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THE UNETHICAL AND THE UNSPEAKABLE: WOMEN AND THE HOLOCAUST
JOAN MIRIAM RINGELHEIM
ANALYSES OF THE MORAL dimensions of the Holocaust usually present data as if the only category were that of "persons" - all survivors are seen as the same. While some differentiations may be made in Holocaust literature, none of them seem as significant as the simple fact of being a survivor. Literature on the Holocaust has been gender-neutral, thereby disguising the fact that women specifically, until very recently, have been ignored.
Scholarly investigation of a problem or an event does not take place in a vacuum but develops from a particular perspective. Current Holocaust literature focuses on the lives of men as written and perceived by men. It leads us to believe that everyone, whether young or old, male or female, rich or poor, merchant, peasant, professor, nurse, physician, teacher, mother or child, experienced the Holocaust in the same way. If this were in fact true, it would be extraordinary, but the current literature gives us no way of knowing whether it is true or not. It may indeed be that the Holocaust obliterates all such distinctions. Yet this must be the conclusion of historical research, not its guiding principle. The horror of the Holocaust is of such proportions that any attempt to make distinctions of class, nationality, age, or gender, seems ourageous. Yet discovering the distinctions that exist among various groups and classes is a central feature of all historical research.
Our analytical framework governs what we discover about the object of our study and how we comprehend what we discover. We may be able to obtain a different perspective on the Holocaust by looking at women's lives and understanding their experiences. The testimony of survivors and the evidence of certain scholars suggest that ways of resisting and surviving are, in fact, differentiated by gender; and that women's experiences of the Holocaust were different from those of men; and that women had different survival capabilities, different work, roles, and relationships. Historians have ignored at least one source of information: Jewish women who worked in the SS camp offices in Auschwitz-Birkenau, who were told by the SS: "You can know everything, since you will all die anyway."1 We are all aware of the power and knowledge of office staffs, but this specific source of information about the camps has been ignored in research until now. Traditional texts have not even contained the information that women worked in these positions. We need more information on women-what other work they did, who they were, where they were. Until now, we have been told only about token heroines; for example, Mala, Wanda, and Anne Frank. We must learn not only about them, but also about the clerks at Auschwitz, the couriers, the smugglers of weapons, the teachers, and the mothers.
Several problematic statements by scholars and survivors of the Holocaust demand attention from both the historian and the philosopher, as well as any serious layperson concerned about the implications of the Holocaust.
Dorothy Rabinowitz makes the following statement about Nazi females as if it were a matter of self-evident truth:
... if you asked an enemy for mercy, it was better that the enemy should be a man rather than a woman because there was no chance at all with a woman. The women they had known as their SS captors, had invariably been crueler than the men.2
But do we not need to investigate this statement as an empirical claim? How would we know that it was true? What criteria are used and what are the implications of judging in this way? Is this connected with a notion we hold that women are not cruel, so that when women are cruel or brutal, they are judged more harshly than men? Or are women seen as potentially more cruel and judged accordingly?
In his book on Jewish resistance, Reuben Ainsztein metions women in only a few places. Without comment, he states the following about survival and death:
The greatest atrocities at Auschwitz were committed against Jewish women and children. The young children were all murdered on arrival in the camp, while most of the Jewish women selected for work were imprisoned at Birkenau. In 1941, Dr. Ferdinand Friedrich Zucker, a specialist in water emergency and professor at Breslau University, prepared a report on the Brikenau area for Himmler, in which he stated that the water found there was not even fit for rinsing one's mouth and consequently the SS were forbidden to drink it. The water was further polluted, especially in the women's camp, by excreta and urine, due to the absence of even primitive latrines. The prisoners therefore constantly suffered not only from hunger but also from thirst.3
French author Charlotte Delbo, who was incarcerated in Auschwitz from 1943 to 1945, has also said that the situation in Auschwitz was worse for women than for men.4 For example, there was one tap for 15,000 women and the conditions of the barracks were worse than for men. Did such conditions prevail in all the camps? If so, why? How did these conditions affect women's survival rate? Was women's survival rate as a result significantly lower than that of men?
