Catherine A. Bernard
Other Voices, v.2, n.1 (February 2000)
A partial version of this text was published online as part of the remember.org Cybrary of the Holocaust.
Copyright © 2000, Catherine A. Bernard, all rights reserved
In tracing the voice of women throughout Holocaust narratives, in attempting to locate most specifically the voice of the woman witness, I inevitably trace my own discoveries. I began this project with the task of investigating whether and why the voices of women have been overlooked and subverted in Holocaust Studies. The topic quickly revealed itself to be many-headed. My research revealed complexities both historiographical and emotional; the desires both to articulate and to deny exist simultaneously, if not harmoniously, as regards this still very raw episode in history. In order to classify and clarify the tangled threads of inquiry, I turned to examine several lines of discourse. This paper seeks to ascertain what questions accompany the recent explosion of interest in women's role(s) in the Holocaust, what assumptions those questions make, whether they are really the important questions to be asking, and whether the celebration of the heretofore ignored female voice accounts to a romanticization of oppression. It also asks how the dual identities of woman and of Holocaust witness have been and can be imagined and expressed.
Against this theoretical backdrop to the issue of women and the Holocaust, I will examine in depth three examples of Holocaust memoirs by women: From Ashes to Life, by survivor Lucille Eichengreen, the venerable Diary of Anne Frank, and Life? or Theater?, the autobiographical pictorial operetta of Charlotte Salomon, who died at Auschwitz (and Mary Lowenthal Felstiner's investigation of her work). I do not hope or plan to reach a satisfying conclusion, all loose ends neatly tied up. Such an ambition would belittle the enormous complexity and dreadful scope of the Shoah. Instead, this paper seeks to put all these different strains of inquiry and different authors into dialogue with one another, rotating them between the three general areas of feminism, Holocaust Studies, and the concept of memoir.
1. A Feminist Critique of the Holocaust?
What precisely would be accomplished through an exploration of women's specific experiences in the Holocaust and their contributions to its memorialization? Would it be an addition to the Holocaust canon which differs only quantitatively, i.e. which becomes part of the ongoing attempt to record as much information as possible, to exhaustively describe and to specify and secure the Holocaust within as many subdivisions as possible? In the case of Holocaust Studies, it seems, the sum of the parts is indeed greater than the whole; its scholarly legitimacy is reinforced with every new "X and the Holocaust"—for example "Poland and the Holocaust," "Children and the Holocaust," "Medical Experiments and the Holocaust," "Literature/Music/Art/Drama and the Holocaust," "The Vatican and the Holocaust," even "Herbert Hoover and the Holocaust," to name only a few of the categories in the several bibliographies available. Despite this proliferation of subdivisions, however, the very exhaustive Bibliography on Holocaust Literature, edited by Abraham J. and Hershel Edelheit, did not feature a heading for "Women and the Holocaust" until the publication of volume two of its 1990 supplement. And a quick glance at the indexes of most works of Holocaust literature indicates that women, as an issue, do not merit much mention (usually none). The occasional article or, even more rarely, monograph which does bother to bring up the topic of women invariably notes the dearth of material on the subject.
It is precisely this disturbing omission that the authors of several recent anthologies and critical works wish to address. Beginning in approximately 1983, with the first (and only) "Conference on Women Surviving the Holocaust" in New York and the concurrent publication of Marianne Heinemann's Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust, and continuing through the late 1993 publication of Carol Rittner and John K. Roth's Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust and a work-in-progress by Joan Miriam Ringelheim, there has been great effort on the part of a small but determined faction to insert women's specific voices, experiences, and analyses into the canon of Holocaust Studies. The path to justification for such critiques, however, is a slippery one. These authors must manage to state their case without appearing to threaten what many scholars see as the hard-won, and continually challenged, legitimacy of the discipline. And they have some formidable opposition in their way; such distinguished figures as Hannah Arendt, Cynthia Ozick, and Helen Fagin maintain that the nature of this particular subject, of genocide on a scale that is nearly incomprehensible, seems to make such critiques as the feminist one a little trivial. As Rittner and Roth summarize:
Rittner and Roth defend the project, however, by adding:
For whoever finds this argument rather milquetoasty and apologetic, as I do, they continue with:
Is it not, however, suspect that this passage adopts a traditional language of femininity, appealing to "sensitivity," albeit determined, as opposed to the enemy "forces?" 4 Finally, Rittner and Roth close their introduction appearing to establish that, indeed, this is merely a quantitative and not a qualitative supplement:
We'll let that subtle gibe in the beginning of the second paragraph slide for a moment as we identify just what points are being established here. It is suggested first, that there has been, whether purposely or no, the frequent substitution of male voices of witness for female ones, or, read another way, simply the wholesale omission of female voices; second, that the Holocaust did indeed include gender-specific experiences; third, that the ability of men to narrate the gender-specific experiences of women is inadequate, due obviously to their own exclusion from them and as well to a more general suspicion that, for unspecified reasons, they would be unreliable authors.
Other points are drawn less explicitly. The opposition of women to men reflects that of women/sensitivity to enemy/force. There is the beginning of a suggestion that women do indeed narrate in a qualitatively different manner, but not one that is, Rittner and Roth are quick to affirm, although rather half-heartedly, "clearer or better." Having selected Gertrud Kolmar to represent the female voice in their introduction, they have selected a voice that is indeed sensitive, poetic, emotional, "aching," and in doing so manage to reinforce the stereotype of women as emotional and men, therefore, as logical.
This approach may simply be an attempt to be nonthreatening. Women's voices do not really threaten the structural dimension of the patriarchal canon if they serve to stimulate emotional response rather than to present rational critiques. One can, after all, understand Rittner and Roth's hesitation. Accompanying any investigation as to the worth of individual Holocaust texts must always be the question of ethics. Is it not only destructive but blasphemous to criticize this information gleaned from murder; have the testimonies, fictions, theoretical works, research papers, approached the status of sacred texts? Is the compulsion to speak at all far more important than to speak as a woman?
A more analytic approach is taken by Marianne E. Heinemann's Gender and Destiny. Heinemann also acknowledges the quantitative value of women's experiences, since obviously women have a more accurate and "privileged perspective" of their own memories than men. 7 The inclusion of women's voices, therefore, would broaden the spectrum of issues that Holocaust Studies could include within its domain. But Heinemann's book is more devoted to an attempt to deconstruct the narratives, fictional and nonfictional, written by female survivors, and to isolate their main themes with an eye towards identifying an iconography of the Holocaust unique to women. "[To] assume that Holocaust literature by men represents the writings of women is to remain blind to the significance of gender in history and literature. Men and women live in different cultural spheres in all known societies and have experienced many historical epochs and turning points in quite different ways," she writes. "Until examination has shown whether men and women experienced and wrote about the Holocaust in the same way, research which implies the 'universality' of men's writing and experience will be inadequate." 8
To this end, she surveys a substantial amount of Holocaust literature written by women and makes her remarks within four areas of analysis: on what she sees as the female-specific themes of anatomy and destiny, on characterization, on the description of intimate and/or sexual relations, and on the attempt by each author to inscribe her work(s) with authenticity. It is within the first area that she locates the experiences and therefore the issues most definitive of women's narratives: amenorrhea and the fear of sterility; maternity, especially viz. the separation of mother and daughter; sexual victimization, both physical and psychological; the confluence between appearance/attractiveness and survival. Men do record all of these brutalities in their own narratives, Heinemann asserts, but not nearly as often or as the most overriding concerns. But despite her attempt to isolate these by and large as female experiences, Heinemann writes:
Through a strange rhetorical twist, Heinemann suggests both that women's experience of the Holocaust is significant, because unique, and that it is not, however, so significant as to be an end in itself. The "ultimate" purpose of this uniqueness is, rather, to surrender to the whole, bringing the reader with it. I cannot help but read into this yet another kind of apologetics: one which justifies the specific recognition of women's Holocaust texts by subordinating them to a higher purpose. Why Heinemann here subtly negates her own discourse, implying that moments of great suffering yield to a larger, asexual, universal voice, is puzzling.
There may be something both essential and essentialist in these orientations of Rittner and Roth and of Heinemann. Naomi Seidman identifies it, in analyzing the issue of gender in German discourses of fascism, as:
By failing to assign women an active role in the fascistic universe, such discourse implies women's innocence and some sort of deep inner goodness. Seidman continues, noting a variation of that strategy also in the description of female victims of fascism:
In Seidman's opinion, this strategy collapses the identities of perpetrator and victim, implying that all women in the sphere of Nazi influence were victims somehow of Nazi brutality and that the suffering of women in the camps is mirrored by the hostile imposition onto German women of an ideology antithetical to their natural gentility (pun intended). 12 The association of victimization and virtue is mirrored, moreover, in Jewish historiography in general. 13
I will examine the issue of romanticization and the Holocaust in more depth later. But for the moment a more primary point needs to be firmly established: can the specific voice of the female Holocaust survivor in fact be located? Different Voices and Gender and Destiny both maintain that it can (and to have done so), but as we have seen, the existence of this voice is more negative than positive. Women's experience often exists by virtue of having not participated in male experience, in a form which does not sufficiently penetrate patriarchal structures enough to threaten, and for the ultimate purpose of disappearing, of willingly submitting itself to a higher, non-gendered purpose. I do not find these approaches satisfactory, yet I am still convinced that there is such a voice, or at least that it is the specifically male voice which has assumed the status of universal speaker and behind which something is being concealed.
2. Lucille Eichengreen: the Gender Politics of Survival
I derive the strongest support for this view as I turn from secondary to primary literature. In From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust, survivor Lucille Eichengreen relates her experiences in the Lodz ghetto, in Auschwitz, at forced labor near Neuengamme, and finally in Bergen-Belsen, where, perhaps only days from death from typhus and starvation, she encounters liberation and the British. Upon her recovery, Eichengreen facilitated the arrest and conviction of forty SS; fluent in German, she had been for a period assigned secretarial duties at Neuengamme, and had memorized the names and addresses of the SS to whom correspondence was regularly sent.
To me the most stirring chapters, "Auschwitz" and "The Scarf," were those which focused on the moments when the Nazis' trajectory of destruction, having resulted in the deaths of her father and mother and the deportation and subsequent murder of her little sister, finally encroaches upon Celia, the name by which Eichengreen refers to herself. 14 After living in the Lodz ghetto for three years, she is deported to Auschwitz in 1944. Upon her arrival, she is stunned and uncomprehending, unable to react until a Kapo begins to shave her, under the harsh direction of an SS woman:
Celia passes the selection of Dr. Mengele and is loaded onto one of a line of cattle cars. After three days inside the car, she arrives at Dessauer Ufer, a work camp near Hamburg, where she is put to work clearing bomb damage in and around the city. As she moves and lifts heavy girders and shards of glass, continually soaked by the fall rain, she is tormented not so much by the labor or the elements as by an apparently irrational desire:
One morning, she spies a long, dirty rag in the rubble and stares at it longingly. Despite having been threatened with beatings or death for stealing, Celia grabs it and hides it between her thighs. Exultant, she continues to work. Later in the day, she is approached by the Obersturmbannführer, who the women on the crew call Der zahnlose Lahme, the toothless lame one, at the expense of both his wooden leg and of his masculine pride, which apparently feels the twinge of having been assigned to command a group of women. The women's ability to mock his masculinity, however, is far overshadowed by his ability to kill, and he is hardly depicted in the narrative as a figure of fun. The Obersturmbannführer tells Celia that he needs her to translate, and leads her around the back of a bombed-out building. When he grabs her and begins to grope at her body, she is certain that he has discovered her theft, that "My absurd vanity would be my death." 17 When he thrusts his hand between her legs, however, and feels the hidden scarf, he pushes her from him and shouts, "You filthy, useless bitch! Pfui! Menstruating!" 18 Celia runs back to work, her absence unobserved and herself unable to quite comprehend what had just happened. "That night in the barracks," she writes, "I gently washed my priceless rag in cold, soapless water. In the morning, I tied the still-damp scarf around my shaven head." 19
In this finely tuned passage, the irony is evident: the scarf, far from having caused her death, has rescued her from certain rape and likely murder. This irony is deepened by the amennorhea of most female prisoners, especially those who, like Celia, had been surviving for some time on meager camp or ghetto diets. The Obersturmbannführer's ignorance of this simple biological fact would seem to draw out at least one difference between the experiences of men and of women, but what one reads through even these short sections of From Ashes to Life is far more complex.
