Food Talk

Gendered Responses to Hunger in the Concentration Camps
  • Myrna Goldenberg


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.


Eating Disorder Food Preparation Concentration Camp Holocaust Survivor Woman Prisoner 
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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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