Delbo claims to the contrary that while women's conditions were worse than men's, women survived "better." She speaks of women bonding with each other differently than men, who for the most part did not bond, and says that this contributed to women's survival. Regarding this phenomenon, Germain Tillion reflects, in her book on Ravensbruck, that Eugen Kogon's observations about prisoner resentment and sense of abandonment in Buchenwald were truer for men than for women. Tillion claims:
While some male prisoners aided their comrades for the highest motives, others did so as they became hardened to the necessity of the task, and many became cruel to the point of sadism, largely because of repressed sexual desires. In the women's camps, only the most selfish in character became so hardened, while for many the incredible personal suffering only increased their concern for the needs of others.5
These empirical claims need to be tested. While Tillion's statements may be valid, the relationship, if any, between repressed sexuality in men and violence needs to be investigated, not merely adduced. What of the repressed sexuality of women-was it manifested in any way? Do women really respond so differently? If so, do relationships between women and between men result from other causes?
Raul Hilberg noticed in his research that young men of adolescent age survived better than men over thirty. He also observed that fathers were not able to survive as well. Women who lost their families seemed to be better able to survive the loss of children and other members of their family than men.6
Terrence Des Pres said that although he did not approach the subject systematically, he was
... struck again and again by the ways in which, under infinitely more terrible circumstances, women in places like Auschwitz and Ravensbruck made better survivors ... they knew how to sew, for one thing (cultural); they were more at ease in matters of intimate help (also probably cultural); they seemed to care more for life (cultural but also biological?); and being less dependent on inflated egos, as men were, when these egos cracked and were swept away women recovered faster and with less bitterness.7
Further research is clearly needed to find out whether survival and resistance for women were different from that of men, and whether women did survive better.
Ilona Karmel has written to me about the issue of sexuality: "In Poland, both in ghettos and camps, sexuality was a means of buying protection from the Jewish policemen and others who had means and power."8 What does this mean for our understanding of resistance and survival for women? How can the ways in which women specifically were used sexually, or used their sexuality, be ignored?
Many writers, then, have hinted at the differences between the lives of women and those of men during the Holocaust. Yet these differences have not been investigated or explored in the written literature or affected its general conclusions on survival.9 It does not seem possible to deny that the experiences and perceptions of women would have been different-perhaps significantly -from those of men during the Holocaust. While research on this subject is in the early phases, some things already seem clear. By ignoring the evidence of women's experience and providing a socalled "universal framework," we have misunderstood and mishandled questions dealing with resista~ce, survival, passivity, and compliance.
Women's history has "disabused us of the notion that the history of women is the same as the history of men, and that the significant turning points in history have the same impact for one sex as for another."10 Literature in women's studies shows that women do not share with men the same ideas about self, family, heroism, character, power, sacrifice, and loyalty. Consequently, all generalizations and gender-neutral statements about survival, resistance, the maintenance or collapse of moral values, and the dysfunction of culture in the camps and ghettos must be reassessed from the perspective of women.
Gender-specific experiences are overlooked in Holocaust literature, especially that written by men. The stories told seem to erase or obscure women. In the instance of erasure, the fact that the main person in the story is a woman seems irrelevant to the teller. Women's lives are neutralized into a so-called "human perspective," which, on examination turns out to be a masculine one. Women are obscured (or mystified) when their perceptions, understanding, or actions are ignored in stories that are clearly about them (for example: rape, forced abortion, prostitution). It is as if stories about women were being used to tell about the men involved. Women are there, but they are in the background. Consequently, we are blinded to the fuller context-why something is happening and to whom. just as those who write about the Holocaust from a "universal perspective of evil" ignore Jews, those who write from a "universal perspective of man" ignore women.11
Even stories about abortion, prostitution, and rape in the ghettos and camps obscure the perspective of women. Though these things happened to women, we hear only about the ways in which they affected men. Tadeus Borowski tells of some women who went to get their teeth pulled by the dentist and were raped by other prisoners instead. Borowski only comments that this did not bring discredit on the men: "You are unlucky if you are caught.12 Ironically, a young SS man stopped the men and even beat them. One appalling aspect of this account is that Borowski never seems to identify the act as rape, but instead sees it as some sort of "natural" expression of men's need for women. Why should the men's perspective be most crucial in stories like this? Why are the women obscured and depersonalized? The story would surely change if the women's side of it could be told.
