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The Macksey Journal

Abstract

This historiography researches historians’ view of Jewish motherhood during the Holocaust. For several decades, Holocaust research primarily focused on the male experience, as it was seen as normative. It was not until the 1980s that female historians had to argue that Jewish women experienced the Holocaust differently than men. Specifically, Jewish women were targeted by the Nazis for the ability to bear and raise Jewish children. The Nazis criminalized pregnancy (which led to abortions done by Jewish women and inmate doctors and infanticide), forcibly sterilized Jewish men and women, and caused amenorrhea in the camps by poor nutrition and overworking Jewish women. Immediately after the war, issues of sexual assault and loss of fertility were not discussed as much. In response to these attacks, Jewish women used their various homemaking skills to make life more comfortable in the concentration camps. They formed foster families to care for one another, and tried to keep up spirits by sharing recipes, making gifts, and teaching skills to one another. By bringing attention to these topics the paper is contextualized in feminist theory. I have also incorporated feminist theory explain why men’s experiences being viewed as normative is harmful. Though historians no longer argue that Jewish women survived better than Jewish men with these particular actions and skills, it is acknowledged that Jewish women had different experiences, because many of them embodied the role of mothers and caretakers. At the same time, historians are also highlighting that women’s experiences were not homogenized, as there were Jewish women who were scorned for not upholding gender roles.

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