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Book Chapter

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Bloomsbury Publishers


When it comes to understanding genocide, gender matters. This has not always been evident, and even today there are critics and skeptics. Indeed, when feminist scholars in Holocaust studies first began examining women’s experiences and gender questions, their scholarship was ignored or met with hostility by many academics and others, including some survivors. Opponents expressed various concerns, including the idea that gender research and analysis would “trivialize” or “politicize” the Holocaust, de-emphasize the centrality of anti-Semitism and racism to Nazi persecution,1 and promote “comparative victimhood or creat[e] unequal victims.”2 Studying the gendered dimensions of genocide, however, does not trivialize the enormity of the crime. Nor does it minimize the importance of real and imagined ideas about ethnic, national, racial, and religious difference in explaining the victimization, destruction, and mass killing of certain groups. The fear that gender analysis will lead to a hierarchy of victims is also misplaced. Gender scholarship does not argue that women had it better or worse than men; rather, it acknowledges differences in women’s and men’s experiences and examines how the unfolding of genocide has involved “events that specifically affect men as men and women as women.”3 More generally, the purpose of this scholarship is to use gender as a lens for better comprehending the seemingly incomprehensible crime of genocide. As this volume makes clear, an examination of gender and genocide allows us to hear the voices and stories of women that are often overlooked and to read men’s voices and stories in a more nuanced way. By considering both women and men as gendered subjects, this research sheds light on how discourses of femininity and masculinity, gender norms, and understandings of female and male identities contribute to victims’ experiences and responses. Such analysis highlights, for example, how Jewish men became demoralized in Nazi Germany, not merely because of the marginalization and increasingly alarming situation of Jews, but also because they could not fulfill their traditional male gender roles as providers for and protectors of their families. Moreover, this feeling of manly “failure” was then compounded by the utter inability of Jewish husbands, fathers, and brothers in concentration/death camps to protect their loved ones.4

Chapter of

Genocide and Gender in the Twentieth Century: A Comparative Perspective


Copyright © 2015 Bloomsbury Publishing. Reprinted with permission.



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