Reading of Celia's anguish over the loss of her hair, one feels pity for this young woman, 20 but is it unnatural to feel a bit of what might be described almost as...disdain? Celia mourns the loss of her hair as she has mourned the loss of her family, and we as readers shake our collective head at her vanity, knowing through our hindsight what she does not, or at least of which she is not certain: that Auschwitz is only one of the death camps, if the biggest, that as she stares in horror at her bald reflection people are choking on Zyklon B gas, that the air is polluted day and night with the smoke of burning human flesh, that the total of eleven million dead, six million of whom will be Jews, has nearly been reached. It is difficult not to compare Celia's experience with that of Elie Wiesel (as described in his memoir Night), who also arrived in Auschwitz in 1944, to compare the loss of her hair with Wiesel's loss of God, and her horrified fascination with her loss of beauty with Wiesel's almost total lack of description of outer metamorphosis, 21 except for the ravaging of male bodies by starvation, and his focus instead on the inner moral changes Nazi brutality wreaks. Celia stares into the mirror having just arrived at Auschwitz, and feels already a sense of total loss; Wiesel does not gaze upon his own image until the penultimate passage of Night, after he has witnessed what he unambiguously asserts are the worst horrors possible. We may not wish to view Celia's very real pain as petty, but it simply doesn't quite adhere to our image of the unbearable trials and suffering of the Holocaust survivor. And moreover, Celia (and Lucille) knows this, knows that her honest reaction somehow is not quite right, is "absurd vanity."
Yet she also insists that the shaving of her head amounts to degradation. Why is this so subtly, yet undeniably, difficult to comprehend? Where have we, as readers, learned what a Holocaust survivor is meant to think, feel, mourn, desire? In order to experience a feeling of, if not disdain, at least disappointment or anticlimax at this point, we must have already formed a conception to which we expect Celia, both as survivor/author and as narrative device, to adhere.
Celia's reaction, however, is far from an aberration; in fact the violence of her sentiments is repeated by a great many women survivors and authors. For example, in Different Voices, Livia E. Bitton Jackson writes:
Through this context, in fact, the loss of hair is a more primal torment than the loss of family: it cuts deep into the self, mutilating it beyond recognition or reach. Shaven, the women see themselves as an indistinguishable mass, each of them deprived of their individual identity and worth, so degraded that they are not even capable of normal human reactions. The loss of their hair is indeed very much like Wiesel's loss of his God; it opens a gulf between them and any comprehensible order. Sybil Milton forms the connection between hair and spirituality more concretely:
The hair must be covered after marriage because it has assumed the character of a secondary sex characteristic: it is an indicator, like the breasts or genitals, of a woman's sexuality. To be unwillingly shorn, for both married and unmarried Jewish women, is quite literally a mutilation, akin to the slicing off of a breast. Even for an assimilated Western European Jew like Lucille, hair must have been an important indicator of decency and worth. 24
The examination of the issue of hair can also take place within the larger study of women's concern for their personal appearance in the camps, in comparison to men. In the Proceedings of the Conference: Women Surviving the Holocaust, this concern is interpreted not as vanity, but as a strategy for survival:
In the Proceedings and in other works on the subject, "feminine" traits are transformed into tactics for survival and into "spiritual resistance": women's training in the kitchen facilitates their ability to share and extend the meager supply of food, to the point where many interned women found it possible to plan ahead and save food for holiday celebrations and to give some to the children in the camps; women were far more likely than men to make an effort to sweep and clean their barracks, thereby minimizing the spread of disease; their socialization as nurturers resulted in the creation of "'artificial' families based on need and proximity rather than blood relationships. The concept of 'mother' was relativized...Together they scrounged for food which they shared, and maintained a mutually supportive network as a 'new family'—a new, cooperative, personal bond between women helping each other." 26 In comparison, "Men appear to have been more competitive towards their fellow inmates," 27 and, Sybil Milton adds, "Women in Gurs, Theresienstadt, and Bergen-Belsen reported that men 'were selfish and undisciplined egoists, unable to control their hungry stomachs, and revealed a painful lack of courage.’" 28
Each of these authors adds that biological factors played a part as well in the relative abilities of women and men to survive; women appear to have been more physically resilient to starvation than men, due to a larger average proportion of body fat to muscle. However, I find all these quotes, especially the last, to be indicative of another sentiment, another large and complex thread of analysis running through the literature on women and the Holocaust. Milton's report that men in the camps were competitive and "selfish" is particularly suspect for the precise reason that men's attempts to narrate women's camp experiences are suspect: since women and men were strictly separated in the camps, it is difficult to ascertain on what basis and in what context these comments were made. With so little information given, the point reveals itself to be less a serious comparison of male and female behavior than an obvious attempt to link women's "resilience," whether biological or socially learned, to a certain heroism.
In fact the overriding message of the 1983 Conference is the celebration of women's ability to survive under oppression, especially in comparison to men. An exchange from a panel comprised of both male and female survivors clearly indicates as much:
The tone in which survival is celebrated here has disturbing implications. I cannot summarize them better than Seidman, who writes:
It is precisely this tendency to make the Shoah into a character test that Joan Miriam Ringelheim addresses in her landmark article, "Women and the Holocaust: A Reconsideration of Research," published first in 1985 in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. The article begins in the familiar vein, as an attempt to "make graphic the complexity of...Jewish women's lives because of the connections between biology and sexism." 31 Ringelheim wishes to examine which vulnerabilities might be defined as having been specific to women in the Holocaust; she points out that women's biology and maternal function made certain atrocities, such as forced abortion and the necessity of killing their or other women's babies, singular threats. She adds that cultural sexist attitudes exposed women in particular to violence "in the form of humiliation, molestation, rape, and sexual exchange," not only in the camps but in the ghettos, in resistance groups, and in hiding and passing as well. 32 She proposes also to investigate the validity of the claims of women's superior ability to adapt and survive in these settings.
Ringelheim interviews several women survivors in the attempt to recapture both a sense of the Holocaust experience in its entirety and the particularities of these women's experiences. From this data, she draws the conclusion that "Some of the differences perceived do appear as transformations related to gender," 33 in the manner described above. Thus far, her analysis does not deviate from the sentiments expressed in the 1983 Conference.
The second part of the article, however, takes an abrupt and rather remarkable turn. Ringelheim begins by writing:
She is, she explains, responding chiefly to Ti-Grace Atkinson's article "Female Nationalism," which criticizes mainstream Western feminism, calling it "the search for a mythical history, the cult of femaleness, the glorification of motherhood, naturalism, and separatism, [so that] female consciousness [became] the source and arbiter of world reality." 35
Ringelheim proceeds to summarize the main attributes and historical significance of this "cultural feminism":
A corresponding shift in academia accompanied this development; women's studies turned "inward," framing discussions of gender around the issues of consciousness and culture. 37 Scholarly literature on women's studies in this period focused on an attempt to articulate a universal female archetype for the purpose of imbuing and empowering women with a sense of past, and therefore present, importance. Writers such as Nancy Chodorow, with her focus on mothering and nurturing, adopted methods of cultural anthropology, examining the roles of women in existing pre-industrial civilizations and drawing parallels to the legacy of women in Western industrial society.
Ringelheim's objection to cultural feminism follows a pattern which originated with the critiques on the part of "Third World" women such as Atkinson and Trinh Minh-ha of some of the traits of what is now casually referred to as "70's feminism." Such critiques attacked dominant, academia-bound cultural feminism as essentialist and elitist. Ringelheim summarizes:
Cultural feminism's failing, Ringelheim charges, is its inadequacy to inspire social change. In fact, it derails revolutionary impulses by claiming to empower without confronting social structures such as the state, family, marriage, or organized religion, and without challenging institutions of oppression. In place of the risks and inconveniences of activism, it invokes what Ringelheim believes to be an imaginary liberation, that of the past. This "archaeological perspective" amounts to a condescending and superficial adoption of the cultural forms of "primitive" societies in the guise of the discovery of a universal woman's culture and community. "Thus, cultural feminism entrenches us in a reactionary politics of personal or lifestyle change, in liberation of the self." 39 Ringelheim sees this as a lonely liberation, and one that is damaging to any real hopes for women's solidarity and critical engagement with the world. Its very acceptance by mainstream institutions, she claims, is the hallmark of its mediocrity: "Since the cultural feminist position has few, if any, points of conflict with the establishment, the government can more easily adopt or adapt it as a cheap substitute for real change. Cultural feminism is endorsed and supported because it poses no threat." 40
It is not enough, she writes, to merely reinterpret women's lives; liberation can come about only with strategies of active change. Her own project attempted to reinterpret the experiences of women in order to celebrate their survival, and in doing so, ended up suggesting a romanticization and valorization of oppression. "Oppression does not make people better," she continues, "oppression makes people oppressed. There is no sense in fighting or even understanding oppression if we maintain that the values and practices of the oppressed are not only better than those of the oppressor, but, in some objective sense, 'a model [for] humanity and the new society.’" 41 In highlighting the contribution of female friendship and bonding to women's survival of the Holocaust, Ringelheim acknowledges having avoided the issues of terror, isolation, and death, instead pitting Jew against Jew, man against woman, in a contest of worth.
Ringelheim concludes by formulating a series of inquiries which, in her opinion, should replace the "woman-centered" perspective. Her questions are difficult, and may even seem cruel ones to ask of Holocaust survivors, but they mark an attempt to abandon romanticization and to describe the Holocaust in all its complexity. I repeat here only some of her questions:
Ringelheim's anxiety encompasses both ends of any dialogue that could occur between historians and survivors. She is concerned not only with the proper methods of recording, interpreting, and building into a narrative the data supplied by the survivors, but also with the narratives the survivors are telling themselves. If she is to question her own interpretation of the reality of the Holocaust, she must question the interpretation of the survivors, who are susceptible to the same foibles as she; if she is instinctively drawn to romanticize and celebrate, might not they be as well? As Lawrence Langer asks:
3. Women Writing the Holocaust
Just as Ringelheim and her colleagues wish to delve into the seemingly straightforward idea of the Holocaust memoir or study and expose aspects of it in terms of gender, and, in Ringelheim's case, of political and social responsibility, other scholars have studied the issues of autobiography and gender, and some of their observations are useful here. I make this move, however, with timidity: is it really possible to compare the Holocaust with anything else? I must assume that it is, or else Ringelheim's questions are pointless; the information they might supply will have no application in this world.
