Lunch and Learn- Different Horrors, Same Hell: Gendering the Holocaust

Home / Lunch and Learn- Different Horrors, Same Hell: Gendering the Holocaust

February -March 2017
12-1:15 p.m.


Multi-Activity Room
Jewish Community Campus
5801 West 115th Street
Overland Park, Kansas

This course, taught by MCHE’s public historian Shelly Cline, will feature short lectures and exciting class discussions. Sessions will begin at noon and last 75 minutes.

The cost for this five-session course is $50 which includes materials. Participants are encouraged to bring their own lunch to eat during the sessions.

What is Gendering the Holocaust and Why Does it Matter?

People often assume that a discussion about “gender” is really code for a discussion about “women”. It isn’t. Rather, a gendered approach to the study of the Holocaust considers the experiences of women and men in relation to one another, as well as how femaleness or maleness impacts an individual’s time during the Holocaust. It also erodes the notion that any one set of Holocaust experiences can be viewed as universal or normative. Gendering is not about a hierarchy of suffering, nor does it detract from the Jewishness of Holocaust victims. Instead, it makes our understanding of the survivor experience much more robust and nuanced.

Although widely accepted today, the method of gendering the Holocaust was controversial when first proposed by Holocaust scholars in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Initial calls to include a study of the experiences of women alongside men was at first met with hostility and opposition. Thanks to the perseverance and thoughtful scholarship of pioneers such as Joan Ringelheim and Myra Goldenberg, the field expanded before it was too late to gather the stories of female survivors who had hesitated to share their specifically female experiences. It was Goldenberg who described the experience of women in the Holocaust as “Different horrors, same hell.” Many years later she would publish a collection of essays about gendering the Holocaust under this title.

Initial efforts focused on gathering the stories of women, later studies began to interrogate these sources in a gendered way. Scholars began to look at how pre-war gendered socialization of women and men impacted their experience in the Holocaust. Think about accounts you might know well such as Elie Weisel’s Night. Consider why it is important that the author was male and that he is describing the dynamics of a father/son relationship. How might the experience have been different if he were female? Questions such as this can help us move away from an assumed universality of survivor testimony.

February 14, 2017 – Gender in the Ghetto

The ghettos were the last place Polish Jews functioned as families and communities. In the midst of deteriorating conditions and extreme hardship they sought not just to survive, but to live. This session examines the gendered pressures and expectations experienced by both women and men in ghetto life.

February 21, 2017 – Gender in the Camps Part I – The Experience of Women

From the moment of arrival, gender mattered. Women and men were separated upon entry to the camps and from then until liberation their experiences would be markedly different. This session will explore the different hardships and strategies for survival that camp life entailed. How did female social norms outside the camp prepare or hinder survival inside? How did pregnancy and sexual assault complicate their Holocaust experience?

February 28, 2017 – Gender in the Camps Part II – The Experience of Men

Part II will explore many of the same themes as the previous session as they applied to men. How did social norms and experiences of men outside the camp prepare or hinder survival inside? How did men experience the process of arrival and selection? We will also discuss the problem of a universal Holocaust narrative: Why are so many of the most famous accounts and memoirs of men?

March 7, 2017 -Gender and Perpetration

Though most perpetrators were male, some were not. Throughout the war, 3,500 women served as guards in the camp system. Though their work and responsibilities were the same as their male colleagues, their experience was not. As a female minority, these women often were targets of discrimination, and they were expected to adhere to a male military code of behavior exhibited by their male colleagues. Ultimately, these factors greatly impacted the lives of prisoners. This session will examine the experience of these women and how their gender impacted their work and the suffering of prisoners within the camps.

March 14, 2017 – Gender and Pop Culture Representations of the Holocaust

Over the past decades, the Holocaust has been richly represented in literature and film. How do these representations compare to the real events, and how is gender used to tell these stories? This session will look at cinematic representions of several survivor accounts covered in previous sessions.

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