The Holocaust continues to exist as a black mark in the history of Germany; through the government supported torture and extermination of both men and women, more than 6 million lost their lives. As a consequence of the collective tragedy for both sexes, there has been much debate pertaining to the focus of gender specific suffering in Holocaust literature; for this reason, the Holocaust accounts of women writers were largely ignored prior to the 1970’s. Many historians still refute disparities existed between the male and female experience. However, it is worth noting that the social, familial, and cultural expectations of men and women, both prior to and during the war, varied greatly. Moreover, these diverging roles promoted distinctively different coping, processing, and accounting of the tragedies stemming from the Holocaust. By examining the unique experiences of women, both within and outside the concentration camps, one can logically conclude these remarkable accounts broaden the scope of Holocaust literature. Embedded gender roles helped the survival efforts of women, and these unique female perspectives are valuable in accurately portraying the Holocaust experience.
To first define gender specific experiences, it is imperative to identify which attributes make an experience exclusively female. Although many Nazi persecuted women were mothers, it is important to view the female account in more than maternal terms. Undoubtedly, the forced separation of mother and child was deplorable, but there is much more to the female experience. Women were also wives, sisters, aunts, daughters, and friends; all of these relationships contribute to what constitutes the female specific account. As noted in The Holocaust: Theoretical Readings:
Women’s culture is different then men’s culture; women’s culture (not their biology) provides women with specific and different conditions in which to make moral choices and act meaningfully. There must be further exploration of these differences between men and women; the assumption that “human” responses are undifferentiable will not stand (Levi and Rothberg 175)
Including the stories of women in Holocaust literature allows readers to understand why female sufferers carried out particular acts of desperation, and whether certain responses were strategic or the result of learned gender roles.
Prior to the war, many women lived what would be considered traditional female roles. Women were responsible for ensuring psychological and spiritual health of the family unit. This was achieved by being efficient mothers, wives, and homemakers. Once Nazi occupation became established, lives were disrupted; in response, women relied on traditional female behaviors to adapt to the situation. Because women in this time were perceived as vulnerable, or the weaker sex, many assumed Nazi authorities would treat women with more compassion than they would men. As a result, women were often sent out to wait in food...