In order to figure out what has happened and is happening to the voices of female witnesses of the Shoah, it seems to me, I must examine not only the exclusion, inclusion, or appropriation of their narratives by others who circulate within the discourse inscribed "Holocaust Studies," but also how these women write themselves into that discourse in the first place. Most of my previous discussion has dealt with these women's qualities as survivors, with their actions and reactions within the Holocaust space and time; the prominent tendencies within such critiques seems to be to collapse the qualities of Survivor with the qualities of Woman (or Women), using the one to explicate and celebrate the other. But the examination seems incomplete without examining these women's qualities as witnesses and writers. My focus here turns decisively from the methods and strategies of survival to the methods of interpreting and translating the survival experience into a narrative comprehensible by others. In the genre of memoir, this is a dual task. The memoir attempts to describe the narrator's experience of a specific historical event—this is the memory of memoir. Thus, unlike the more general category of "autobiography," the narrative will always have two referents: the self and that historical event. Moreover, the audience to whom the narrative must be comprehensible is a diverse one. It includes not only the specific academic, historian, or student who might choose to examine a survivor's narrative, but more generally the non-survivor...not s/he who died in the Holocaust, but s/he who has not lived the experiences of the Holocaust.
In their book Life/Lines: Theorizing Women's Autobiography, Bella Brodzki and Celeste Schenck argue that notions of self-articulation and narrative identity have been inscribed by a wholly masculine tradition:
The woman cannot possibly mirror her era if her era denigrates and ignores her experience and subjectivity. The masculinist autobiographies, Brodzki and Schenck continue, "rest upon the Western ideal of an essential and inviolable self, which, like its fictional equivalent, character, unifies and propels the narrative." 45 Not until Roland Barthes' 1977 autobiography, they claim (entitled, appropriately, Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes), does a male autobiographer recognize the mirror's capacity to distort as well as reflect and thereby the autobiography's capability of "polygamous meaning," 46 an insight which begins to make possible the legitimization of multi-faceted female subjectivity. 47
The tone of wry humor and dogged determination is familiar: it is the same mixture of bitterness and passion which infuses Different Voices and the Proceedings of the Conference: Women Surviving the Holocaust. Just as these works propose to explode the concept of "survivor," revealing its masculine bias and introducing the particularities of the feminine survival experience, the feminist exploration of autobiography seeks to introduce the issue of gender to the autobiographical "I". As Susan Groag Bell and Marilyn Yalom note, "Men rarely make an issue of their gender because the generic masculine has been the norm in Western society for at least three millennia, with woman conceptualized as derivative from and secondary to man." 48
Heinemann writes that "No one has explored whether women and men write the same or differently about other camp inmates when they write their Holocaust memoirs," 49 and suggests that women's Holocaust memoirs would pose interesting challenges to feminist analyses of narrativity such as the above. She cites Estelle Jelinek as representative of the feminist claim that men usually characterize their lives and themselves in self-confident, self-aggrandizing terms, whereas women write in a more self-effacing style, asking the reader for an affirmation of self-worth. But Heinemann observes a tone of heroism and self-aggrandizement in the Holocaust narratives of both men and women, through especially the exaggeration of small gestures of resistance to deny apathy and complicity. 50
The problem with this analysis is that there is a great difference between being a self-aggrandizing male voice and utilizing that voice. In her last chapter on "Authenticity," Heinemann discusses the methods in which Holocaust memoirs manage to effectively communicate both the Shoah's extreme temporo-spatial otherness and its historical reality. How successful a claim to authenticity is depends on many factors: how long after the event the memoir is composed, the reliability of the author's memory, the position the author held in the camp hierarchy and to what portions of camp life s/he was privy, the ability to portray brutality without overtaxing the reader's capabilities, and to what degree the memoir corroborates already accepted accounts, to name but a few. Here Heinemann admits that the voice of memoir is hardly an uncoded and "naked" one, but one carefully composed and calibrated vis-à-vis both the potential readership and the existing body of similar work.
Yet Heinemann appears to take the "heroic" voice of women's Holocaust memoir at face value, without questioning too deeply the origin of that voice. Her argument parallels her earlier claim to a higher and asexual purpose to Holocaust memoir: in the difficult act of recollecting such abnormal circumstances, some aspects of gender conditioning yield to the more universal traits of "honor." But do the voices of both women and men yield? Rather, Heinemann suggests that it is the voices of women which change noticeably, adopting the language of self-aggrandizement which has been visible in male memoir all along. The disturbing implication is that women do not and perhaps cannot have a heroic voice of their own, but instead must "masculinize" their discourse to express such sentiments. It may very well be that women feel compelled to authenticate their characterizations of heroism by adopting the familiar male discourse—does there exist another? And yet it is undeniable that there were heroic women in the Holocaust, that there have always been and are still such women, and that they are no less women for being heroic.
In fact, women's particular heroism has been linked to literature, specifically, by Ellen Fine. Fine begins, as I do, with Dan Pagis's poem "Written in Pencil in a Sealed Boxcar," and writes:
At such a moment, Fine states, even the attempt to write becomes an act of resistance, not only against the actual threat of death, but against the threat of the loss of faith in the rest of humanity. 52
She states this even more emphatically later, describing literature not merely as a metaphorical act of resistance to the Holocaust, but as an actual and employed one:
The use of literature, Fine continues, functioned as a means of covert and inward resistance: spiritual resistance. And according to Frieda Aaron, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and of Majdanek, the link between this private literary resistance and organized action was actual. "The initial purpose of this creativity was neither the poem for itself nor even the poem as bearer of witness—since without writing materials this was hardly possible," Aaron has written, "but rather the process...What is most significant is that these moments of creativity were the ones when the spirit to help each other was most apparent." 54
Unfortunately, Fine never discusses the particular confluences between the specific female experiences of the Holocaust and the use of literary resistance; she simply cites no male survivors or authors in her discussion. We are left unaware of any comparable, or for that matter, contradictory sensibility in the world of the male survivor. Fine's analysis of the use of literature in the camps as a means of resistance is poetic, but it resonates uncomfortably with Joan Ringelheim's concern that the idea of resistance has been overdetermined to the point of meaninglessness. If literature functioned as a means of resistance in the camp setting, does it somehow continue to function in that way? Do works composed in the camps but written down and published after liberation differ in some manner from works written many years later? Moreover, for every survivor Fine discusses who credits literature as a means to her survival, there are so many dead who no doubt looked to literature as well; an example, although a male one, is Miklós Radnóti, who died on a death march to Hungary and was found in a mass grave in 1946, with a notebook full of poems in his pocket. Did Radnóti look upon his poems as a charm for survival? Did he believe that by recording his impressions of those days, he was predicting a point where he would be able to re-read them as mere memories, sometime in the far-off and never realized future?
It would also seem that to call Holocaust memoir an act of resistance somehow flattens the work in question. Such a qualification refuses, and in fact seems to forbid, judgment of the work based on literary and aesthetic merit, substituting a certain equivalence and noble untouchability among all such memoirs.
At this point, a return to Lucille Eichengreen's experiences in the form of an interview with Eichengreen herself can perhaps illuminate the reactions a survivor might have herself to these tangled lines of inquiry. I spoke with Eichengreen for about two hours at her home in Oakland on May 17, 1994, asking her about her book and sharing with her my research on this paper thus far. I asked her what she thought resistance was, and her reply was far-reaching :
In Eichengreen's experience, to resist involves the assumption of death. A survivor who has also been a resistor is a rare exception, not the norm.
But in fact Eichengreen's own particular experience in writing and publishing her book does feature a certain amount of resistance: not to the Holocaust, but to today's Holocaust discourse. Her own difficulty, as revealed in our conversation, was not so much in finally confronting her own memories after fifty years as in attempting to compile and edit them to correspond to preexisting conceptions of Holocaust memoir:
Although to attempt to make generalizations based solely on Eichengreen's experience would be foolish, her story is nonetheless telling. In a sense, the reaction of her male editor is similar to that of Elie Wiesel. Both are preoccupied above all else with the loss of overarching meaning and sense in the Holocaust: Wiesel in the loss of the religious structures and narratives which codified his world, and the editor with the effect Lucille's fragmented and alogical experiences have on traditional ideals of narrative flow. The "beauty" the editor desired was a beauty of coherency. It is the beauty of reflection, of life through the visage of a unified and homogeneous self. Lucille cannot comprehend his vision of her experiences; moreover, she is offended by it. She is then surprised by the ease with which her next editor, female, accepts, without questioning, her discontinuous narrative vision. Again, one can hardly derive conclusive results from this one example, but it informs nicely the theoretical apparatus of Brodzki and Schenck, Bell and Yalom.
Is there a way to incorporate the voices of women writers of the Holocaust without romanticizing oppression, without invoking monolithic conceptions of gender, a way which recognizes that activity did not ensure survival and yet is able to appreciate and differentiate levels and genres of activity? I would like to be able to invoke the specifics of gender into a discussion of the Holocaust witness, but not in such a manner as to imprison individuals within gender definitions. Rather, can we not develop a discourse in which gender is permitted to circulate without being either a scandal or the sole determinant, in which female affiliations are recognized as both important and heterogeneous? Finally, hope of hopes, is there a way to suggest that the creativity manifested in these women's voices also demonstrates that such affiliations are always, to a degree, chosen? It would be, to say the least, refreshing to discover a description of women's subjectivity as other than that which has been rejected by men.
In order to illustrate the deep roots of Holocaust Studies's discomfort with the issue of gender, I turn to the most widely-read of all memoirs of the Shoah: the Diary of Anne Frank, first published in 1947 (a full eleven years before Wiesel's Night) and now ubiquitous to school curriculums all over the world. The treatment of her remarkable testament bears witness to the rapidity and ease with which it came to be understood that one could write as a witness or write as a woman, but not as both.
4. Anne Frank: the Cultivation of the Inspirational Victim
On May 5, 1985, a few hours before his infamous visit with Chancellor Helmut Kohl to the German cemetery at Bitburg, 57 U.S. President Ronald Reagan addressed a crowd at the former concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen. As he commemorated the thirty thousand victims of Bergen-Belsen, Reagan sought to ameliorate the atmosphere of death and despair by invoking the name of Anne Frank:
Anne Frank is simultaneously the best and the least known of the female documentors of Nazi terror. Her diary has been translated into numerous languages and is part of the curriculum in schools around the world; yet despite her embrace by this general audience, she has been for the most part gently but unambiguously dismissed as a figure not meriting serious academic examination. Therefore, although her name earns a level of recognition matched by few if any survivors of the Holocaust, little effort has been expended in analyzing her voice. Hers remains a life largely unexamined, except by her own self.
Marianne Heinemann devotes, in fact, only a sentence to the most recognizable of Holocaust memoirs, writing that "Almost everyone knows Anne Frank, but the life of hiding which her diary describes has very little to do with the concentration camp and deaths which awaited Anne and her family, like millions of others." 60 Yet the themes which Heinemann identifies as female-centered—anatomy and destiny—resonate throughout Frank's diary as Anne mediates on her relationship with her mother, on her emerging sexuality, and on the status of women in her culture, and would therefore seem to have quite a bit to do with the concerns of women in the camps, especially since many of the women in the camps had very recently been adolescents just like Anne. Rittner and Roth are more blunt about the reason for excluding Frank's writings from their book, explaining that she, as far as their project is concerned, is simply not a woman:
Rittner and Roth do not do themselves a service by this conclusion. By refusing to acknowledge that Anne, fifteen and thus on the cusp of adulthood (for a child in normal circumstances—and one can imagine that a young person in Anne's situation might have been forced to mature a good deal more rapidly), might be anything but "A Young Girl," they participate in a reading of Anne Frank which has been instrumental in the erasure of the issue of gender from Holocaust Studies. It has been terribly important to isolate Anne from the impurity of adulthood in order to facilitate her function as a redemptive figure, to provide a point of uplift in what would be otherwise be, after all, an unremittingly depressing historical event. The above speech by Reagan is a example of the means by which Frank, whose force putatively comes from her identity as a historical figure 62 , has been emptied of her particularity and nudged into a metonymical role as both a palatable and a forgiving representative of the victims of fascism. Consequently, any desire to examine the Diary of Anne Frank as the complex expression of an actual young woman has been far eclipsed by the importance of maintaining Frank's symbolic role as the ultimate innocent victim. And foremost, apparently, that maintenance has taken the form of eliminating reference to both Anne's femaleness and to her emerging sexuality.
