Women in Holocaust Literature: Writers & Writings

These women use diaries, memoirs, fiction, and poetry to express their Holocaust experience.

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Livia Bitton Jackson This wave of memoirs is shaped by the authors' background and experience, but tends to focus less on differences within and among Jewish communities during the war. This group of memoirs includes writing by Isabella Leitner (b. 1922) and Livia Bitton-Jackson (b. 1931).

The final wave of women's memoirs, written at the close of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, are also shaped by the half-century since the end of the war--by the culture in which the writer has lived, her relationships and experiences since that time--and by a re-evaluation of how she has come to understand her past. Some of these later memoirs are marked by a belated despair, which hits the writer after decades of seeming adjustment to life after the Holocaust.

Other belated memoirs, such those by Fanya Gottesfeld Heller (b. 1924) and Judith Magyar Isaacson (b. 1925), focus on events which they dared not discuss earlier, out of shame or consideration for others.

The impulse towards memorization carries over to subsequent generations. Susan Rubin Suleiman (b. 1939) has coined the term "1.5 generation" to describe women like herself whose early childhood was in Europe during the war years and who, after the war, were raised by mothers who were adult survivors of the Holocaust. Other women, such as Helen Epstein (b. 1947) and Fern Schumer Chapman (b. 1954), born after the war to women who survived the German genocide, write their mothers' histories and of the place of that past in shaping their own relationship with their mothers.

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Sara R. Horowitz is the Director of the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University, and a professor of comparative literature in the Division of Humanities. She is the author of Voicing the Void: Muteness and Memory in Holocaust Fiction, which received the Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Book, co-editor of Encounter with Appelfeld, a collection of essays on Aharon Appelfeld, and co-editor of the journal Kerem. She has published extensively on Holocaust literature, women survivors, Jewish American fiction and pedagogy. Currently, she is completing a book entitled Gender, Genocide and Jewish Memory.