by | 20 September 2022 | Blog

Gender and the Holocaust ECR/Postgraduate Workshop

On 16 September 2022, the Holocaust Research Institute and The Wiener Holocaust Library coordinated a one-day postgraduate/ECR workshop on ‘Gender and the Holocaust’. The event was held under the auspices of the Holocaust and Genocide Research Partnership – in line with one of our core aims: to foster, support, and inspire the next generation of Holocaust and Genocide scholars.

The workshop was hosted by The Wiener Holocaust Library in Russell Square.

The workshop was opened by Professor Dan Stone, Director of the Holocaust Research Institute, and Dr Christine Schmidt, Deputy Director and Head of Research at The Wiener Holocaust Library both of whom welcomed the participants and noted the continuing importance and dynamism of the topic within the current scholarship. Professor Stone and Dr Schmidt then handed over to the workshop’s co-organisers, Roxy Moore and Julie Fitzpatrick, who spoke to the aims of the conference: to bring together scholars from across the world in a supportive environment for a day of collaborative discussion and learning.

The first panel of the day, chaired by Julie, explored how a focus on a specific source type can be a nuanced and fascinating way to understand gender and the Holocaust. We heard papers from three Royal Holloway PhD students on topics ranging from photography, mixed media art to letters.

Our first panellist looked at photographs. Alexandra Jiménez Nimmo, who herself is a photo and research assistant at the Wiener Holocaust Library, spoke about the photography of Eva Braun, Lee Miller and Tomoko Yoneda. Miller and Yoneda used images of Braun in their work to raise questions about gender, female perpetrators and transtemporal memory. We were shown Miller’s Braun’s villa in Munich series and the way Miller captures a domestic exterior and feminine interior. Miller, who inserts herself into the scenes, explores the female perpetrator in a very visual way. Yoneda captures the memory of global atrocity sites through urban landscapes and organic material like flowers. Through the lens and point of view of these female photographers, the paper introduced us to the oft-overlooked images of female perpetrators by female artists and their potential to shape greater awareness of the multiplicity of approaches when it comes to studying gender and the Holocaust.

Rebecca Harris spoke about the German Jewish artist Hannelore Baron, a case study part of her wider thesis project Material Thinking, Translation, Unmaking History: Reinterpreting Traumatic Resonance in Postwar Jewish Women’s Art and Literature. Hannelore Baron left Germany in 1939, moving to New York via Portugal. Her collages and mixed media artworks meshed a number of inspirations ranging from Italian culture, American Indian burial costume, rituals, Chinese culture, archaeological finds, ecological lifecycles and the trauma of her younger years in Germany. She witnessed Kristallnacht and, on returning to her family’s apartment a few days later, saw the bloodied handprints of her father who had been beaten during the November Pogrom. These experiences and sights left an indelible mark on the young woman. Rebecca’s paper introduced us to this extraordinary artist who found a way to translate her trauma and her voice through art.

Sandra Lipner’s thesis is about her family history. Her paper, based on her second chapter, homed in on the conceptualisation of Heimat employed by bourgeois Germans, specifically the women of her family during the Third Reich. Using the letters of her great-grandmother, Annemarie Brenzinger, in addition to a host of visual media, postcards and prints that captured the bucolic rendering of Heimat, the paper highlighted two different renderings of the term. First defined was the dominant, völkisch conceptualisation of Heimat as compatible with the blood-and-soil ideology of Nazism. However, this rendering was contrasted with a cultural history of Sandra’s family. She revealed that there were small but significant differences between the völkisch-conservative and National Socialist worldviews which meant that most members of her great-grandmother’s kinship network were ‘trusted Aryans’ who helped Annemarie Brenzinger, racialised as a ‘half-Jew’, and her Jewish relatives in fighting the regime’s anti-Jewish measures. The paper provided fascinating insight into the scholarly study of one’s own family members, as well as furthering our understanding of Heimat discourses in Nazi Germany, specifically of Jewish and non-Jewish German women.

The first panel of the day, ‘Rethinking Source Material’, was chaired by workshop co-organiser Julie Fitzpatrick and featured presentations from Alexandra Jiménez Nimmo, Rebecca Harris and Sandra Lipner.

After a quick caffeine boost, Roxy then opened the second panel of the day, Relationships, People and Politics, which focused on the role played by gender in shaping both relationships with other people and the state, as well as questions of identity, during the Third Reich and the Holocaust.

First to present was Hana Green, a doctoral candidate at the Stassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University, whose paper explored the gendered dimensions and dynamics of identity passing as a Jewish response to persecution in the Nazi period. Hana persuasively demonstrated how identity passing, a method in which a person disguises themselves as a member of a different social group, was an important and yet underexplored Jewish response to persecution during the Third Reich – and a response in which men and women used different strategies, albeit with the same overall goal.

The second paper of the panel, given by Lucy Dixon, a second year PhD student at the University of Winchester, explored the impact of totalitarianism on ‘Aryan’ women in the Third Reich. Using Hannah Arendt’s philosophical notions of the Public and Private Spheres, Lucy’s paper demonstrated the multitude of ways in which Nazi totalitarianism provided ‘Aryan’ women with an opportunity to remove the emotional factors involved in ethical decisions.

Robert Thompson’s thesis, Liberators, Occupiers, Pastors: Christian Encounters with Holocaust Survivors in Germany 1945-1950, explores early Christian responses to Jewish survivors in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust. Using two seperate case studies, Robert, a third year PhD candidate at University College London, explored womens kinship in relief work and gendered elements of Christian-Jewish relations after the Holocaust. Robert highlighted how friendships between women were both a crucial part of the everyday reality of post-war relief work, and a way in which female Christian aid workers confronted Jewish life, traditions, antisemitism and the Holocaust in the aftermath of the Second World War. Robert’s paper provided a fascinating insight into the ways in which some relief workers’ identity as women provided a shared platform on which they could connect across religious dividing lines.

The final paper of the day, “The most important thing is to develop our lads physically and mentally”: Gender and Youth as Intersectional Categories of Analysis during the Holocaust, was delivered by Barnabas Balint, a doctoral candidate at Magdalen College, University of Oxford. Using documentary evidence from the Yad Vashem archives, Barnabas explored how age, and specifically youth, acted as a vector to reshape the meaning of gender during the Holocaust in France and Hungary. Barnabas’ paper underlined the importance of interdependence of factors such as gender and age in determining the experiences of people during the Holocaust, arguing that the meanings of these categories are not static, but rather fluctuate in different environments.

Panel two, ‘Relationships, People and Politics’, was chaired by Roxy and featured papers from Lucy Dixon, Hana Green, Robert Thompson and Barnabas Balint (left to right).

The panels initiated a number of great questions and comments and the fruitful discussion which followed spilled over into the lunch break, after which the Library’s International Tracing Service Archive Researcher Dr Ian Rich closed the day with a fascinating presentation exploring the history and workings of the International Tracing Service archive, and the variety of ways in which it can be used to undercover documents demonstrating the effects of gender on people’s experiences during the Third Reich.

The Library’s International Tracing Service Archive Researcher Dr. Ian Rich delivering a presentation on the history and workings of the ITS archive.

Altogether, the presentations given, all unique in approach, were exciting reminders of the new directions evident in the postgraduate Holocaust Studies community. Each paper provided convincing and thought-provoking insights and asked new and interesting questions about identity – opening new avenues into deepening our understanding of this period of history, with gender, of course, at the core of their analysis.

We are extremely grateful to all of our presenters and attendees, who joined us from institutions across the world, for an enlightening day. Until next time!

Roxy Moore and Julie Fitzpatrick.