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Death of Ilona Karmel, literary chronicler of the Holocaust

November 30, 2000
An Estate of Memory
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An Estate of Memory, authored by Holocaust survivor Ilona Karmel, is considered one of the most significant novels in English that addresses the experiences of Jewish women during World War II.


When Ilona Karmel died on November 30, 2000, she was remembered as the author of the novel, An Estate of Memory. It is considered one of the most significant novels in English to address the experiences of Jewish women during World War II.

Born in Cracow in 1925, Karmel was interned along with her mother and sister in three different labor camps after the Nazi occupation of Poland. She sustained severe leg injuries during the war and required years of recuperation before immigrating to the United States in 1948.

Within four years of arriving in the United States, Karmel graduated from Radcliffe College, won a fiction-writing contest sponsored by Mademoiselle magazine, and completed her first novel, Stephania. Stephania focused on the physical and spiritual recovery of a young woman who had survived the Nazi concentration camps.

In 1969, Karmel published An Estate of Memory. Reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review, it was one of the earliest significant literary treatments of Jewish experience in the Nazi camps and remains one of the most significant novels to address Jewish women’s experiences during the Holocaust. It was reissued by the Feminist Press in 1986.

Karmel taught creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for many years where an annual writing prize that she established has been renamed in her honor.

To learn more about Ilona Karmel, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: Holocaust Literature.

Source: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 723-724.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Death of Ilona Karmel, literary chronicler of the Holocaust." (Viewed on April 23, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/nov/30/2000/ilona-karmel>.