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The Holocaust and Motherhood Conference at the Wiener Library

Posted on 31/03/2018
Karen Porter delivering her paper at a podium in the Wiener Library whilst Dr Zoe Waxman and Svenja Bethke look on

Left to right: Dr Zoë Waxman, Svenja Bethke, Karen Porter

On Thursday 22 and Friday 23 March 2018, the Holocaust Research Institute hosted 'The Holocaust and Motherhood' conference at the Wiener Library in central London.

On the evening of the 22nd, Zoë Waxman (University of Oxford) spoke of how the perception of women's experiences of the Holocaust has changed over the last twenty years, since the publication of Brana Gurewitsch's ground-breaking study Mothers, Sisters, Resisters. Her keynote lecture reflected upon some of the findings published in her recent book Women in the Holocaust: A Feminist History (Oxford University Press, 2017).

The first session on the 23rd was dedicated to mothers living in the ghettos, particularly in the Lodz ghetto. While Svenja Bethke (University of Leicester) looked at the subject through the lens of the letters mothers wrote to Chaim Rumkowski, Karen Porter (Sheffield Hallam University) examined the perception of mothers in adolescents' diaries.

The conference then moved on to cinematic and literary representations of Jewish women's predicaments, with papers addressing European Holocaust films (Ingrid Lewis, Dundalk Institute of Technology), fiction (Nathalie Ségeral, University of Hawaii-Manoa, and Helena Duffy, Royal Holloway) and poetry (Talila Kosh Zhar, Kibbutzim College).

The papers given during the first of the two afternoon sessions were united by questions of survival and inter-generational transmission of trauma, with Federica Di Padova (University of Trieste and Udine) speaking of Jewish mothers in Italian DP camps, Golan Moskowitz (Brandeis University) exploring his family history through the theories of the queer child and postmemory, and Evelyn Wilcock drawing attention to the neglect of Hitler's elderly victims in Holocaust historiography.

The final session was focused on the political exploitation of the image of the heroic mother by the Israeli press in the 1950s and 1960s and on the more recent attempts to challenge this image by visual artists both in and outside Israel. The papers by Liraz Yaffe (Ben Gurion University) and Mor Presiado (Bar Ilan University) closed this extremely rich conference that brought together a variety of perspectives on this highly important aspect of the Holocaust.

The HRI wishes to thank all the speakers who gave papers during the conference, as well as those who chaired individual sessions. Over the two days we heard twelve fascinating, powerful and thought-provoking papers that addressed the relatively unexplored subject of Jewish mothers during the Holocaust. We also extend our thanks to the Wiener Library for hosting and Hubbub Catering for their excellent service.


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