Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
concentration camps, Holocaust, Jews, women
Men like, Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl, and Elie Wiesel, have provided us with valuable insight on the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. Only until recently, was there a disproportion of female memoirs of the Holocaust beyond the story Anne Frank. The purpose of this study was to research the Jewish women’s experience in the ghettos, the concentration camps, and the partisans to add to a broader understanding of the Holocaust and its female victims. The hostile environment for Jewish males after Hitler’s rise to power led to a complete role reversal for Jewish men and women. Jewish women were forced out of their domestic sphere and were thrust out into the working world to support their families. Women had the added burden of maintaining a peaceful family life while facing life and death decisions on whether to stay or leave Germany. Generally speaking, women took on their new responsibilities with grace and fortitude. I found that women thought life was bearable until in 1941 all Jews were confined to ghettos. Ghettoization meant that Jews were forcefully relocated and isolated into small chosen sectors of cities. In this study, I looked at the Lodz and Warsaw ghettos in Poland. Historians argue that ghetto life further blurred the distinctive roles of men and women as both genders were faced with an equal struggle to survive. This study evaluates how women responded to the endless disease, long hours of work, crowding, starvation, and death that were present in the ghettos. I found that in the Warsaw and Lodz ghettos, Jewish women were innovative, creative, and relentless in their desire to endure. Following the liquidation of the ghettos, the concentration camps segregated Jewish women from men. This study explores the horrors in the camps that were distinct to the female gender. The shaving ritual upon arrival at the camps, the fear of sexual assault, and children and motherhood, all contributed to Jewish women’s suffering. Many have attributed survival to the product of luck, of having a friend or sister to live for, or trying to maintain some sense of human dignity. I found that survivors were either able to find meaning in their suffering, or were haunted by loss and traumatic memories indefinitely. Few sources address women who played a role in the fighting partisan movement. It was exceedingly difficult for women to be accepted within the partisans simply because they were women, and Jews. In most cases, a woman needed a male protector in the forests who would care for her in exchange for her services as a mistress. Life in the partisans was one of constant movement, fear of German assault, and torture and death if caught. Some people discredit studying the experience of women in the holocaust believing that gender isn’t relevant considering men and women were targeted as Jews. It has been argued that separating the male and female narratives takes away from the suffering of Jewish people as a whole. This study doesn’t seek to distract from the magnitude of Jewish suffering in the holocaust. My intention is to provide an understanding of how women specifically experienced life in the ghettos, the concentration camps, and in the partisans.
Vicks, Sara, "Jewish Women in the Ghettos, Concentration Camps, and Partisans During the Holocaust" (2014). Honors Theses and Student Projects. 610.