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Women’s Experiences During the Holocaust

interpreted by the norms and expectations of human culture and society.”4 In
other words, gender is considered the social-political aspect of biological
sexual differences. It is a class in which women have a particular status
different from that of men, and it cuts through economic class lines and ethnic
differentiation. “Woman's biological sexual self is never just that because of
the gendered (socialized, culturalized, economized, politicized) relations of
patriarchy, which continuously seek to hierarchically differentiate woman from
man,” in the words of feminist political scientist Zillah Eisenstein.5 The
theoretical assumption behind the new books on women and the Holocaust is
that, within the universal suffering of all of the victims of the Holocaust, men
and women's experiences were different because of gender.
The essays in Women in the Holocaust, edited by Dalia Ofer and Lenore J.
Weitzman, contain a broad geographic scope and range of experiences, with
the focus on the women as their common denominator. This book is the
outgrowth of an unprecedented conference on women and the Holocaust
organized by Ofer and Weitzman at Hebrew University in 1995. The
combination of Ofer’s expertise as a historian of the Holocaust at Hebrew
University, and Weitzman’s, as a feminist sociologist at George Mason
University, works well to balance historical accuracy with an American
understanding of feminist social theory. They write in their introduction:
When we undertake gender analysis, we typically look at the relative
positions of men and women in the social structure (their occupations,
wealth, or political power, for example); the cultural definitions and
expectations of the two sexes; and the differences in how men and
women experience their lives (p. 2).
As this is an anthology, the emphasis on gender analysis varies with the
background of the authors and their individual sensitivity to these issues. On
one hand, chapters by such scholars as Marion Kaplan, Myrna Goldenberg,
Sarah Horowitz, Joan Ringelheim, Gisela Bock, and Weitzman, who are
known for their ground-breaking work related to women and gender, strongly
define how gender played a role in Holocaust experiences. In some of the
See Michelle Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, eds., Woman, Culture, and Society, (Stanford
University Press, 1974), “Introduction,”p.4.
Zillah Eisenstein, Feminism and Sexual Equality (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984),
p. 150.
Shoah Resource Center, The International School for Holocaust Studies