Author Archives: Nina Lichtenstein

Live from the Lilith Blog

March 20, 2017 by

The Extraordinary Story of Gisèle Braka, a Sephardic Jew in the Holocaust

In seeking to shed light on Sephardic women from French North Africa within the greater Holocaust narrative, I searched the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive for oral testimonies. With a collection of more than 54,000 video testimonies of survivors and witnesses of genocide, I located 20 testimonies by women born in Morocco, Tunisia or Algeria. I decided to let the women speak for themselves because it is vital that their stories exist within a greater narrative of the modern Jewish experience.

Although their stories are unique and individually important, one stood out as extraordinary—that of Gisèle Braka, née Chemama. As a young woman, this polyglot slipped through the cracks of ruthless Paris roundups, joined the Resistance, and survived the War to become an activist for Sephardic and humanitarian causes worldwide.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

March 7, 2017 by

Why We Have to Learn About Sephardic Holocaust Stories

Sephardic women would often feel like outsiders in the camps; linguistically and culturally isolated. “They did not believe we were Jewish” is a much repeated phrase in their testimonies.

Sephardic women would often feel like outsiders in the camps; linguistically and culturally isolated. “They did not believe we were Jewish” is a much repeated phrase in their testimonies.

One of the more ambitious tasks of Holocaust research in recent years has been to enhance our understanding of the diversity and complexity of what went on during this dark period of human history. Without seeking to minimize any one specific experience, the assumption that the “typical” Holocaust account is represented by the Ashkenazi (male) experience is being adjusted, slowly but surely, by research that focuses on the war-time experiences of women and children, as well as that of other ethnic, religious or types of “minorities” subjected to the horrors of the Nazi machinery.

During a 2010 summer workshop on Sephardic Jews and the Holocaust at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I had the opportunity to search in the archives for information on how Jewish women from North Africa (a longstanding research interest of mine) experienced this devastating historic event. I realized that through the oral testimonies collected in the U.S.C. Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, as well as the collection at the Fortunoff Video Archive of Holocaust Testimonies housed at Yale, I would be able to locate information on this minority experience. Being a Norwegian Jew myself, I am acutely aware of the danger and tragedy of dismissing a minority narrative in favor of the majority. I have been on the receiving end of comments about how “few” Norwegian Jews there were. The implication is that in the larger scope of Holocaust history, this story is hardly central or representative to the Eastern or Central European Jewish war experience, even though nearly 50% of Norway’s approximately 1400 Jews were deported and killed, mostly in Auschwitz.  Hence, with the acute awareness of and sensitivity to the dangers of occluding minority narratives in favor of majority ones, my research strives to bring other stories to light.

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