"You've Never Seen this Kind of Poverty": Facing Class and Gender in Shoah Representations


  • Marion Gerlind San Francisco State University




In researchers' reconstructions of the Holocaust, also called the Shoah, the lives of ordinary people l lives more impoverished and constrained than those of middle- and upper-class individuals - have been largely overlooked. Rarely have the ways in which gender and class enter into accounts of death and survival been examined. Integrating feminist gender analyzes with class theories, I explore differences between working- and middle-class Jewish women's representations in terms of multiple oppressions. Literary representations often contain class biases because they rely, almost exclusively, on investigations of middle-class, and urban Jews. Combining textual analysis with oral history methods, I conducted audio-taped interviews with survivors, researched videotaped testimonies as well as unpublished third-person narratives and examined the influence of socioeconomic status on Polish- and German-Jewish women's everyday lives in the interwar years (1919-38) and during World War II. My goals are first, to record life histories of marginalized survivors, and second, to demonstrate that social class must be conceptually central to Holocaust analysis, and finally, to contribute to an interdisciplinary discourse on class and gender. By interpreting testimonies at risk of being lost and de-stigmatizing poverty and manual labor, we expose social inequities, and thus can add breadth and depth to our understanding of the Shoah.