The decision of the Judenrat of the Shavel ghetto to force abortions is cited in Witness to the Holocaust. It is a situation in which only women will be directly affected, yet women do not speak here; only men do. Not only do men make the decisions about nineteen abortions, they also decide that the nurse of one of the physicians will murder the fetus of a woman in her eighth month. The physician will induce premature birth but refuses to kill the newborn baby. The nurse, on the other hand, will not have a choice because she will not be told what she is doing. If the potential mothers refused the abortions, they would have sanctions placed against their families:
... deprive them of food cards, transfer their working members to worse jobs, deprive them of medical assistance, of firewood. If that doesn't work, then the woman must be called in and given an ultimatum -either an abortion or the committee will have to inform the security police. It was proposed that all physicians and midwives be forbidden to assist during childbirth.13
In this text, kinds of intimidation as strong as those used by the SS are employed by the Judenrat to force these abortions, yet the sense of this is somehow missing in the narration.
This was certainly a different era in terms of consciousness about women and we cannot expect that women would have taken part in a Judenrat discussion. But this is no excuse for the editor Azriel Eisenberg's titling the section "The Agony of the Judenrat of Shavel: Murder of the Unborn." No doubt these men suffered, but this title suggests that male suffering is the whole story and does not recognize women's special and separate agony.14
In Bettelheim's work we see a prime example of what I have called "erasure." The importance of including the perspective of women in our understanding about the Holocaust becomes even clearer when we look at his work. Bettelheim provides an inadequate explanation for what he calls "the passive response":
Psychologically speaking, most prisoners in the extermination camps committed suicide by submitting to death without resistance. . . . (245) It may have been Jewish acceptance, without fight, of ever harsher discrimination and degradation that first gave the SS the idea that they could be gotten to the point where they would walk to the gas chambers on their own. (253) ... why did so few of millions of prisoners die like men, as did the men of only one of the Kommandos? (258)15
Aside from its historical inaccuracies, Bettelheim's interpretation is based on the immoral question of why the victim is a victim. He fails to see that the victim had few, if any, choices. He conceptualizes without taking into account the framework that surrounded all the victims, a world of torture, agony, terror, and ultimately death. Without this context, the issue of victimization is improperly analyzed; Bettelheim seems to suggest that somethining intrinsic to Jewish behavior made Jews victims. He does not clearly distin- guish the overwhelming nature of Nazi occupation and persecu- tion. He questions the values and behavior of the victims, without making the same inquiry regarding the oppressor and perpetrator. A useful counterpoint to Bettelheim's perception of Jews as victims is found in an article by Andrea Dworkin:
The central question is not: what is force and what is freedom? That is a good question, but in the realm of human cruelty-the realm of human history-it is utterly abstract. The central question is: why is force never acknowledged as such when used against the racially or sexually despised? Nazi terror used against the Jews is not in dispute. Still, there is an almost universal-and intrinsically anti-semitic-conviction that the Jews went voluntarily to the ovens. Rational discourse on how the Jews were terrorized does not displace or transform this irrational conviction.... A statement is made about the nature of the Jew . . . the nature . . . is to be a victim. A metaphysical victim is never forced, only actualized.16
Bettelheim's generalizations about behavior under stress clearly do not apply to an extreme situation, i.e., Jewish response to the Nazi policy of deliberate extermination. Furthermore, what does Bettelheim mean by asking: "Why did so few of millions of prisoners die like men?"17 Why does he consider moral or physical courage an attribute of masculinity? Failing to differentiate between different types of force, he inappropriately blames the victim for succumbing.
Bettelheim's chapter on the response of prisoners contains a story or paradigm that serves as his analytical model of action; it illuminates his ideas about courage and honor: Naked prisoners moved towards the gas chambers. An SS officer, having learned that one prisoner was a dancer, ordered her to dance for him. As she danced "she approached him, seized his gun and shot him. She too was immediately shot to death."18 Bettelheim comments:
Isn't it probable that . . . this dancing made her once again a person? No longer was she a number, a nameless, depersonalized prisoner, but the dancer she used to be. Transformed, however momentarily, she responded like her old self, destroying the enemy bent on destruction, even if she had to die in the process. ... this one example ... shows that in an instant the old personality can be regained, its destruction undone, once we decide on our own that we wish to cease being units in a system. Exercising the last freedom that not even the concentration camp could take away-to decide how one wishes to think and feel about the conditions of one's life-this dancer threw off her real prison. This she could do because she was willing to risk her life to achieve autonomy once more. If we do that, then if we cannot live, at least we die as men.19
Bettelheim criticizes the Jews for not acting like men, yet praises a female dancer for acting like a man and even makes her an example of "manhood." Perhaps we are expected to forget that she was a woman and ignore what actually happens to her in the story.
