Introduction: Women Writing the Holocaust

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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 E., 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, thispaper 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.