Most of those familiar with Anne Frank would, like Reagan, be able to parrot the oft-quoted phrase "I still believe that people are really good at heart." But few would recognize the following as a conviction argued with equal fortitude by Anne:
The above should be completely unfamiliar to anyone who has ever read the American edition of Diary of a Young Girl, and for good reason: although written by Anne on June 15, 1944, only two weeks before her final entry, it was deleted from the original Dutch edition and therefore from its translations, although the rest of the entry of which it was part was retained. The reasons for this are entirely unclear, unless one accepts that for some reason these very adult and feminist statements were somehow seen as incompatible with the purpose of the book, or unacceptable to the reading public. Not until 1986, when the critical edition of the diary was published in Holland (the English translation appeared in 1989), was this passage available, and even then its remarkable nature has not been commented upon save a 1993 article by the Dutch feminist Berteke Waaldijk entitled "Reading Anne Frank as a Woman." Waaldijk has done an excellent and coherent job of detailing the patterns of omissions made by Anne Frank and by her father and other parties, and in comparing the sets of deletions, and I shall return to her cogent analyses.
The critical edition also for the first time revealed vital facts about the diary: that Anne herself, a few months before her capture, had begun to edit her diary herself in preparation for publication after the war, and that the version published in 1947 had been redacted from the originals and from Anne's partially completed manuscript, with sometimes extensive editing not only by Otto Frank, her father, but also by his colleagues and, in some cases, by translators. In many cases, deletions in the published version followed deletions Anne herself had indicated, but in some cases, often significantly, they did not. It is unlikely, for example, upon reviewing the nature of Anne's own deletions, which were mostly items which were overly personal or petty, such as negative remarks about her classmates written when she was thirteen, that she would not have retained the above passage, especially since she wrote it concurrently with her editing.
Anne Frank began to edit her diary in response to an address on March 28, 1944 by exiled Minister of Education, Art and Science Gerrit Bolkstein, delivered to the Dutch nation on Radio Oranje:
The next day, Anne wrote, "Of course, they all made a rush at my diary immediately...Just imagine how interesting it would be if I were to publish a romance of the 'Secret Annexe.’ The title alone would be enough to make people think it was a detective story." 65 By May 11, her consideration of the idea had taken on a much more serious tone, and she wrote that:
And finally, in a remark also deleted from previous published versions of the diary, she wrote on May 20 that "after a good deal of reflection I have started my 'Achterhuis,’ in my head it is as good as finished, although it won't go as quickly as that really, if it ever comes off at all." 67 We may assume that subsequent entries were made with the idea of publication in mind, and that therefore that the entry of June 15, with all its passion and vitality, would be one Anne would have wanted included. Why it was not included, and, moreover, why the evidence that Anne Frank was aware of and desirous for the possibility of her diary's publication has been suppressed, is unresolved. 68
At this point, some information on the diary's publication history and on its initial critical reception may serve to begin to answer the questions which have been raised. The diary had been abandoned when the Franks' Secret Annexe was raided, on August 4, 1944, and was rescued and hidden by Miep Gies. Gies actually recovered three separate exercise books and some loose sheets, containing Anne's entries from her thirteenth birthday in June of 1942 up to her last entry on August 1, 1944. 69 Approximately a year later, after Otto Frank, Anne's father and the only surviving member of the family, had returned to Amsterdam, Gies handed Anne's writings over to him. He immediately began to edit the diaries into a single typescript and to seek out a publisher. As mentioned, Otto Frank did not merely copy out the diaries; he edited out items which he felt were offensive to his dead wife or to other third parties, as well as items which he "felt would be of little interest," a point which begs clarification.
Frank was unsuccessful in finding a publisher until, in 1946, the eminent Dutch historian Jan Romein read the manuscript and wrote an article about it in the journal Het Parool, entitled "A Child's Voice":
It is not surprising that shortly afterward, Frank was besieged by publishers, and that the Dutch edition of the diary, entitled, as Anne had wished, Het Achterhuis ("The Attic/Secret Annexe"), published by the Dutch house Contact, appeared a year later. But what is notable, especially in comparison to the unanimously celebratory tone of the reviews which then appeared and set the standard for subsequent characterizations of the Diary, is the anger and despair Romein expresses. In his article "Popularization and Memory: The Case of Anne Frank," Alvin H. Rosenfeld elaborates:
Very rapidly, however, it would be established that the message of the Diary was one far different than that with which Romein had identified. This is expressed quite perfectly by the reviewers who glowingly orated that Het Achterhuis was "a miracle," "uniquely tragic," and "transcends the misery so recently [in 1947] behind us"; it was a "moral testament" and "a human document of great clarity and honesty," and, it was stressed, "by no means a war document as such [but]...purely and simply the diary of an adolescent girl." 72 Whereas Romein could not but meditate on the murder of Anne Frank, his colleague Henri van Praag suggested that Frank should be viewed as a figure which exhorted the ideals of a moral life. He wrote:
What happened, in short, is that the tortured reading which Romein had gleaned from the diary was soon entirely replaced by the popular conception of the Diary of Anne Frank as an inspirational text. This interpretation, despite the periodic appearance of some excellent challenges, has held to this day. Anne herself was transformed into an empty vessel, and her voice glorified as pure, innocent, completely unblemished. To read the forewords which accompanied the first translated editions—The Diary of a Young Girl in English, Das Tagebuch der Anne Frank in German, Journal de Anne Frank in French—is to begin to understand the function of this consecrated and inviolate Anne; in each foreword the she is made to serve for each nation as a flattering mirror-image of itself. To Eleanor Roosevelt, this young girl, "not afraid of telling the truth," is a symbol of American pluck; 74 for the triumphant, always unconventional French, her unusual and spirited observations defy all that is "dusty and discolored"; 75 for the wary and weary Germans, Anne's "cool, keen observation of human beings, and her resolve to be alert to the comic element in even the worst situations, these are familiar to us: they belong to the armor worn by our generation." 76 Thus, stripped and reassembled, Anne was to serve as a redemptive figure for the suffering masses, an assurance that despite the evidence of the Holocaust, humanity was fundamentally good, that the devastation wreaked by the Nazis had been but a momentary lapse in the ultimate civilizing trajectory of Western culture.
Psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, himself a survivor of Dachau and Buchenwald, was nearly alone in his antipathy towards this phenomenon. In 1960, he wrote that "The universal success of The Diary of Anne Frank suggests how much the tendency to deny the reality of the camps is still with us, while her story itself demonstrates how such denial can hasten our own destruction." 77 Bettelheim's thesis is that the Franks' decision to hide together, as a family, amounted to an attempt to go on with "life as usual" and to refuse to accept the extent to which evil had infested their world, an act of willful blindness which contributed as much to their fate as did Nazi persecution. And what he attacks, precisely, are her famous words about the goodness of all men:
As Naomi Seidman notes, Bettelheim's furor is misplaced and amounts to at the very least what is known as "blaming the victim." 79 The Franks' choice to hide as a family may indeed have been illogical, but in Holland, where fewer than twenty percent of Jews ultimately survived under one of the most brutal of the Occupation regimes, the question of logic had become untenable. Hannah Arendt supplied a profound and succinct answer to Bettelheim's accusations in a letter to the Jewish quarterly Midstream in 1962:
Yet Bettelheim's antipathy as a survivor towards this saccharine version of Anne is understandable, and points moreover to the degree to which the adaptations of the diary by the American entertainment industry came to be as authoritative as their source. The 1955 stage play by Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett, and the film version of the play released in 1959 were instrumental in interpreting Anne's writings according to a universalist ethic. The public perception of the writings of Anne Frank has been shaped as much by the enormously successful play and movie versions of the diary as by the diary itself, and perhaps more so. Even Bettelheim notes that his objections are based not on "what actually happened to the Frank family—only on the account given in Anne's Diary and in the play and movie based on it," 81 neglecting to distinguish between the degree of accuracy manifested by a historical document and by its fictionalizations. The adaptations of the diary differ significantly from their source in terms of focus and characterization. Meyer Levin, who sued after his own stage adaptation was rejected by Otto Frank, describes bitterly in his aptly-titled memoir The Obsession how Anne's musings were emptied of their Jewish particularity in order to guarantee their appeal to a gentile audience. Judith E. Doneson contends that this was done in accordance with the assimilationist ideals of the 1950's, and that, ironically, it resulted in simplified characters which contributed, if unintentionally, to conventional anti-Semitic stereotypes of the inhabitants of the Secret Annexe as nervous, weak Jews at the mercy of their courageous Christian friends. 82 The exception, of course, is Anne herself, whose strong awareness of herself as a Jew and a woman is replaced by an irrepressibly optimistic and entirely lovable childlike figure whose triumphant final declaration—that, of course, she still believes people good at heart—banishes the feelings of horror and fright which might have overcome the audience upon learning of her cruel end. That this line "does not appear in the diary in anything like the climactic role it is made to assume in the play," 83 and that "As Lawrence Langer has written, this line, 'floating over the audience like a benediction assuring grace after momentary gloom, is the least appropriate epitaph conceivable for the millions of victims and thousands of survivors of Nazi genocide,’" 84 has not altered the tendencies of enormously influential speechifiers such as Reagan. It is useless to point out that Anne wrote these words long before she experienced Auschwitz; at any rate, Auschwitz is not an evident part of the universe to which the adaptations refer.
Berteke Waaldijk is one of the first scholars to question the degree to which Anne's specific identity as a woman has been underrepresented. She focuses in part on the differences between the three versions of the diary—the unabridged, that containing Anne's own revisions, and that finally published —and finds that "Although the differences may be negligible from the point of view of the political and judicial claims of authenticity," in the face of which the critical edition had in fact been compiled, "they are extremely significant for readers interested in Anne Frank as a woman writer." 85 Waaldijk finds that in most cases, the passages removed dealt directly with aspects of Anne's experiences as a woman: "They have to do with her body, menstruation and sexuality, her conversations with Peter about sex, and her relationship with her mother." 86 The remarks Anne had made about her mother were deleted by Otto Frank exclusively. Waaldjik claims that within the diary these observations were generally a manifestation of Anne's normal adolescent rebellion from her mother; the separation Anne desired could not be physically achieved while her family was in hiding, and she compensated by articulating, sometimes harshly, a mental distance from her mother. That Otto Frank, so shortly after the murder of his wife, could not tolerate the publication of these passages is understandable. Yet in censoring Anne's complex relationship with her mother, he also undoubtedly removed an important part of her. Various passages concerning Anne's sexuality, however, were deleted by both Anne and her father. For example, Anne chose to leave out of her rewritten version a one-page description of her genitals. "Because Anne Frank never finished her editing," Waaldijk explains, "we cannot be sure that would not have resurfaced in some other form, but it would clearly be wrong to picture her only as the object of silencing." 87
The difference, however, between the nature of the elimination of Anne's sexuality from the popular portrayals of her diary and Anne's own self-censorship is this: whereas overt references to Anne's sexuality were eliminated by, for example, P. de Neve, the managing director of Contact, because they were felt to be offensive, and by Goodrich and Hackett because they interfered with the stylization of Anne as the ultimate childlike innocent, Anne removed passages because she felt they made her appear immature. A passage composed on October 22, 1942, in which thirteen-year-old Anne expresses her impatience for the onset of menarche, was deleted in both Anne's and the published version, and in a note to the page penned on January 22, 1944, Anne writes, in a tone of embarrassed dismay, "I shall never be able to write such things again!" 88 She takes advantage, that same day, of a page she had left blank in her first diary to elaborate:
Anne ultimately deleted these two notes to herself as well, as did her father.