What actually happened was that she was molested, ogled, required to dance nude for the SS as she went to the gas. It sounds like a classic rape scene. Yet for Bettleheim what counts is "dying like a man." Once she can do this, he implies, she at last becomes a person. That this is a woman fighting off an SS officer does not even occur to Bettleheim, and he is unconscious that the phrase "dying like a man" excludes women. He obviously intends to use it generically.
There is no aspect of the story, as told by Bettelheim, in which this woman's life as a woman counts. But the actions of the SS in this story were directed at a Jewish woman-not a Jewish person. Can we even suppose that this same sort of behaviour would be directed at male prisoners, Jewish or non-Jewish? Here is a legendary figure, yet she is not the most important part of the story. She is used, appropriated, not only by the SS but also by those who write about her. The woman in these stories is lost.
Honor and courage have more than one meaning. Are we to suppose that revenge or killing is the only action, and honor gained this way the only great value in the world? What a limited, even mischievous view of autonomy! The value of dying with honor, which is suggested by Bettelheim, may be a value appreciated by many men. Perhaps it is applicable to the experiences and understanding men have of their lives. However, it does not seem useful for women, who do not usually live or perceive their lives in these terms. The concentration camp may preclude certain kinds of honor and courage and permit other kinds. Amongst Bettelheim's narrow concepts, the terms honor and courage emerge as universal constants, independent of gender, nationality, age, background, or circumstances. His concepts lack a context, the context of Nazi terror. In striving for a high degree of universalization and generalization, he overlooks significant differences and thus falls to understand the circumstances and people in that context. If resistance and survival do not mean the same thing for everyone, then expectations and analysis of resistance and survival must be more sophisticated and differentiated. As Lawrence Langerhas said, we need to "pluralize all efforts at analyzing survival.20 In his article "The Dilemma of Choice in the Death Camps" Langer writes of "choiceless choices":
... where critical decisions did not reflect options between life and death, but between one form of 'abnormal' response and another, both imposed by a situation that in no way was of the victim's own choosing.21
In the absence of humanly significant alternatives ... alternatives enabling an individual to make a decision, act on it, and accept the consequences, all within a framework that supports personal integrity and self-esteem - one is plunged into a moral turmoil. . . . The optionless anguish of the death camp could alienate dignity from choice . . . reality in the death camps, where moral choice as we know it was superfluous, and inmates were left with the futile task of redefining decency in an atmosphere that could not support it.22
In addition to Bettelheim's example, there are other examples of such "choiceless choices": the Greek mother who was told she could "choose" which of her three children she could save; women who "decided" not to let the newborn babies and their mothers die (as the Nazis wanted)- "rather that . . . we at least save the mothers (and kill the babies) . . . so, the Germans succeeded in making murderers of even us."23
Langer summarizes his analysis of "choiceless choices" as follows:
The real challenge before us is to invent a vocabulary of annihilation appropriate to the death camp experience; in its absence, we should at least be prepared to redefine the terminology of transcendence-" dignity ... .. choice ... .. suffering," and "spirit" -so that it conforms more closely to the way of being in places like Auschwitz, where the situation that consumed so many millions imposed impossible decisions on victims not free to embrace the luxury of the heroic life.24
Langer is correct when he says we need to redefine the traditional language in ethics, if not transform it. Traditional constructs in ethics cannot be used to analyze the Holocaust because that language is applicable only to those situations of power in which there are real, concrete, morally significant alternatives and acts. He correctly points out that in the reality of the conditions of the Holocaust victims, these were lacking. Thus, Langer presents us with an important task not only for understanding the Holocaust, but also for the reconstruction of ethics.
Langer's analysis is very suggestive, although mistaken in some areas. He is quite correct to suggest that the victim is not to be blamed. When people are powerless to do good, language that places responsibility on them for their situation is meaningless. Such language is not only inappropriate; it is immoral. Thus, it makes more sense to begin to use the language of the powerless, the language of the oppressed, to understand these situations, rather than the language of those who have the power to take meaningful choices away from others-namely, the perpetrators of oppression. Otherwise, we obscure the actual relations in which moral choice is possible.
