22), p. 32.

(35.) Fela Kornblatt, quoted in Hass, Aftermath (above, note 25), p. 11.

(36.) Martha Janusz, quoted in ibid., pp. 48f.

(37.) On the crisis of motherhood, see Fodor, "Impact of Nazi Occupation" (above, note 13), pp. 270-285.

(38.) Ruth Bondy, "Women in Theresienstadt and Birkenau," in Ofer and Weitzman, Women in the Holocaust (above, note 12), pp. 324f.

(39.) Langer, Holocaust Testimonies (above, note 8), p. 12.

(40.) Elie Wiesel, Night (New York: Bantam Books, 1960), p. 40.

(41.) Ibid., p. 65.

(42.) Ibid., p. 82.

(43.) Klein, All But My Life (above, note 22), pp. 38f.

(44.) Sara R. Horowitz noticed this contrast between weakened fathers and competent mothers in women's narratives; see her "Memory and Testimony of Women Survivors of Nazi Genocide," in Judith R. Baskin (ed.), Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1994), pp. 276f. See also the recollections of Anna in Julie Heifetz, Too Young to Remember (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989), p. 30; and of Frederika in ibid., pp. 117 and 124; similar memories were expressed by Zoltan F. in his interview (above, note 27).

(45.) Jill Ker Conway, When Memory Speaks: Reflections on Autobiography (New York: Alfred A. Kopf, 1998), pp. 7 and 14.

(46.) Ibid., p. 16.

(47.) Celia S. Heller, On the Edge of Destruction: Jews of Poland between the Two World Wars (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), p. 144.

(48.) Hyman, "Jewish Family" (above, note 12), p. 33.

(49.) Marcus Moseley, "Life, Literature: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Interwar Poland," Jewish Social Studies, 7 (2001), pp. 1-51, esp. pp. 24 and 34. For a discussion of Jean Jacques Rousseau's influence on Hebrew-language autobiographies, see Marcus Moseley, Being for Myself Alone: Origins of Jewish Autobiography (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006).

(50.) R. Ruth Linden, Making Stories, Making Selves: Feminist Reflections on the Holocaust (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1993), p. 139.

(51.) Zoltan F., interview (above, note 27).

(52.) Hass also recounts the reflections on fatherhood made by at least one male survivor, Paul Handel. Because of their incorporation into Hass's own narrative, it is impossible to determine whether these fragments were volunteered or given in response to Hass's prompting, or how significant a role such memories played in the survivor's complete narrative. See Hass, Aftermath (above, note 25), pp. 34f and 58f.

(53.) Ringelheim, "Women and the Holocaust" (above, note 4), p. 747.

(54.) Grossmann, "Trauma, Memory, and Motherhood" (above, note 7), p. 232; Irving Heymont, Among the Survivors of the Holocaust--1945: The Landsberg DP Camp Letters of Major Irving Hemont, United States Army (Cincinnati: American Jewish Archives, 1982), p. 45; Erna F. Rubinstein, After the Holocaust: The Long Road to Freedom (North Haven, CT: Archon Books, 1995), p. 61; Jacob Biber, Risen from the Ashes: A Story of the Jewish Displaced Persons in the Aftermath of World War II (San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 1990), p. 47.

(55.) Eva Braun, quoted in Yehudit Kleiman and Nina Springer-Aharoni (eds.), The Anguish of Liberation: Testimonies from 1945 (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1995), p. 46; Rubinstein, After the Holocaust (above, note 54), p. 36; Alicia Appleman-Jurman, Alicia: My Story (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), p. 277.

(56.) Helen Waterford, Commitment to the Dead (Frederick, CO: Renaissance House, 1987), p. 89.

(57.) Georgia M. Gabor, My Destiny: Survivor of the Holocaust (Arcadia, CA: Amen Publishing, 1981), pp. 179 and 207.

(58.) Sam Halpern, Darkness and Hope (New York: Shengold Publishers, 1996), p. 130; and Bretholz, Leap into Darkness (above, note 20), p. 254. Bretholz makes the only mention of a genuine father-figure in all of the memoirs. It may be significant that his own father died when he was a young child, and that he was forced to flee his home and leave his mother when he was only 17. These circumstances may have made him more open to looking for surrogate parents.

(59.) Gabor, My Destiny (above, note 57), p. 207.

(60.) Even when the "mother" relied on male assistance, particularly from friendly Allied military personnel, she did not share her authority with a father figure. Such men might be referred to as "brothers" or "uncles" but not as "fathers." See, for example, Appleman-Jurman, Alicia (above, note 55), p. 334.

