Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust

Different Voices; Women And The Holocaust
by Carol Rittner and John K. Roth Paragon House, 1993,$26,95

This book answers the question, “Where were the women?” This anthology draws attention to the specific, powerful experiences of women during the Holocaust.

One subject covered in the special, often unrecognized, role women played in resisting the Nazi brutality. Extraordinary women are highlighted: Gisi Fleischmann, who helped run an underground railroad to get Jews out of Poland, until she was interned and gassed at Auschwitz; Warsaw Ghetto uprising leaders Zivia Lubetkin and Vladka Meed; Bialystok resistance fighter Haika Grossman; Vilna partisan organizer Rozka Korszak-Marle; Franceska Mann, who was murdered after she shot SS men in an Auschwitz-Birkenau crematorium; Mala Zimetbaum, who was the first woman to escape from Auschwitz (she was caught near the Slovakian border, returned to camp and sentenced to be hanged, but she defiantly committed suicide); and, finally, Ninta Teitelboim, known as “Little Wanda with the braids”, who was a self-appointed executioner of Gestapo officers.

An obvious difference in the sufferings of men and women related to the women’s reproductive systems. Pregnancy was punishable by death at Aushwitz, and a woman could prolong her life only if her child was aborted or killed at birth, A poignant essay by Dr, Gisella Perl, an obstetrician-gynecologist and a Hungarian Jew, recounts how she performed clandestine abortions and deliveries under the most primitive conditions. Dr. Perl, who died in Israel in 1985, originally wrote her memoir in 1948, entitled I was a Doctor in Auschwitz.

After she learned that pregnant women were treated especially cruelly and then routinely gassed. Dr. Peri spread the word from block to block that no one was ever again to admit pregnancy. She began performing abortions in the middle of the night, in the latrine, on the floor, without any water, using only her bare hands. When she delivered living babies, she killed them. “I loved those newborn babies not as a doctor but as a mother and it was again and again my own child whom I killed to save the life of a woman,” she wrote.

Sometimes the women were more successful at resistance than men, because the macho Nazis did not expect such behavior from “mere” women. Thus a group of women working in an Auschwitz factory stole gunpowder from the Nazis, Through an elaborate system of female couriers, this powder finally arrived in the hands of the male Sonderkommando, and was used to sabotage Crematorium IV in Auschwitz- Birkenau on October 7, 1944. Four of these young resistance workers, Alia Gaertner, Roza Robota, Regina Saperstein, and Estusia Wajcblum, were caught and hanged by the Nazis on January 6, 1945, Wajcblum’s sister, Anna Heilman, and Rose Meth did not get caught. Their oral histories recounted in Different Voices, tell the story of women’s resistance at Auschwitz,

An essay by Sybil Milton, resident historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Council in Washington, D,C,, discusses the little-known concentration camps for women. She writes that “the study of women and the Holocaust has barely begun, and the complexities and contours of the subject, ., will keep historians and other analysts occupied for many years,” By compiling twenty six women’s voices of experience, interpretation, and reflection, Rittner and Roth have made an important contribution