What controversy there has been about the diary has been centered, in fact, upon Anne's descriptions of her emerging sexuality. As recently as 1982, the book was challenged in a Virginia school by parents who complained that the book was offensive due to its sexual content. 90 And to Ditlieb Felderer, whose tract Anne Frank's Diary—A Hoax was one of the challenges to the diary's authenticity (and by extension to the historicity of the Holocaust itself) which the critical edition was published to answer, both the mature nature of Anne's writing and the mere existence of her sexuality were cause for doubt:
Upon first glance, the blatant antisemitism of revisionists such as Felderer (whose publishing house, Bible Researcher, had also published the title Zionism the Hidden Tyranny) may seem to have no connection with the adoration most express for Anne Frank. Yet the hateful intolerance of one finds a friend, unfortunately, in the self-protective blindness of the other. Felderer also writes that "We find it exceedingly difficult to believe that a healthy girl at her age can be so possessed with hate [for the Germans]." 93 And apparently, so did those who accompanied the transformation of Anne's diary into its published and adapted forms. In the critical edition, editor Gerrold van der Stroom remarks at length on the degree to which the German translator, Anneliese Schutz, took it upon herself to edit out some of Anne's more anti-German sentiments:
Alvin H. Rosenfeld informs us that Goodrich and Hackett took pains to minimize, in their adaptation, Anne's very understandable animosity towards the Germans:
Indeed, no such passage appears in either the play or the film; it would be fundamentally at odds with the "indestructibly affirmative" 96 Anne which they labored to create. And this inability to cope with Anne's complexity marks a reluctance to face both the questions she posed and the answers suggested by her fate, and is not, after all, so very far removed from Felderer's desire to whitewash the Holocaust and turn it into a benign and vastly exaggerated moment in history.
To sum, the suppression of different aspects of the real Anne Frank facilitated, and in fact may have been necessary in, her transformation into a idealized figure who served to sweeten the bitter cup of the Shoah. In deleting the details pertaining to Anne's complex relationship with her mother, to her sexual awakening, and to her anger towards the misogyny of her society, many of the references to Anne's womanhood were lost; this made it all the easier to relegate Anne Frank to the easily manipulable role of a child. Anne's bitter sense of the fate the Nazis had designed for her and her drive to become a writer, expressed with force and fluency, pointed to a mind which had been disillusioned and which longed to describe the world in its own terms: many of these observations, too, were altered or deleted, permitting "the reduction of Anne Frank to a symbol of moral and intellectual convenience," 97 to a mechanism for easy forgiveness.
It is highly ironic that the public has been prevented from knowing Anne as a woman or as a mature writer, because she saw these two aspects of herself as intricately related. The rejection of her mother and of her mother's role as a bourgeois housewife was deeply linked to Anne's literary ambitions. As Waaldijk explains, and as is evident in the entry of April 4, 1944 quoted below, "Anne's wish to lead the life of a writer coincides with her desire to lead a better life than that of her mother": 98
The question remains to what extent the popularization and valorization of Anne Frank has had an impact on other women writers of the Holocaust. Anne Frank was and continues to be blatantly denied status as a woman; this coincides disquietingly with the pressure to omit or minimize the importance of the question of gender in critical works about the Holocaust, and suggests that Anne Frank may have left behind a legacy with which she would not be content. In addition, one must wonder whether the enormous critical and commercial success of Anne Frank's diary has had anything to do with the fact that the majority of women's literary contributions to the subject are in the form of diaries or memoirs. The diary, after all, seems to be a perfect expression of the role to which women have been relegated time and time again: it is personal, emotional, unobtrusive, spontaneous and without "serious" literary pretensions. Anne Frank ventured far outside these guidelines, but she was posthumously forced back into them.
5. Charlotte Salomon: "Life? or Theater?"
It is Mary Lowenthal Felstiner's research into the extraordinary autobiographical operetta of Charlotte Salomon which begins to provide a direction and a satisfying answer to my questions. Salomon, a German Jew, fled Berlin for the still-unoccupied French Riviera in 1939, and lived there for three years as a refugee until her deportation. She died in Auschwitz. But between 1940 and 1942, she painted 1,325 notebook-sized gouaches, accompanied by textual narration and musical cues, the words first carefully painted onto transparent overlays which fit over each picture, then onto the paintings themselves. Of these, she selected 769 paintings, arranged them into acts and scenes, and titled the final work Leben? oder Theater? (Life? or Theater?), with the subtitle Ein Singespiel (A Play with Music/An Operetta). The heroine of this singular work is named Charlotte Kann, which translates from the German into Charlotte Able, and indeed, the life she painted was her own, in more than one sense. She indicated the significance of her work, not only as a visual record of the Nazi era, but as the key to her own existence, when she said to a friend as she packed it away, "Keep this safe. It is my whole life." 101 In 1947, Charlotte's father and stepmother returned to the Riviera to look for their daughter, and found her paintings, still safe on the estate where Charlotte had lived. The work melds in astonishing fashion the encroaching terror of Nazism and Salomon's own trauma...one connected, in her case, directly and intimately with female self-articulation and subjectivity.
Felstiner discovered the work of Salomon in Amsterdam in the seventies, and recalls that her initial impression was one of rapture and of astonishment: "Why had I never heard of this?" 102 In the articles which followed, and in her 1994 biography To Paint her Life: Charlotte Salomon in the Nazi Era, Felstiner became as occupied with answering that question as with decoding and describing the transformation of Salomon's life through, and into, art. The answer to Felstiner's query has to do with the overwhelming complexity of Salomon's invented oeuvre and with the failure of early efforts to do it justice; with the reluctance to let another, undeniably adult figure tamper with Anne Frankesque messages of uplift and portrayals of a victim's consciousness, and with Felstiner's growing suspicion that the issue of gender is much more than a mere coda to the study of the Shoah, that it is central to piercing realizations concerning the first truly modern genocide, and that the reluctance to study it is stems from more than mere sexism: it is an expression of dread.
But before turning to these points it is necessary to examine Salomon, and Felstiner's study of Salomon in depth. What makes Felstiner's own work as provocative as that of her subject is her shift from analyzing and describing Life? or Theater? as an autobiography in art, to the realization that it is, on the contrary, an artwork, the medium of which is autobiography. 103 As Judith C.E. Belinfante succinctly remarks in a 1992 catalogue of Salomon's work published jointly by the Joods Historisch Museum in Amsterdam and the Charlotte Salomon Foundation, "Charlotte Salomon used her life story to create a unique work of art." 104
The vivid nature of To Paint her Life—a work which permits Felstiner's immense love for Salomon and her rage at her murder to flow freely, which combines artistic analysis with historical recapitulation of events and social theory—is in the realization of this: besides paint and paper, Charlotte Salomon manipulated character portrayal, self-awareness, self-composition, identification, and a life, in order to create a theatrical spectacle, a "soul-piercing work" (in Salomon's own words) which demanded an audience at a historical moment when audience was inconceivable. The title of the work is Life? or Theater?, and to the end, the author/artist refuses to resolve the question. That is precisely the point which Felstiner brings out, and does not betray.
Charlotte Salomon was born in Berlin on April 16, 1917, the only daughter of a prominent surgeon, Albert Salomon, and his wife, Franziska Grunwald. In 1913, Franziska's beloved younger sister Charlotte had drowned herself. In the papers and among family and friends, the death was not spoken of as a suicide. In her grief, Franziska turned to a nursing career (and intriguingly, the word for nurse in German—Schwester—is the same as that for sister), and so met Salomon. When the couple had their first and only child, Fränze named her Charlotte.
In the winter of 1925-1926, Franziska threw herself out the window of the Salomon's fourth-floor apartment. Again, no mention of suicide appeared in the obituary, and Charlotte was told that her mother had died of influenza. It took thirteen years before anyone would tell her the truth. Dr. Salomon met and married a well-known opera singer, Paula Lindberg, in 1930, and by all reports (including Charlotte's own) the lovely Paula soon won over her quiet young stepdaughter.
When Germany turned Nazi, when Hitler was named chancellor in January 1933, the effect was devastatingly felt by the Salomons. Charlotte's identity as a "full Jew," (all four grandparents, as defined by Nazi race science), increased her vulnerability to anti-Semitic hostility in her school. But the Salomons, like so many other German Jews, adjusted: Albert continued as a surgeon for the Jewish Hospital; Paula began to sing with the all-Jewish Kulturbund, a cultural organization founded by her colleague Kurt Singer, who had recently been dismissed from his position as the director of the Berlin City Opera.
More remarkably, in the winter of 1935-1936 Charlotte Salomon was admitted to the State Art Academy in Berlin, as the only student of "100% Jewish blood." 105 At the Academy, Charlotte learned the Nazi-approved anti-modern techniques, but was probably, to judge from her work, much more inspired by the modern art books miraculously still available in the Academy's library and by the infamous 1938 "Degenerate Art" show put on by the government and featuring some of the most provocative works of German expressionism, cubism, and the other artistic "isms" which flourished so luxuriously in the first part of the twentieth century. 106 But by November 8, 1938, Kristallnacht, she had left the Academy; a prize for which she had been nominated had been diverted to another student, for fear of calling attention to Charlotte's Jewishness. It was clear that her continued enrollment would place her in too much jeopardy.
In January 1939, after the "Night of the Broken Glass," after Albert Salomon had been temporarily interned in Sachsenhausen (and released only thorough the untiring efforts of Paula, who called up all her dramatic presence and considerable charm to plead his case), Charlotte Salomon was abruptly packed off to the coast of southern France to stay with her mother's parents, the Grunwalds. 107
In September 1939, Charlotte's grandmother stole into the bathroom and put her neck in a noose. Charlotte found her there, near death. As Grossmama Grunwald lay recuperating in the next room, Charlotte's grandfather told her the truth about her ghastly legacy. This was the moment when Charlotte Salomon began to paint her life.
In 1988, Felstiner wrote, by way of introduction to Charlotte Salomon:
In 1994, her description, gleaned from years of study of the pages devoted to this incident in Charlotte's work, is far more expressive of the young woman's pain and horror:
There is no way to decipher the truth except by examining the story left by Charlotte; until now, the facts of her life are a matter of public record, or easily confirmed by Berlin acquaintances or by her still surviving stepmother. After September 1939, all we know is what Charlotte Salomon painted. But what she painted kept her alive and sane, at least for a time, in a poisonous and insane world.
Life? or Theater? is divided into three parts—a Prelude, a Main Part, and an Epilogue. The Prelude is devoted primarily to exquisitely detailed scenes from Charlotte's childhood, the Main Part to Alfred Wolfsohn, Paula's voice teacher (and, apparently, Charlotte's first lover) and Charlotte's discovery of his ideas about art and the soul, and the Epilogue to Charlotte's life on the Côte d'Azur. The style varies considerably: the earlier paintings are delightfully colorful and bear witness to Charlotte's extraordinary memory for the places of her childhood. Gradually the paintings become more and more abstract as her focus shifts from material memories to psychological complexities. 110 The difference between the paintings of her mother's suicide (imagined) and those of her grandmother's (witnessed) is of that between a child's misty sense of loss and an adult's searing pain. The former are sad, but still delicately drawn and tinted, and despite the story they tell, beautiful. The paintings of Charlotte's grandmother's suicide are almost too painful to look at: outlines and washes of raw color kept barely under control.