(61.) Waterford, Commitment to the Dead (above, note 56), p. 89.

(62.) Rubinstein, After the Holocaust (above, note 54), p. 36.

(63.) Gabor, My Destiny (above, note 57), p. 207.

(64.) One such exception is "Papa Batchi," a fifty-ish Hungarian survivor who organized a youth block at the Feldafing DP camp. See Simon Schochet, Feldafing (Vancouver: November House, 1983), p. 112.

(65.) Simon Schochet observed the influences of American military and partisan styles on survivor fashion, remarking "we feel we are members of the victorious allies." See Schochet, Feldafing (above, note 64), pp. 164-165. One male survivor stitched his prisoner number and yellow triangle onto the blue Eisenhower jacket given him by U.S. troops, so that "any Nazis I might meet could appreciate the dramatic reversal in our relationship." Quoted in Atina Grossman, "Victims, Villains, and Survivors: Gendered Perceptions and Self-Perceptions of Jewish Displaced Persons in Occupied Postwar Germany," Journal of the History of Sexuality, 11 (2002), p. 311.

(66.) Some observers interpreted the militaristic aspects of life among the survivors in the displaced persons camps as the totalitarian legacy of Nazism. See Koppel S. Pinson, "Jewish Life in Liberated Germany: A Study of the Jewish DP's," Jewish Social Studies, 9 (1947), pp. 113-114. It seems more likely that these elements reflected identification with the allies as well as the impact of Zionist organizations and culture. For a convincing refutation of Pinson see Zeev W. Mankowitz, Life between Memory and Hope: The Survivors of the Holocaust in Occupied Germany (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 143.

(67.) Biber, Risen From the Ashes (above, note 54), p. 16.

(68.) Pisar, Of Blood and Hope (above, note 26), p. 58.

(69.) Bert Linder, Condemned without Judgment (New York: S.P.I. Books, 1995), pp. 236 and 311.

(70.) Benedikt Kautsky, Teufel und Verdammte (Zurich: Buchergilde Gutenberg, 1946), p. 178.

(71.) Blatt, From the Ashes (above, note 21), p. 62.

(72.) Jacobs, Dentist of Auschwitz (above, note 21), p. 209.

(73.) Ibid., pp. 47 and 103.

(74.) Hannah M. and Hilda M., taped interviews with the author, July 7, 1995 and March 31, 1996, respectively.

(75.) Quoted in Rubinstein, After the Holocaust (above, note 54), p. 167.

(76.) See, e.g., Klein, All But My Life (above, note 22), p. 227.

(77.) Hilda M., interview (above, note 74); Marie Syrkin, The State of the Jews (Washington, DC: New Republic Books, 1980), p. 45.

(78.) Hannah M., interview (above, note 74); Faye D., taped interview with the author, March 25, 1996.

(79.) Hilda M., interview (above, note 74).

(80.) Hannah M., interview (above, note 74).

(81.) Yehuda Bauer, Out of the Ashes (New York: Pergamon Press, 1989), p. 223.

(82.) Nathan Katz, Teaching Us to Count Our Days: A Story of Survival, Sacrifice, and Success (Cranbury, NJ: Cornwall Books, 1999), p. 188; and Halpern, Darkness and Hope (above, note 58), p. 200.

(83.) For a thoughtful reassessment of gender analysis and the Holocaust, see Pascale Rachel Bos, "Women and the Holocaust: Analyzing Gender Difference," in Elizabeth R. Baer and Myrna Goldenberg (eds.), Experience and Expression: Women, the Nazis, and the Holocaust (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2003), pp. 23-50, esp. pp. 26-27.

(84.) Judith Tydor Baumel, Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1998), p. 91.

(85.) As Bos points out, some scholars have mistakenly concluded that women were singled out for the humiliation of having their hair shaved off, because women survivors' narratives dwell on this event more than men's and recount it differently. Bos, "Women and the Holocaust" (above, note 83), pp. 33-34.

(86.) Women often encountered difficulties because of their reproductive functions, while Jewish men were vulnerable because of their circumcisions, beards and earlocks. Sara R. Horowitz, "Women in Holocaust Literature: Engendering Trauma Memory," in Ofer and Weitzman, Women in the Holocaust (above, note 12), p. 375.

(87.) Elizabeth R. Baer and Myrna Goldenberg, "Introduction," in idem, Experience and Expression (above, note 83), p. xiv.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A166565040