Was there a gender aspect to survival?

Essay by nholdingUniversity, Bachelor's May 2005

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Documentation on survival of the Holocaust has primarily focused on the lives of men as written by men and perceived by men. Unfortunately, this leads us to believe that men and women experienced the Holocaust the same way. Although one would be naïve in assigning purely gender-related reasons for survival (experiences such as thirst, hunger and deprivation were non-discriminate) it is clear that gender-related behaviour of men and women, and gender roles in the Jewish community led to different survival capabilities. Different experiences faced by men and women were a function of the fact that each sex was vulnerable to the Nazis in ways specific and exclusive to them. Although each survivor's case is unique, one soon becomes aware of patterns of survival. Some of the most salient reasons include kindness to others, the development of strong bonds between inmates, the continuation of ordinary acts of normal life and quite simply, good luck.

The family patterns of European Jewish families in the early twentieth century varied dramatically. In general, Jewish men and women had distinct gender roles. Men were primarily responsible for work in the public sphere which included earning money and governing society. Women, on the other hand, had no place in the public arena. Their role in social, educational and political life was almost non-existent. Instead, women embodied the role of pure and pious homemakers who stressed the ethical, rather than the ritual and ceremonial. "Men and women were considered temperamentally suited for their different roles, with men endowed by nature with rationality and physical and mental strength and women with tenderness and spirituality." The roles of Jewish men and women before the war therefore endowed them with very different experiences and skills.

Because Jewish women normally did the grocery shopping they were more likely to come into...