Expanding the Perspective on Holocaust Art: The Female Experience during the Holocaust as Expressed in Women's Art (1939-1948

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From the second half of the 1970s and with increased pace from the 1980s and onwards, a corpus of studies focusing on the history of women during the Holocaust has been produced. These studies assert that even though Jewish women shared the annihilation threat with the men, Jewish women have also undergone unique experiences resulting from their female physiology, their female socialization, and the National Socialist Weltanschauung directed against them. The transition from the actual experience to its visualization is also gender-specific, as women often emphasize different elements than men. A careful examination of the women's art made during the Holocaust reveals that many women did describe in a realistic figurative language the common experiences for women and men during the Holocaust, i.e.: persecutions, confinement in ghettos, the journey to the east, the terror and daily life in the camps, starvation, isolation, dehumanization, despair, the cruelty of the kapos and the SS personnel. However, alongside these descriptions women also used a unique female language revealing individual female experiences during the Holocaust. Their works are rife with images of pregnancy, motherhood, feminine crafts such as sewing, domestic chores such as cleaning and cooking, female solidarity and mutual help, loss of femininity brought by the atrophy of the female body, and sexual violence. Hence, their art provides a new perspective on the Holocaust in terms of history, culture and aesthetics. Many of the subjects appearing in women's art have not been discussed thoroughly in research for many years, and problematic topics as sexual violence and loss of femininity have all but been ignored. These themes, which distinguish the art made by women during the Holocaust era, appear in a very wide and eclectic corpus of works made in various ghettos across eastern, western and central Europe, in various concentration, detention and death camps and by a heterogeneous group of women, who had been at different ages, from different backgrounds and had different education; some had professional artistic backgrounds, while others had none at all. This perspective on art of the Holocaust reveals that women from all walks of life under extreme circumstances created testimony pieces, preserving daily and mundane moments that allow us, for years to come, to better understand the reality of their lives at that time.


ConferenceHOLOCAUST ART – AN ESSENTIAL TOOL FOR THE METHODOLOGY OF CONSTRUCTING A HISTORICAL NARRATIVE International Workshop within the Framework of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI), supported by the European Commission Yad Vashem, Jerusale
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