Women's Holocaust Writing: Memory and Imagination.
S. Lillian Kremer's remarkable study, Women's Holocaust Writing: Memory and Imagination, addresses the central issue of women's experiences, both material and psychic, during the Shoah, the Hebrew word for the Holocaust, an etymological distinction that Kremer establishes in the Preface to the work. Throughout the book, Kremer refers both to the Holocaust, the more commonly used term to define the programmatic, legislated destruction of European Jewry, and to the Shoah, a biblical term designating "ruin, calamity, desolation" (p. xi). Kremer's insistence on the definitional accuracy of the Hebrew term Shoah, which dislodges the "affirmative theological overtones of the Greek-derived Holocaust and accurately signifies the rupture in the Jewish collective consciousness," resulting from the 1933-45 Nazi war against the Jews, establishes early on the scholarly precision and exacting stance that characterize this compelling work. The clear and carefully documented research that Kremer brings to bear on this study attempts to integrate the wide variety of scholarly material devoted to the Holocaust, and her Notes at the conclusion of the work are particularly useful in suggesting the range of literature available.
Kremer, by her own admission, hopes to enlarge the scope of Holocaust studies by introducing and integrating into the canon literature written by American women and by emigre women living in America and writing in English, whose literature defines the plight of women during the Holocaust. In focusing on the distinctive experiences of women during the Shoah, Kremer neither privileges women's suffering nor separates it from that of their masculine counterparts. Rather, she exposes and interprets the ways in which gender and gendered responses to women in large part influenced the victimization of women within the context of atrocities and abominations executed by the Nazis. In order to emphasize the suffering of women during the Holocaust (thus making the canon of Holocaust studies more inclusive) and to point to distinctions between male and female victimization, Kremer draws from both conventionally generic literary works and "testimony," fictional accounts by women who experienced the Holocaust first-hand. Kremer analyzes fiction written by women who came to the Holocaust by way of research and imaginary invention as well as that written by female survivors themselves who "fictionalize" experiences they both witnessed and lived. Kremer's close readings of these narratives are framed by a comprehensive sociological, psychological, and historical context of the Holocaust, one that provides a compressed and succinct rendering of the conditions brought to bear on European Jewry at the time of the Holocaust and on Jewish women in particular. Kremer's own research into women and the Holocaust shapes this study in very important ways, not in the least because she contextualizes women's experiences within the larger picture of Nazi propaganda, policies, and procedures, and contrasts the conditions and circumstances that women were unrelentingly subjected to with those of men, not only in the concentration camps, but also in pre- and post-war Europe.
In exploring selected writings in English by emigre women residing in America and by American fiction writers for whom the Holocaust is the source of fictive invention, this study brings together works heretofore uncollected under a single cover in this uniquely integrated form. Here Kremer deftly integrates fiction and testimony, posing one form of discourse in a kind of dialectic with the other, wherein the one doesn't contrast so much as complement the other. Such a synthesis creates a multifaceted, three-dimensional "reading" of the Holocaust through the imaginative vision of women who have recreated the experience from disparate but equally complex and exacting perspectives, perspectives that bring to light their radical differences as much as their strikingly and disturbingly traumatic and destabilizing similarities. The interlacing of these particular fictional narratives, written by women with dramatically diverse political, social, economic and historical backgrounds, within the scholarly, comprehensive, well-documented research that shapes the book as a whole, makes this study an important contribution to the canon of Holocaust literature.
As such, Women's Holocaust Writing fills two notable gaps in scholarship devoted to the Holocaust. With few exceptions, scant work has been done on Holocaust literature by American fiction writers. Kremer's previous book, Witness Through the Imagination.' Jewish American Holocaust Literature (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989) is one of the most notable exceptions and is a useful complement to her most recent work. And, while there is a significant and impressive amount of scholarship on Holocaust studies from a variety of literary, historical, and sociological perspectives, there is still relatively and comparatively little on the conditions specific to women, and specifically from a fictional perspective that contrasts emigre and American cultural responses to the Holocaust. To this end, Kremer has conjoined American writers, such as Cynthia Ozick, Norma Rosen, and Marge Piercy, with European writers, some whose works are well-known and others whose writings have been unfortunately neglected, including Elzbieta Ettinger, Ilona Karmel, and Hana Demetz.
One of the book's many strengths is that the individual works included are intended to be neither widespread nor exhaustive, nor a compendium of each writer's literary career. Rather, the readings are carefully, minimally, and selectively chosen, with a critical eye for meaningful and subtle distinctions and for a range of experiences that point to cultural, geographical, economic, and social markers of difference. The judicious choice of selections further allows the kind of analytical depth that characterizes Kremer's insightful readings of individual works. Each chapter is prefaced by a succinct and helpful biographical introduction to the writer and to the corpus of her work, placing that particular writer in a tradition of Holocaust literature.
Women's Holocaust Writing is an important book, one that, I suspect, will engender further studies of women's experiences in and responses to the Holocaust. It is a sensitive account of a subject that in many ways defies the very fictional genres that, as Kremer makes strikingly clear, attempt to represent it.
VICTORIA AARONS, Trinity University
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2001|
|Previous Article:||"I'm Telling You Stories": Jeanette Winterson and the Politics of Reading.|
|Next Article:||Solitude Versus Solidarity in the Novels of Joseph Conrad: Political and Epistemological Implications of Narrative Innovation.|