However, Langer (perhaps understandably) is still confined to the paradigm of "choice," which is so central to traditional ethical theory. If he can ask, "What could choice mean in the camps?" and his answer is, "It's meaningless," then we must also ask what the term "choiceless choice" could mean. Is it not meaningless as well? It obfuscates the very material conditions Langer wants to illuminate. The situation constructed in the camps is one of oppression and domination; it is about the power and the lack of power to act meaningfully, not about choice or freedom.
Finally, Langer's way of speaking denies, however unintentionally, that the superfluousness of choice applies in any situations other than the Holocaust. This overlooks the fact that women and minorities, the working class and the poor, prior to and after the Holocaust, have often lived in conditions similar in kind (although not always in degree) to those in the Holocaust; namely, situations that present no significant alternatives - choosing which children will have food, staying with the family or leaving to try to get work, abandonment of children (even killing of babies) because of too little food or insufficient shelter, and abortion. This is a common situation for the oppressed, even if they are not necessarily presented with the organized force and terror experienced by the victims of the Holocaust. Thus, the responses during the Holocaust are not "abnormal" as Langer would suggest; rather they reflect that "choice" is not the real issue.25
Langer is correct in stating that we need a language that conforms more closely to the real experience of the Holocaust. However, I do not believe we have to invent a new vocabulary to do this. Rather, we must investigate those testimonies which have until now fallen on deaf ears-in this case, the vocabulary, concepts, lives, and deaths of women.
Charlotte Delbo's understanding of survival in terms of simple acts of relationship provides a useful framework.26 Because of their different material conditions and social relations throughout life, women are able to create or recreate "families" and so provide networks of survival. It is this set of responses (including variables of class, age, and nationality) that are crucial to understanding the moral dilemmas and decisions that arose. We must go outside traditional language and situations and begin to look at women's decisions for survival, for these have been at the heart of morality for women. A brief comparison and example will illuminate this claim.
Charlotte is ready to give up-she wants to "surrender to death." Viva slaps her back. She clings to Viva, who keeps her from falling into the snow. She listens to Viva who says, " 'Heads up. On your feet. . . . Are you feeling better' and her voice is so reassuring in its tenderness that I answer, 'Yes, Viva, I am feeling better.' "27 Another time she tells her friend Lulu that she cannot take it anymore. They change tools because Charlotte's is too heavy. Lulu asks Charlotte to get behind her:
You can have a good cry.... I cry. I did not want to cry, but the tears spill over, run down my cheeks.... Sometimes (Lulu) turns around and with her sleeve, she gently wipes my face.... Lulu tugs at me. "That's all right now. Come work. There she is." With so much kindness that I am not ashamed of having cried. It is as though I had cried on my mother's breast.28
This story is easily seen as part of the culture of women; it is not likely that a man would tell or indeed, for the most part, experience it. Keeping their humanity intact has always been a matter of different particulars for men and for women. Women's culture is different from men's culture; women's culture (not their biology) provides women with specific and different conditions in which to make moral choices and to act meaningfully. There must be further exploration of these differences between men and women; the assumption that "human" responses are undifferentiable will not stand.
Alvin Rosenfeld, in A Double Dying, concludes his discussion of Styron's Sophie's Choice with this observation:
... one of the characteristics of Holocaust writings at their most authentic is that they are peculiarly and predominantly sexless.29
Anna Pawelczynska writes:
Sexual distinctions ... were totally eliminated in camps; traces of these distinctions were reflected solely in the extra possibilities for tormenting and humiliating the prisoners.30
However I interpret these statements, I come to the same conclusion: they do not make sense of, or conform to, what was true in the experience of women.
At the very least, we must acknowledge the special abuse of women in sexual and parental roles, in gender-defined conditions and roles within the ghettos, in resistance groups, and in the camps. We need to define women's values and show how they helped shape their experiences. It is not so clear whether women's values were destroyed. The evidence, in its earliest stages, indicates that women's relationships with other women were significantly different from those of men with other men. Surely we cannot overlook this and simply proceed to talk in the usual way about the isolation of prisoners from one another or the destruction of values. In order to find out why or whether it might be true that women survived better, we must look at the ways in which women construct survival strategies and meaningful choices in varying conditions of powerlessness.
