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Ilona Karmel

Ilona Karmel wrote two powerful novels based on her experiences in the Holocaust and its aftermath. Born in Cracow to a comfortable middle-class family, Karmel was deported to labor camps during WWII and then spent two years in hospitals recovering from leg injuries before immigrating to the US. This became fuel for her first novel, Stefania, in which a young woman in a Swedish hospital seeks treatment for a twisted spine made worse by Nazi abuses and must come to terms with survivor’s guilt for the death of her family. Her second novel, An Estate of Memory, interweaves the story of four women in a Nazi labor camp as they struggle to survive both the physical and psychological damage of their internment. An Estate of Memory is considered one of the most significant novels in English to address women’s experiences of the Holocaust. Her output as a writer was small but powerful, and Karmel also taught writing as a senior lecturer at MIT for twenty-five years. Upon her retirement in 1995, the writing prize she had administered for many years was renamed in her honor.


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Cover of Ilona Karmel's An Estate of Memory, published in 1969.

Date of Birth


Date of Death
Writer, Professor

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Ilona Karmel." (Viewed on July 6, 2020) <>.


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