Much of the work deals specifically with the experiences of female consciousness: with that of her mother, whose life she now had to re-imagine entirely, and with that of her grandmother, whom she tried (and failed) to save. She juxtaposes memories of her own childhood with her newly informed perception of her mother's burden, both as a woman and as the heir to a mysteriously seductive and ghastly legacy. She imagines the pain of her grandmother at the loss of both her daughters, and now of the order and comprehensibility of her world. Yet the narrative is delicately but firmly disassociated from Salomon: the autobiographical "I," in the text accompanying the paintings, becomes a fictional "she"—a principal character named Charlotte Kann, interpreted by an unseen narrator named The Author. 111
What appears most remarkable, however, is that this thematic focus on gender occurred precisely in a situation where gender had become hardly the sole determinant of Salomon's future:
According to the authorities of Salomon's day, suicide—female suicide in particular—was attributed to madness, and madness to weakness and inferiority. Charlotte rejected that definition outright, and chose to see her grandmother as an atrophied spirit, wasting away for lack of love and engagement with the world. In the paintings, Charlotte attempts to save her grandmother through a recourse to art and to beauty, spending time crooning to the old woman about the loveliness of the sun and the flowers, trying to cultivate within her a will to live, but does not succeed. 113 As with her mother, Charlotte loses her grandmother to despair and to an open window, and realizes with astonishing clarity the depth of the world's cruelty towards women. 114
For Charlotte, suicide was a double threat—not only a maternal legacy, but an ever-present question in the mind of the exile community: "As destructive forces radiated outward, exiles could not escape their choice: You may kill yourself or you may watch yourself (your nation, your people) be killed. Her own view added female defenselessness and family disorder to the 'world...filled with pain' that had crushed her grandmother." 116
The question was, as Charlotte declares, "whether to take her life or undertake something wildly eccentric." 117 She chose the latter, and retreated into herself, writing that "The war raged on and I sat by the sea and saw deep into the heart of humankind. I was my mother my grandmother indeed I was all the characters in my play. I learned to walk all paths and became myself." 118 Exhaustively, she attempted to detail the cruel female world. In order to fight the charge of madness, she must identify with her suicidal ancestry, even though doing so means to take the risk of receiving their inheritance. "Her autobiography," exulted Felstiner in 1988, "embraced the female condition when historical circumstances recapitulated it." 119
But that this artist came very close to losing her struggle is clear in her paintings, and in Felstiner's later assessments. "In torpor, rage, and grief," she writes, "CS slowly let her character exit from the center of the scenes:"
The condition of exile is one of the utmost isolation. Countless manuscripts were produced by the exiles on the French Riviera in these years, and, as we have seen, even those already trapped in the camps who were not too starved or too crazed continued to write, to create poetry, to draw pictures. All of these activities imply an audience, maybe not now, but someday... The theatrics of Salomon's technique, Felstiner has suggested, speak as well to the "stage-like ambiance," 121 to the eerie unreality of an unofficial existence. "The movement of memoir toward operetta—surely a unique turn—draws our attention to a phenomenon not uncommon in Holocaust diaries and self-portraits: the invention of a captive audience and of rhetorical devices to keep it there." 122 On a painting which Charlotte edited out of her final version (but which is still part of the collection in the Joods Historisch Museum), her address to this audience mimics the overdetermined and alienating narration of Bertolt Brecht's epic theater: "You are hereby informed that you are located in an exclusively Jewish milieu which—for the honor of Germany—was assaulted at that time by one party...Hitler was the name of the founder and creator of this party. In common parlance the party's supporters were simply called Nazis. Their symbol was the swastika." 123 As Felstiner notes, "No European needed to be told this: such writing presents an ineluctable fact as the prologue to a show...It is on this metaphorical level that a work of art encodes its ethos. As Life or Theater? placed a theatrical cast over historical facts, it attested to a quality of the Côte d'Azur that more objective documents fail to express: the place itself seemed staged." 124
Many of the dramatic devices of Charlotte's work were not there from the beginning, but were invented when she was already deep into the process. In the frontispiece to the work (surely painted once the work itself had been completely edited and assembled), Charlotte writes that "Even I needed a year to figure out the meaning of this singular work, for many of its texts and melodies, especially in the first sheets, have slipped my mind," 125 and Felstiner explains:
Or to turn what had been, despite its unusual medium, an autobiography, into a work of art, and to discover a fitting title: "Life? or Theater?"
It was this move which rescued Charlotte from despair and which permitted her to complete her project. Surely, it is linked to a terrible, yet strangely touching episode which occurred in the summer of 1942, when Charlotte came out of hiding and willingly presented herself to the authorities as a Jew. Madame Pécher, in whose hotel Charlotte was living at the time, remembers the incident:
This story nearly ended in horror—Charlotte was being placed on a bus to an unknown destination when a gendarme, for whatever reason, looked at her and told her to get off and go back, quickly. The final destination of that bus, of course, was Poland, but the Jews in France did not yet understand that. It is possible that this episode was merely a reflection of Charlotte's deep depression and anomie. But it fits neatly, this decision to "present herself," with the outward, boldly declarative turn her work had now taken. Charlotte was not naïve. Perhaps she could not resist this opportunity to do in real life what she endeavored to do in her work: to demand the acknowledgment of her existence.
After this event, however, Charlotte made haste to finish her play. It was quite clear that there was no longer any time to waste. She turned from painting pictures to filling her paper with words alone. She added a bitter signature to her introduction, her playbill:
And yet, despite the reality outside Charlotte's ability to create or modify, she had achieved two things of great worth: she had completed a monumental work of art, and she had managed to transform it from what would have been, at best, "a temporary reprieve," into "a script for perpetual recurrence." 129 Life? or Theater? ends with these words:
Salomon closes, in other words, at the moment at which she commences her work and the exploration of her matrilineage. Salomon herself was gassed at Auschwitz, probably within an hour after she had stepped off the train. But before she died, she managed to transform her life, and herself, into art.
Felstiner's analysis of Charlotte Salomon and her work is a profoundly feminist one. At all times, she stresses the autonomy of her subject; that Salomon strove to be the author, quite literally, of her own fate, despite the Nazis, despite the atmosphere of despair among the exile community, despite the seduction of suicide. Charlotte was able to take the suicides of the women in her family and analyze them, not as evidence of women's hysteria or innate weakness, as the authorities of the day were wont to do, but as evidence of a deep need for affinity, for recognition of the difficulty of being a woman in that world. Charlotte's family had erased these suicides—so many of them—from their collective memory, had refused to acknowledge them as such. It would have been easy for Charlotte to do the same, easy and almost fitting for her to kill herself. She painted as a strategy to save her life and as a means to restore a sort of life to her mother and grandmother—at least to portray the how and why of their deaths. As she painted, she became aware of the decisions she made in painting her life—what to paint, how to paint it, which self was spoke and which looked out from the pages—and chose, in the end, to bring these issues out to the forefront, to highlight their manipulation and make them identifiable elements of her work, and so to transform autobiography into art.
These are not the points which the reviewers of Life? or Theater? have chosen to make. The first English-language edition of Charlotte's work came out in 1963, under the title Charlotte: A Diary in Pictures, and containing eighty reproductions, 133 with brief captions culled from the original lengthy narration. Felstiner's comments on this book are revealing:
The preface to this book, by Paul Tillich, indeed strikes the note familiar to the readers of Anne Frank: it is a testimonial to the simplicity, the youth, the sensitivity of Charlotte Salomon, and like the initial reviews of Diary of a Young Girl, insists that the primary nature of Charlotte's work is personal, not political:
Tillich suggests here that the depiction of Charlotte's life serves primarily as a foil to the historical events unfolding around her. The supposed familiarity of her life—as reflected in what Tillich sees as the "primitive simplicity" of her really very complex and multi-layered paintings—permits the work to transcend its own particularity and Charlotte to come to represent, like Anne Frank, all the victims of the Holocaust. Moreover, once more, the ultimate value of Charlotte Salomon's own unique voice is its ability to submit to a "higher purpose"—universality, here all too revealingly defined as bridging "the distance between man and man." Charlotte's painstaking attempt to depict, as vividly as she could, the specifically female affiliations of her life, her clever theatrics, her irony and wit, are lost here.
In 1981, the Joods Historisch Museum in Amsterdam (to which Albert and Paula Salomon had made a gift of the paintings in 1971) put together a magnificent book, containing 769 color plates and full translations of Charlotte's narration and dialogue, entitled Charlotte: Life or Theater? An Autobiographical Play by Charlotte Salomon. Whereas A Diary in Pictures had attempted to summarize, and in the process had butchered, Charlotte's work, the 1981 book simply reproduced all the paintings Charlotte herself had selected as the final edition, along with full translations of the accompanying texts.
With the appearance of this book came critical reception, and reviews in many of the most important forums, including The New York Times and the London Review of Books. The reviews, as with Diary of A Young Girl, were unanimously laudatory; as with the Diary, however, some tended to belittle Charlotte's ambition and sought to narrow her scope:
None of the reviews, moreover, make significant reference to Charlotte's gender, and certainly none use the word "feminist" to describe her work. Had Felstiner not seen her work one day and found herself enraptured by its strength and scope, Charlotte Salomon might have remained merely a coda to Anne Frank, another example of the sensitivity and delicacy of "a young girl."
6. Mary Lowenthal Felstiner: Women, Modernity and the Holocaust
Felstiner believes that Life? or Theater? is deeply the work of a woman, and accordingly, describes her articles and book about Charlotte as feminist. Yet criticism of her work, as with that of Charlotte's, has rarely focused on this issue.
What Felstiner brings to the larger discussion of the Holocaust is a compelling argument that gender is not merely a sidebar issue in the counting of the dead. There are no decisive figures on the number of people who perished in the Shoah. The Nazi rush to destroy as much evidence as possible once it became clear that Germany would lose the war, the sheer staggering number of the dead, many of whom had already been burned or buried, like one giant many-headed corpse, in mass graves, and the difficulty of defining which dead belonged to the Holocaust: only those who died in the camps? those who starved in the ghettos? who perished in hiding? in rebellion? those whose unavoidable deaths from illness and exhaustion fell on the days after V-E Day?...these considerations have made a final unambiguous count impossible. The most quoted figure is that of approximately eleven million people, at least six million of whom were Jews. At Auschwitz-Birkenau alone, the Nazis murdered 250,000 Poles, 20,000 Roma and Sinti (the preferred name of the "Gypsies"), an uncounted number of homosexuals, 12,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and up to 1.3 million Jews, one of whom was Charlotte Salomon. For any given transport, a small number were registered—given tattoos, a uniform, and a minuscule chance at life, although the vast majority of these died of privation, disease, and brutal work. But most—Salomon among them—were sent immediately to the gas. What Felstiner contends, and which has never before been suggested, is that sex was not merely one of the many, and often described as wholly illogical and arbitrary, criteria for selection, it was the criterion.