Since traditional philosophy and history are constructed by and apply to the lives of a particular group of men, it is obvious that there will be difficulties in using their theories and their language to speak of women's lives and choices. Philosophical and historical assumptions about the primacy of reason notwithstanding, the history of our century has decisively undermined the traditional equation of rationality with civilization and morality. Indeed, it is not clear whether rationality was a restraining or a contributing force in the Holocaust. However that may be, assumptions about "the rational" or "the ethical" have been so narrowly conceived, yet so universally applied, as entirely to exclude the lives and experiences of Jews, women, and oppressed peoples. It has thus been impossible for historians and philosophers (among others) to consider such issues as relationships between parents and children, the home, childbearing and childrearing, friendship and bonding, beauty, marriage, and sexuality-major issues in a woman's life. They are clearly vital to any knowledge about and interpretation of the trauma caused by the Final Solution, to new conceptions of resistance and survival, and to the reconstruction of our understanding of moral theory and choice.
Historians, philosophers, and other scholars must reconsider the lives of women, not only to ask new questions about our language and theories of the Holocaust, but also simply to find out new information. Women's memoirs have too often been discounted as insignificant, rather than used to point to the inadequacy of existing research. To ask what happened to women, to use the perspectives of women in understanding the unspeakable, are important new processes in Holocaust study.31 Then "we can listen to a language" heretofore unspoken.32 For it is these experiences that have been unspeakable in ethics, and they are part of what has until now been unspeakable in the literature about the Holocaust.
This paper is dedicated to my parents, Anne and David, and to the memory of my grandmother, Miriam Ringelheim, who, with her husband, Jacob, and youngest son, Joseph, was killed by the Nazis.
I would like to acknowledge the helpful ideas, criticism, and support of Deborah Rosen, Alan Rosenberg, joy Johannessen, Sally Hanley, Suzanne Relyea, Sydelle Kramer, Beth Friend, Attina Grossman, Kathryn Pyne Addelson, Rita Nolan, Roger Gottlieb, Peg Phelan, Patty Klausner, Marion Kaplan, Renate Bridenthal, and especially Pamela Armstrong.
This paper was first given at the April 1981 Scholar's Conference on the Church Struggle and the Holocaust sponsored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and versions of it have been presented at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Smith College, and the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women in June 1981. Some portions were written for a session on Literature and the Holocaust for the MLA, April 1982. This research was assisted by a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies under a program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a Kent Fellowship from the Center of Humanities, Wesleyan University.
5. Germaine Tillion, Ravensbruck (New York, 1975), 230. She is referring to Eugen Kogon, The Theory and Practice of Hell (New York, 1950). See also Bruno Bettelheim, The Infornied Heart (New York, 197 1): " Genuine attachments just do not grow in a barren field of experience nourished only by emotions of frustration and despair" (p. 227); "men who had taken special pride in their wide interests felt their self-respect shaken to find themselves so preoccupied with food" (p. 229).
9. Terrence Des Pres, The Survivor (New York, 1976); Dorothy Rabinowitz, New Lives (New York, 1976); Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning (Boston, 1967), and others have written books that in their own ways are powerful, perceptive, and important. However, they tend to use the category of "persons" in a way that obscures. Compare Konnilyn G. Feig, Hiller's Death Camps (New York, 1981), 133- 190.
11. See Alvin Rosenfeld, A Double Dying.- Reflections on Holocaust Literature (Bloomington, Indiana, 1980), 164. See also Carol Gilligan's work on women and ethics, "In A Different Voice: Women's Conception of the Self and Morality," Harvard Educational Review 47, no. 4 (1977): 481-517; "Are Women more Moral than Men?" interview with Gilligan by Martha Saxton in Ms. Magazine (December 1981): 63-66.
The women are kept behind barred and boarded-up windows but still the place is often broken into and the women are inseminated, not at all artificially. . . . But you must not misunderstand-these men are not maniacs or perverts. Everyman in the camp, as soon as he has had enough food and sleep, talks about women. Everyman in the camp dreams about women. Everyman in the camp tries to get hold of a woman. One camp Elder wound up in a penal transport for repeatedly climbing through the window into the Puff (brothel). A nineteen-year-old SS man once caught the orchestra conductor, a stout, respectable gentleman, and several dentists inside an ambulance in unambiguous positions with the female patients who had come to have their teeth pulled. With a club which he happened to have in his hand, the young SS man administered due punishment across the most readily available parts of the anatomy. An episode of this sort is no discredit to anyone: you are unlucky if you are caught, that is all.
