Writing reread: re-examining depictions of camp life in women’s Holocaust testimonies

For this talk we welcome speaker Roseanne Ramsden, Montague Burton Fellow in Jewish Studies, University of Leeds.

Organised by the Centre for Jewish Studies, this event is free and all are welcome.

About the talk

How are women’s narrative self-representations filtered through their own gender assumptions and that of their readers? Why do images of women during the Holocaust as nurturers and carers continue to receive preferential treatment in both popular and historiographical discourses?

In this talk, I will discuss a range of women’s Holocaust memoirs in the English original and English translation, published in the decades following the liberation of the camps. Though written by a diverse group of women at different times, the testimonies are united by their narrative evocations of hostility, selfishness, isolation, rivalry and difficult relationships among women in Nazi internment centres during the Holocaust. Yet Holocaust historiography has often been reluctant to emphasise these themes in women’s retellings of experience, and has instead persistently returned to characterising women using the categories of mother, sister, caretaker and nurturer.

I will argue that though men and women who survived the Holocaust often write of similar experiences of Nazi forced labour and concentration camps, the manner in which they depict – or the significance they place upon – the personal relationships they formed in these settings are markedly different because of gender. What’s more, expectations about gender mean that their testimonies are read and understood differently. As a result, the complexity of the texts is obscured.

In this paper, I challenge these normative discourses and complicate existing categories of analysis by giving the space of interpretation to narratives that have, heretofore, gone largely overlooked. In doing so, I work to bring the footnotes of history into the main body of the text.

Event link

This event will be hosted on Zoom.

Link to Roseanne Ramsden’s talk.

Meeting ID: 874 6921 3517
Passcode: Z&zC7.


Photograph courtesy of Roseanne Ramsden.