The numbers Felstiner provides are convincing, and disturbing. Of the 72,444 total deportees from France, forty-three percent were female. Yet of those selected for slave labor from this number, only thirty percent were women. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, out of the total 381,455 deportees so selected from 1942 through 1945, 67.5 percent were men, 32.5 percent were women. When the Allies came to Auschwitz in January of 1945, eighty-three percent of the surviving prisoners they found were men. And, Felstiner reports, "in the six Auschwitz warehouses still intact at the time of liberation, Soviet troops found 348,820 men's suits and 836,525 dresses." 139
Felstiner says that at the time of her research, she found these numbers baffling. What she realized, what makes her write that Charlotte Salomon "was more likely to have perished because she was a woman, and not only that, but misunderstood her fate, because she was a woman," was this:
In other words, the widely publicized Jew Süss images of lecherous, slimy Jewish men terrorizing Aryan women served in a capacity more secretly insidious than the manipulation and inspiration of anti-Semitic fears: they diverted attention away from the deliberate and methodical elimination of the progenitors of the Jewish race, the women.
The Holocaust is often characterized as an explosion of irrationality and emotional violence, a momentary deviation from the trajectory of progress; often, too, it is suggested that it had to do in part with the psychopathology of the SS leaders and with a certain quality of the German state. Yet extensive psychological testing of the SS at Nuremberg did not show them to be abnormal, 142 and even a cursory glance at post-World War II history indicates that the Nazi state has hardly been only one capable of mass murder: the United States, after all, alone of the nations, has used an atomic bomb to kill.
What the Holocaust is, sociologist Zygmunt Bauman claims in his book Modernity and the Holocaust, is the ultimate test of modernity:
What was most modern about the Holocaust, and of the modern genocides which have followed, Bauman claims, was its weapon: racism.
With the conversion of the Western world from a theological order to a rational and scientific one, anti-Semitism became less a religious quarrel than a racist one. And whereas one could, arguably, convert from one religion to another, one could not possibly convert from one's natural, genetic, racial identity. "Man is before he acts," Bauman explains, "nothing he does may change what he is. That is, roughly, the philosophical essence of racism."
It is also, of course, the essence of sexism, and it can be extrapolated from Bauman's coherent arguments that among the qualities of our civilization—"its guiding spirit, its priorities, its immanent vision of the world"—are not only imperialism and racism, but sexism as well. The dualism of the sexes runs deep into the foundations of our ordered, scientific, rational society. At one point, Bauman mentions that the emergence of the modern scientific method and the rationalization of everyday life occurred simultaneously with the most violent episode of witch-hunting in history, and that therefore the "irrationality" of witch-hunting was obviously not a phenomenon entirely divorced from the forward drive of Reason. 145 What Bauman neglects here to note was that witch-hunting was a deeply gendered phenomenon: that by and large, it was men who hunted women. In fact critical discourse explicates the witch-hunting fervor at this time as in part a manifestation of the anxiety which emerged as male-dominated modern medicine came to supersede women's roles as midwives and healers. The transition was eased for the incomers by branding women's activities as magic and witchery. 146
The misogyny of the Nazi movement is undisputed. The Third Reich's ideal woman was a submissive child-bearing hausfrau, or as the well-known motto goes, "Kinder, Kirche, Küche" ("Children, Church, Kitchen"). 147 The degree to which the Nazi definition of the female sex was linked to their reproductive capacity is indicated by Ute Frevert, who quotes Hitler himself to make her point: "In the education of the girl the final goal always to be kept in mind is that she is one day to be a mother," Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf. 148 Goebbels, in turn, wrote, "A woman's duty is to be attractive and bear children. The idea is not as vulgar and old-fashioned as it might seem. A female bird makes itself beautiful for its mate and hatches out her eggs for him." 149 And Helen Feig, author of Hitler's Death Camps, writes:
"The fascination [of the Nazis] with biology," summarizes Felstiner, "means that women represent a threat that is absolute." 151 This conclusion "almost borders on the self-evident," she continues, 152 yet it is one which would be revolutionary to the study of the Holocaust. Undoubtedly, some would read into this an accusation of grand conspiracy, a tone of hysteria, and, more seriously, a trivialization of the Holocaust. This speaks more, I am convinced, to the anxiety of the threatened than to the veracity of the threat. The links between genocide and modernity, and between modernity and misogyny, need to be further explored.
Joan Miriam Ringelheim asks, "Did anyone really survive the Holocaust?" It is a question more difficult to answer than it might at first appear. The Holocaust breaks down the definitions of words such as "survival." Memoirist Charlotte Delbo wrote after the war's end, "I died in Auschwitz, but no one knows it." And as idealistic as it may sound, there is some truth to the notion that Anne Frank and Charlotte Salomon manage, despite their brutal and meaningless murders, to live on after death. They wrote, after all, with that possibility in mind.
If to survive means to come through unscathed, the answer to Ringelheim's question must be no. But if to survive means to live through an experience of such horror still be able to desire connection with the world—to create, narrate, innovate, to invoke the voices of the dead and of the living—then the answer is yes. To survive: "sur"—over, "vive"—live; the verb implies both to surmount an event, to live through it, and to relive it, live it over. Perhaps the simplest and somewhat tragic truth is that the one necessarily involves the other.
I find some sense of closure in Felstiner's loving exploration of Charlotte Salomon because it is one which treats both the creator and the creation with equal care. What distinguishes Lucille Eichengreen from Anne Frank and Charlotte Salomon, of course, is that only the first survived the Holocaust. Yet all three have created voices which seek to bear witness to the Shoah, if only the world will let them. The skill which it would benefit the world to develop is that of simultaneously recognizing the fundamental point that memoirs of female Holocaust witnesses are authored by women, and that they each nevertheless are not utterly circumscribed by that fact. To neglect the first point contributes to an artificial universalization of men's experience and a silencing of painful but important questions. To neglect the second points to essentialism and dogmatic discourse. These women have taken a great step in creating a stand-in, a memorial protagonist, which can continue to tell their story after their own ends. They have invested the memoir with a certain autonomy; that autonomy needs to be acknowledged by the rest of us.
1. Carol Rittner and John K. Roth, eds., introduction to Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust (New York: Paragon House, 1993) 4. Ozick’s quote comes from a letter she wrote to Joan Ringelheim in 1980.
4. The question is also, of course, just what these forces are. Women have been silenced not only by Nazi genocide, but by academia, publishing houses (which will be explored more thoroughly in the case of Lucille Eichengreen), etc.
5. An interesting point...like voices, there are silences which are permitted to speak, and silences which are not.
6. Rittner and Roth, 38.
7. Marlene E. Heinemann, Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1986) 6.
8. Ibid., 2-3.
9. Ibid., 34.
10. Naomi Seidman, “Toward a Feminist Holocaust Studies” (unpublished paper) 6.
11. Ibid., 8.
12. There is a fascinating example of this approach in the March/April 1991 issue of Ms., devoted to the topic of hate crimes. In her editor’s note, Robin Morgan manages to assert that women who participate in hate crimes are unilaterally also victims of these crimes, since they must have been forced into it by men. Although male pressure is undeniably a variable, her desire to exonerate women entirely of responsibility for these crimes is almost reactionary.
13. Seidman, 9.
14. Eichengreen changed her first name to “Lucille” only upon her arrival in America, after being told that the diminutive of her name, Cili, sounded like “silly” in English.
15. Lucille Eichengreen, From Ashes to Life (San Francisco: Mercury House, 1994) 94.
16. Ibid., 104.
17. Ibid., 107.
20. Lucille was 19 when she was deported to Auschwitz.
21. Compare, for example, Celia’s lengthy description of her shaving with Wiesel’s: “Belt and shoes in hand, I let myself be dragged off to the barbers. They took our hair off with clippers, and shaved off all the hair on our bodies. The same thought buzzed all the time in my head—not to be separated from my father.“ (Elie Wiesel, Night [New York: Bantam Books, 1960], 33.
22. Livia E. Bitton Jackson, “Coming of Age,” in Rittner and Roth, 78-79.
23. Sybil Milton, “Women and the Holocaust: The Case of German and German-Jewish Women,” in The Nazi Holocaust, Vol. 6, Pt. 2, “Victims of the Holocaust,” ed. Michael R. Marrus (Westport, Connecticut: Meckler Corporation, 1989) 646.
24. And in a demonstration of the extent to which the value of hair translates to modern Jewish culture, in Judy Blume’s Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, a young adult novel about a Jewish girl which takes place immediately after the war, the protagonist Sally imagines herself as a spy for the Resistance, and chief among the tortures inflicted upon her by Hitler are the pulling of her fingernails and the shearing of her hair, both equally terrible.
25. Esther Katz and Joan Miriam Ringelheim, eds. Proceedings of the Conference: Women Surviving the Holocaust (New York: Occasional Papers from the Institute for Research in History, 1983) 19. The passage quoted was written by Helena Birenbaum about her experiences in Auschwitz.
26. Ibid., 17-19. See also Heinemann and Vera Laska, ed., Women in the Resistance and in the Holocaust: The Voices of Eyewitnesses (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983).
27. Ibid., 19.
28. Milton, 645-646. Quote is from Hanna Lévy-Hass, Vielleicht war das alles erst der Anfang: Tagebuch aus dem KZ Bergen-Belsen 1944-1945, ed. Eike Geisel (Berlin 1979), 10-11. Also see Eva Noack-Mosse, “Theresienstädter Tagebuch, January-July 1945” (unpublished manuscript, 1945); Hanna Schramm, Menschem in Gurs: Erinnerungen an ein französisches Internierungslager, 1940-1941 (Worms, 1977), 88.
29. Katz and Ringelheim, 175-176. The names of the speakers are not provided.
30. Seidman, 11.
31. Joan Miriam Ringelheim, “Women and the Holocaust: A Reconsideration of Research,” in Rittner and Roth, 378.
34. Ibid., 384.
35. Ibid., 385. It is not evident whether the italics are Atkinson’s or Ringelheim’s.
36. Ibid., 384.
37. Ibid., 385.
39. Ibid., 386.
40. Ibid., 402. Footnote 23 to text.
41. Ibid., 387.
42. Ibid., 389-391.
43. Lawrence Langer. “Redefining Heroic Behavior: The Impromptu Self and the Holocaust Experience,” in Lessons and Legacies, ed. Peter Hayes (Evanston: Northwestern U. Press, 1991), 229.
44. Bella Brodzki and Celeste Schenck, introduction to Life/Lines: Theorizing Women’s Autobiography (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988) 1.
45. Ibid., 5.
46. Ibid., 5-6. Cites Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977).
47. I find this particular claim a little far-fetched.
48. Susan Groag Bell and Marilyn Yalom, introduction to Revealing Lives: Autobiography, Biography, and Gender. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990) 7.
49. Heinemann, 82-83.
50. Ibid., 76. Cites Estelle C. Jelinek, Women’s Autobiography (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1980) 15. One wonders if it is the writers’ or Heinemann’s own desire to erase the “sheep to slaughter” stereotype of Holocaust Jews which precipitates this observation.
51. Ellen S. Fine, “Women Writers and the Holocaust: Strategies for Survival,” in Reflections of the Holocaust in Art and Literature, ed. Randolph L. Braham (New York: Columbia University Press and Boulder: Social Science Monographs, 1990) 79-80.
52. Ibid., 80.
53. Ibid., 86.
54. Ibid., 87. Cites Frieda Aaron, “Yiddish and Polish Poetry in the Ghettos and Camps,” Modern Language Studies 19 no.1 (1989) 72. Aaron’s emphasis.
55. Interview with Lucille Eichengreen, Oakland, CA, March 17, 1994.
57. Where, as was angrily noted by many U.S. and German Jewish organizations and by the U.S. Congress, but apparently not by Reagan, several dozen SS are buried. The visit to Bergen-Belsen was arranged hastily by Reagan and Kohl as a conciliatory measure to those who protested Reagan’s visit to a Nazi graveyard. See Ilya Levkov, ed., Bitburg and Beyond: Encounters in American, German and Jewish History, (New York: Shapolsky Publisher, 1987).