He goes on to speak of the women's camp named "The Persian Market." He says that women in responsible posts paid male prisoners for "work on the roof ... with gold, food, the women of her block, or with her own body. It depended." (p. 86)
. . . we used to spend long hours at the Persian market or sitting under the barracks walls, or in the latrines. At the Elders' shacks you drank tea or dozed off for an hour or two in their beds. Sitting under the barracks walls you chatted with the carpenters and the bricklayers. A few women were usually hanging around, dressed in pretty little pullovers and wearing sheer stockings. Any one of them could be had for a piece of bright silk or a shiny trinket. Since time began, never has there been such an easy market for female flesh." (p. 93)
Here is a woman-she walks quickly, but tries to appear calm. A small child with a pink cherub's face runs after her and, unable to keep up, stretches out his little arms and cries: "Mama! Mama!"
"Pick up your child woman!"
"It's not my child, sir, not mine!" she shouts hysterically and runs on, covering her face with her hands. She wants to hide, she wants to reach those who will not ride the trucks, those who will go on foot, those who will stay alive. She is young, healthy, good-looking, she wants to live.
But the child runs after her, wailing loudly: "Mama, Mama, don't leave me!"
"It's not mine, not mine, no!"
Andrei, a sailor from Sevastopol, grabs hold of her. His eyes are glassy from the vodka and the heat. With one powerful blow he knocks her off her feet, then, as she falls, takes her by the hair and pulls her up again. His face twitches with rage.
"Ah, you bloody Jewess! So you're running from your own child! I'll show you, you whore!" His huge hands choke her, he lifts her in the air and heaves her onto the truck like a heavy sack of grain.
"Here! And take this with you, bitch!" and he throws the child at her feet.
"... good work. That's the way to deal with degenerate mothers," says the SS man standing at the foot of the truck. "Gut, Gut, Russki."
"Shut your mouth," growls Andrei through clenched teeth, and walks away. . . .
16. Andrea Dworkin, "Pornography's Exquisite Volunteers," Ms. Magazine (March 1981): 66, 94. The full quote after "irrational conviction" reads: "And similarly, no matter what force is used against women as a class or as individuals, the universal conviction is that women want (either seek out or assent to) whatever happens to them, however awful, dangerous, instructive, painful, or humiliating. A statement is made about the nature of the Jew, the nature of women. The nature of each and both is to be a victim. A metaphysical victim is never forced, only actualized. "
18. Ibid., 258-259. While there are different versions of this story, the point I am making does not hinge on Bettelheim's version, but rather on the interpretation. For other versions, see Borowski, Thi's Way to the Gas, 143-146, and Sylvia Rothchild, ed., Voices of the Holocaust (New York, 1981), 162. A firsthand account can be found in Felix Muller, Eyewitness Auschwitz (New York, 1979), 87- 89.
25. 1 would like to thank Marion Kaplan, Renate Bridenthal, and Pamela Armstrong for their criticisms, insights, and ideas on "choiceless choices." See Nancy Hartsock, "The Feminist Standpoint: Developing the Ground for a Specifically Feminist Historical Materialism," in Sandra Harding and Merrill Hintikka, eds., Discovering Reality.- Feminist Perspeclives on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science (Dordrecht, Holland, 1983), 283-310.
28. Ibid., 116-117. Compare Primo Levi, Survival at Auschwitz, trans. Stuart Woolf (New York, 1969), 109-111. Primo Levi admits to having almost no relationships in the camps with the other prisoners. When he does speak of one, it is moving-still; it is a relationship with a civilian worker who came to the camp:
The story of my relationship with Lorenzo . . . in concrete terms it amounts to little: an Italian civilian worker brought me a piece of bread and the remainder of his ration every day for six months; he gave me a vest of his, full of patches; he wrote a postcard on my behalf to Italy and brought me the reply. For all this he neither asked nor accepted any reward because he was good and simple and did not think that one did good for a reward I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me by his presence, by his natural and plain manner of being good, that there still existed a just world outside our own, some- thing and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage, extrane- ous to hatred and terror; something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good, but for which it was worth surviving.... Thanks to Lorenzo, I managed not to forget that I myself was a man.
31. See Joan Miriam Ringelheim, "Communities in Distress: Women and the Holocaust," unpublished manuscript. See also Proceedings of the Conference Women Surviving the Holocaust, ed. Esther Katz and Joan Miriam Ringelheim (New York, 1983).