Her Sto­ry, My Sto­ry? Writ­ing About Women and the Holocaust

Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz and Dalia Ofer (eds.)

January 14, 2020

The book Her Sto­ry, My Sto­ry? Writ­ing about Women and the Holo­caust, is com­posed of 27 bio­graph­i­cal-aca­d­e­m­ic essays writ­ten by promi­nent women schol­ars world­wide. All have devot­ed a sig­nif­i­cant part of their pro­fes­sion­al lives to writ­ing about aspects of Jew­ish wom­en’s expe­ri­ences dur­ing the Holo­caust. We believe that this choice was not ran­dom, and in many cas­es was root­ed in the per­son­al his­to­ry and pro­fes­sion­al expe­ri­ences of each schol­ar which lat­er affect­ed the fruits of her scholarship.

Each essay charts that schol­ar’s jour­ney towards work­ing on the top­ic and her expe­ri­ences while con­duct­ing her research. Schol­ars dis­cuss issues relat­ing to iden­ti­ty, per­son­al choic­es, reli­gious, polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al affil­i­a­tions and their con­nec­tion to the focus of their research.

Discussion Questions

A good num­ber of books have been writ­ten about women in the Holo­caust: their height­ened sex­u­al vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, their abil­i­ty to sur­vive and help oth­ers to sur­vive because of their­nur­tur­ing capac­i­ties, their fierce deter­mi­na­tion to pro­tect chil­dren and the elder­ly — and the oppo­site posi­tions on all of the above. All of these ideas appear in the pages of this book — but that is not what is unique about Her Sto­ry, My Story.

This anthol­o­gy con­sists of twen­ty-sev­en auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal sketch­es of schol­ars who came to write and/​or teach about women and the Shoah: their moti­va­tions; their per­son­al, intel­lec­tu­al, pro­fes­sion­al and reli­gious expe­ri­ences; the pro­found changes that their work wrought in them.

Inter­est­ing­ly, most of the women began their pro­fes­sion­al lives in anoth­er dis­ci­pline alto­geth­er, only to be pulled into writ­ing about the Holo­caust after hear­ing fam­i­ly sto­ries, lis­ten­ing to a con­fer­ence lec­ture, hav­ing a chance encounter with a sur­vivor, or vis­it­ing a Holo­caust memo­r­i­al. For some, writ­ing about women and the Holo­caust was an act of fair­ness and com­pas­sion — record­ing the lives of those women who might oth­er­wise be for­got­ten. For some, it was about truth — the oppor­tu­ni­ty to cor­rect mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions in the writ­ings of oth­ers on this topic.

Many of the ear­li­er female schol­ars write about the chal­lenges they per­son­al­ly faced try­ing to break into a rel­a­tive­ly new dis­ci­pline large­ly dom­i­nat­ed and led by male aca­d­e­mics dur­ing the last half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. All of the book’s con­trib­u­tors describe how their work chal­lenged or deep­ened their reli­gious iden­ti­ty, tra­di­tions, faith; belief in uni­ver­sal val­ues of good­ness, ethics, social jus­tice, human rights, women’s equal­i­ty; and more.

The book is ded­i­cat­ed to the mem­o­ry of Fanya Heller, with a touch­ing intro­duc­tion by her daugh­ter, Jacque­line. Fanya was a sur­vivor and a great Jew­ish activist and phil­an­thropist who ded­i­cat­ed her life to pre­serv­ing Shoah memory.

One does not often think of a his­to­ri­og­ra­phy, much less an anthol­o­gy, as grip­ping.” Yet this work is exact­ly that. In its pages, one gets the larg­er pic­ture of women’s lives in the Shoah as well as a con­fir­ma­tion of the Holo­caust Fac­tor — all of those things that trig­ger Holo­caust con­scious­ness in a gen­er­a­tion once, twice or thrice removed from the event itself.

Bra­vo to the edi­tors and the con­trib­u­tors for a last­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the sub­ject of women and the Holocaust.