Food Talk

Gendered Responses to Hunger in the Concentration Camps
  • Myrna Goldenberg
Chapter

Abstract

Early in his memoir, Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi observed women preparing for the deportation that the Nazis had scheduled for the next day:

All took leave from life in the manner which most suited them. Some praying, some deliberately drunk, others lustfully intoxicated for the last time. But the mothers stayed up to prepare the food for the journey with tender care, and washed their children and packed the luggage; and at dawn the barbed wire was full of children’s washing hung out in the wind to dry. Nor did they forget the diapers, the toys, the cushions and the hundred other small things which mothers remember and which children always need. Would you not do the same? If you and your child were going to be killed tomorrow, would you not give him [food] to eat today?1

In this passage, Levi reflected the pattern of traditional Western culture that identifies women with nurturing, caring and the preparation of food. He singled out food preparation as the natural work of women as they prepared for the terrible experience that lay ahead. Levi thus interpreted women’s management of their homely duties as an integrity of behaviour, consistent with their roles and the expectations of their community. However, Levi’s portrayal is rare.2 Holocaust memoirs written by men simply do not include portraits of women preparing food.

Keywords

Burning Lime Posit Arena Dine 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Primo Levi, Survival in Asuchwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity (New York: Collier Books/ Macmillan Publishing Company, 1993), p.15.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Norbert Troller, Theresienstadt: Hitler’s Gift to the Jems (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991) is another exception. He describes the ingenuity of the women in Theresienstadt who made salad out of grass, ghetto torte (made from ‘bread, coffee, saccharine, a trace of margarine, lots of good wishes)’ (p.120), and other camp delicacies.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Rena Kornreich Gelissen, Renas Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), p.100.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Frances G. Grossman, ‘The Art of the Children of Terezin: A Psychological Study’, Holocaust and Genocide Studies 4:2 (1989): 213–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Deane W. Curtin, ‘Food/Body/Person’, in Cooking, Eating, Thinking: Transformative Philosophies of Food, eds. Deane W. Curtin and Lisa M. Heldke (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), p.5.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Anne Bower, ‘Cooking Up Stories: Narrative Elements in Community Cookbooks’, in Recipes for Reading: Community Cookbooks, Stories, Histories, ed. Anne Bower (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997), p.47.Google Scholar
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    Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1985): 259–264.Google Scholar
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    Michal Unger, ‘The Status and Plight of Women in the Lodz Ghetto’, in Women and the Holocaust, eds. Dalia Ofer and Lenore Weitzman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998): 134–135.Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    Ronald W. Zweig, ‘Feeding the Camps: Allied Blockade Policy and the Relief of Concentration Camps in Germany, 1944–1945’, Historical Journal 41/3 (1998), pp.825–851, for insight into the effects of the Allied blockade policy and food relief with particular attention to the plight of the interned Jews.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 20.
    Tadeusz Borowski, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen (New York: Penguin, 1976), pp.29–9.Google Scholar
  11. See also Fania Fenelon, Playing for Time (New York: Berkley Books, 1979), pp.59, 67–74.Google Scholar
  12. 21.
    Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (New York: Pocket Books, 1963), pp.46–47.Google Scholar
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    Giuliana Tedeschi, There is a Place on Earth: A Woman in Birkenau (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992), pp.208–209.Google Scholar
  14. 28.
    Sara Tuvel Bernstein, The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1997), pp.229, 237–238.Google Scholar
  15. 31.
    Ruth Reiser, in Diane Plotkin and Roger A. Ritvo, Sisters in Sorrow: Voices of Care in the Holocaust (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1998), p.88.Google Scholar
  16. 34.
    Esther Hautzig, Remember Who You Are: Stories About Being Jewish (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. 1990): 17–18.Google Scholar
  17. 34.
    Esther Hautzig, Remember Who You Are: Stories About Being Jewish (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. 1990): 17–18.Google Scholar
  18. 36.
    Vera Hajkova, The World Without Human Dimensions — Four Women’s Memories (Prague: State Jewish Museum, 1991), p.114.Google Scholar
  19. 39.
    Cara De Silva, ed. In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezin (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., 1996), p.xxvi.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Myrna Goldenberg

There are no affiliations available

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