58. In fact, only Anne and her sister Margot went to Bergen-Belsen, in March of 1945 (some time after the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet army). Both died there, of starvation and typhus. Edith Frank died in Auschwitz on January 6, 1945; Otto Frank, who remained in Auschwitz until the end of the war, survived. [Peter van Pels (van Dann in the published version of the diary) died at Mauthausen on May 5, 1945; his father, at Auschwitz on September 6, 1944; his mother, at Theresienstadt (Terezin) in the spring of 1945. Dr. Pfeffer, a.k.a. Dr. Dussel, died at Neuengamme on December 12, 1944.]
59. Levkov, 134.
60. Heinemann, Gender and Destiny, 1.
61. Rittner and Roth, Different Voices, xii.
62. As exemplified by this speech by Mayor of Amsterdam Ed van Thijn, presenting the Anne Frank literature prize in 1985: “[Anne Frank is] not a symbol in an abstract sense, far away from reality: no, she is a symbol because she reflects reality, because she was just a girl of fourteen, fifteen years old[…]She made the incomprehensible story of the Second World War comprehensible.”
63. Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition, ed. David Barnouw and Gerrold Van Der Stroom, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans and B.M. Mooyaart-Doubleday (New York: Doubleday, 1989) 678.
64. Gerrold van der Stroom, “The Diaries, Het Achterhuis and the Translations,” in The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition, 59.
65. Frank, Diary, 578.
66. Ibid., 647.
67. Ibid., 653.
68. As of March 1995, an edition of Anne's diary has been published by Doubleday which restores most of these entries. However, the Doubleday edition makes no attempt to analyze the effects of either the elimination or restoration of this material. Instead, Doubleday is quoted in the New York Times Book Review (March 5, 1995) as claiming that “the restored entries, constituting…30 percent more material [!] do not alter our basic sense of Anne Frank…” For the reasons outlined in this chapter, I find this assertion difficult to believe.
69. Van der Stroom, “The Diaries, Het Achterhuis and the Translations,” 59.
70. Ibid., 67-68.
71. Alvin H. Rosenfeld, “Popularization and Memory: The Case of Anne Frank,” in Lessons and Legacies, ed. Peter Hayes (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1991) 246-248.
72. Van der Stroom, “The Diaries, Het Achterhuis and the Translations,” 71.
73. Henri van Praag, “Ideas are Dynamite,“ in A Tribute to Anne Frank, ed. Anna G. Steenmeijer in collaboration with Otto Frank and Henri van Praag (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1971) 25.
74. Eleanor Roosevelt, Introduction to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, in A Tribute to Anne Frank, 34.
75. Daniel Rops, Preface to Journal de Anne Frank, in A Tribute to Anne Frank, 35.
76. Albrecht Goes, Preface to Das Tagebuch der Anne Frank, in A Tribute to Anne Frank, 35.
77. Bruno Bettelheim, “The Ignored Lesson of Anne Frank,” Harper’s 221 (November 1960): 45. Also printed in Bettelheim, The Informed Heart (Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1960).
78. Ibid., 46.
79. Seidman, “Toward a Feminist Holocaust Studies,” 13.
80. Hannah Arendt, “Letter to the Editor,” Midstream 8 (September 1962) 86.
81. Bettelheim, 45. My emphasis.
82. See Judith E. Doneson, “Feminine Stereotypes of Jews in Holocaust Films: Focus on the Diary of Anne Frank,” in The Netherlands and Nazi Genocide, ed. G. Jan Colijn and Marcia S. Littell (Lewiston, UK: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1992); “The American History of Anne Frank’s Diary,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 2 (1987) 149-160.
83. Rosenfeld, “Popularization and Memory,” 252.
84. Ibid., and see Langer, “The Americanization of the Holocaust,” same volume, 214-215.
85. Berteke Waaldijk, “Reading Anne Frank as a Woman,” Women’s Studies International Forum 16 (July/August 1993) 328.
86. Ibid., 330.
88. Frank, Diary, 287.
89. Ibid., 304.
90. See Robert P. Doyle, Banned Books 1994 Resource Guide (Chicago: American Library Association), 1994, 31. In addition, in 1983, members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee called for the withdrawal of this title because it was “a real downer.”
91. Ditlieb Felderer, Anne Frank’s Diary—A Hoax (Torrance, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1979) 5.
92. Ibid., 10.
93. Ibid., 16.
94. Van der Stroom, “The Diaries, Het Achterhuis and the Translations,” 72-73.
95. Rosenfeld, “Popularization and Memory: The Case of Anne Frank,” 256.
96. Ibid., 255.
97. Ibid., 271.
98. Waaldijk, “Reading Anne Frank as a Woman,” 331.
99. Anne invented “van Dann” as a pseudonym for van Pels, the actual surname of the family who hid with the Franks, in her editing.
100. Frank, Diary, 586-587.
101. Mary Lowenthal Felstiner, prologue to To Paint her Life: Charlotte Salomon in the Nazi Era (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), x.
102. Felstiner, interview by author, October 16, 1994, tape recording, Stanford, California.
103. Before writing To Paint her Life, Felstiner had published two articles about Charlotte Salomon: the first, “Taking her life/history: the autobiography of Charlotte Salomon,” was included in Bella Brodzki’s and Celeste Schenk’s 1988 Life/Lines: Theorizing Women’s Autobiography; the second, “Engendering an autobiography: Charlotte Salomon’s ‘Life or Theater?’,” appeared in 1990, in Marilyn Yalom’s and Susan Bell’s Revealing Lives: Autobiography, Biography and Gender. As the titles suggest, Felstiner’s analyses were included as examples of feminist autobiography, but as we have seen, this method tends unfortunately to imprison the subject within essentialist definitions, within well-meant but inevitably rigid definitions of “female subjectivity,” however multi-faceted or fragmented it is insisted this subjectivity is.
104. Judith C.E. Belinfante, “Theatre, remarks on a work of art,” in Charlotte Salomon: Leven? of Theater?, adapted by Belinfante, Christine Fischer-Defoy, and Ad Petersen (Amsterdam: Joods Historisch Museum, 1992), 31. Emphasis mine.
105. She was admitted in part because her father had served at the front in the Great War, and of course, because, as the minutes from the Admissions Committee of that year confirm, her “artistic abilities…are beyond doubt,” but moreover, as Felstiner takes pains to point out, because of her exemplary “reserved nature.” This meant that she was unlikely to display the treacherous eroticism and debased morality the Nazi state attributed to Jewish women, and therefore to present a danger to the honor of Aryan manhood.
106. See Felstiner, To Paint her Life, 65-67 and Christine Fischer-Defoy, “Life, biography 1917-1940,” in Charlotte Salomon: Leven? of Theater?, 20-22.
107. In 1986, Paula Salomon-Lindberg recalled that the haste of Charlotte’s emigration was due to the necessity of sending her off before her twenty-first birthday, when she would have required a passport to “visit her sick grandmother” (Fischer-Defoy, 28).
108. Felstiner, “Taking her life/history: the autobiography of Charlotte Salomon,” in Brodzki and Schenck, 321.
109. Felstiner, To Paint her Life, 107-108.
110. Judith Herzberg, introduction to Charlotte: Life or Theater? An Autobiographical Play, by Charlotte Salomon, trans. Leila Vennewitz (New York: Viking Press; Maarssen, The Netherlands: G. Schwartz, 1981), viii.
111. Charlotte’s father becomes Dr. Kann, her grandparents become Herr and Frau Knarre [an instrument which scrapes, a noise without pitch or harmony],her musical stepmother is given the melismatic name of Paulinka Bimbam, and Alfred Wolfsohn earns the flamboyantly romantic name of Amadeus Daberlohn.
112. Felstiner, “Taking her life/history,” 323.
113. The musical accompaniment here is the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, from Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”: “Freude, schöner Götterfunken / Tochter aus Elysium”—“Joy, thou spark from flame immortal / Daughter of Elysium.”
114. By Charlotte’s angry account, this second, successful attempt occurs in part due to the neglect of her grandfather, who brushes off her urges that he stay by his wife’s bedside as Charlotte rests.
115. Ibid., 111-112.
116. Ibid., 114-115.
117. Charlotte Salomon, Leben? oder Theater?, trans. Leila Vennewitz, 777. Felstiner prefers “something wildly unusual”; the German is “etwas ganz verrückt besonders.”
118. Felstiner, To Paint her Life, 141 (postscript Joods Historisch Museum [JHM] 4928, 4931).
119. Felstiner, “Taking her life/history,” 330.
120. Felstiner, To Paint her Life, 150.
121. Mary Felstiner, “Charlotte Salomon’s Inward-Turning Testimony,” in Holocaust Remembrance: The Shapes of Memory, ed. Geoffrey H. Hartman (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1994), 112.
122. Ibid., 115-116.
123. Salomon, Unnumbered text, JHM, 81:N3. (Unnumbered texts are those which Salmon chose not to number for inclusion into Leben? oder Theater? This material has never been published; the numbers refer to the Museum’s cataloguing system.) As cited by Felstiner, “Charlotte Salomon’s Inward-Turning Testimony,” footnote 31.
124. Felstiner, “Charlotte Salomon’s Inward-Turning Testimony,” 113-114.
125. Salomon, Leben? oder Theater?, 4. Translation by Mary Felstiner.
126. Felstiner, “Charlotte Salomon’s Inward-Turning Testimony,” 114.
127. Felstiner, To Paint her Life, 154.
128. Salomon, 6.
129. Felstiner, “Engendering an Autobiography in Art: Charlotte Salomon’s ‘Life? or Theater?’,” in Bell and Yalom, 191-192.
130. Salomon, 782-783. Translation by Felstiner.
131. Felstiner, To Paint her Life, 156-157.
132. Salomon, 682.
133. Out of order, and in some cases edited, as with one page, where Charlotte declares to her grandfather that “You know, Grandpa I have a feeling the whole world has to be put back together again.” His response, originally painted onto the sheet, was removed: “Oh, go ahead and kill yourself and put an end to all this babble!” (Salomon, 774)
134. Felstiner, To Paint her Life, 224.
135. Paul Tillich, preface to Charlotte: A Diary in Pictures, by Charlotte Salomon (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1963).
136. Robert Taubman, “Nobody is God,” review of Charlotte: Life or Theater? An Autobiographical Play, by Charlotte Salomon, in London Review of Books, 4-18 February 1982): 19.
137. Felstiner, interview.
138. Felstiner, To Paint her Life, 205.
139. Ibid., 206.
140. Felstiner, interview.
141. Felstiner, To Paint her Life, 207,208.
142. Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989)19, and see George M. Kren and Leon Rappaport, The Holocaust and the Crisis of Human Behavior (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1980), 70.
143. Bauman, 8.
144. Ibid., 61-62.
145. Ibid., 40.
146. See Mary Chamberlain, Old Wives’ Tales: Their History, Remedies and Spells (London: Virago Press, Ltd., 1981) and Barbara Ehrenreich and Deidre English, For Her Own Good, (Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1978).
147. Which does not mean that most German women were not fervent supporters of the Nazi regime.
148. Ute Frevert, Women in German History: from Bourgeois Emancipation to Sexual Liberation, trans. Stuart McKinnon-Evans (New York: Berg Publishers Limited, 1990), 220.
149. Marc Hillel and Clarissa Henry, Of Pure Blood (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976), 34.
150. Konnilyn G. Feig, Hitler’s Death Camps: the Sanity of Madness (New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, 1979), 158, 171.
151. Felstiner, interview.
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