A Russian Jew by birth, French by education and European by culture, Nathalie Sarraute was always intensely aware of and resistant to the reductive powers of categorizing language: she refused to be described as a “woman writer,” and would equally refuse the label “Jewish writer.” Growing up in Paris in the highly cultured milieu of her free-thinking father, Sarraute never felt any sense of difference in status between men and women, and Jewishness was never an issue.
Else Samulon, a feminist active in the German women’s movement, was born on September 20, 1898, in Graudenz, Germany (now Grudziadz, Poland), which is located on the banks of the Vistula, some fifty miles south of Gdansk (Danzig).
Charlotte Salomon was living as a refugee from Nazism in Villefranche on the French Riviera when she made a startling discovery: that eight members of her family, one by one, over the years, had committed suicide. With this traumatic revelation in mind, she arrived at what she called “The question: whether to take her own life or to undertake something eccentric and mad.” Something “eccentric and mad” turned out to be an artwork in over seven hundred scenes, painted during one year (1941–1942), enriched by dialogues, soliloquies and musical references, arranged into acts and scenes, and titled “Life? Or Theater? An Operetta.”
Rachel Salamander is a well-known personality in Munich, where she established a prominent bookshop, the Literaturhandlung, in 1982. This bookshop specializes in Jewish literature and has one of the largest collections of books in Germany about Judaism.
Chava Rosenfarb, a major Yiddish novelist of the second half of the twentieth century, is one of the few Holocaust survivors who transmuted their experiences into fiction rather than memoirs or reminiscences.
As the head of the Department of Children’s Emigration in the Reich Association of Jews in Germany (Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland) between 1934 and 1940, Käte Rosenheim rescued thousands of children. Because she was successful in her work, she and her staff enabled a total of over 7,250 Jewish children to escape from Nazi Germany.
Dr. Hadassah Bimko Rosensaft embodied the Jewish essence of the Holocaust in both its tragic and heroic dimensions. Despite being subjected to tremendous physical suffering, she dedicated herself to helping her fellow concentration camp inmates, first at Auschwitz-Birkenau and then at Bergen-Belsen, and she is credited with having saved hundreds of lives in both camps.
Compelled, as a Jewish writer, by the injunction to remember, “Zakhor,” Norma Rosen’s fiction and essays examine ethics, motherhood, and faith after the Holocaust, as well as Jewish identity, feminism, texts, and practices.
A member of the Jewish underground in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, Roza Robota was one of the organizers of an operation to smuggle explosives for use by members of the Sonderkommando (Jewish forced-labor unit of concentration camp prisoners) in the October 7, 1944 revolt at the camp.
One of the first women to earn a doctorate from the University of Vienna, Elise Richter was the only woman to hold an academic appointment at an Austrian university before World War I. As an instructor and later an associate professor of Romance languages at her alma mater until 1938, she made important scholarly contributions to the field of historical and comparative linguistics.
Judaism and the social history of German Jewry are the major topics of Eva Gabriele Reichmann's scholarly work and publications, as evidenced by the numerous essays and lectures she devoted to those subjects. She was a member and co-worker in various organizations dedicated to Christian and Jewish relations and in other Jewish organizations, as well as a board member and research fellow of the Leo Baeck Institute.
Driving along one of Israel’s inner roads in the upper Shomron plain, one passes two settlements with similar names—Givat Havivah and Lahavot Havivah. Both are named after Havivah Reik, one of the seven members of the “Parachutists’ Mission” who lost their lives during World War II while attempting to aid European Jewry under the Nazis.
Ravensbrück, the concentration camp that the Nazis created to incarcerate women, received its first transport of prisoners in the spring of 1939. While not created as a camp specifically for Jewish women, they were among the camp’s inmate population for nearly all of its six-year existence.
At the age of sixty-five, Erna Proskauer took over her former husband’s general law office after his death in 1968. In this office she once again went into joint practice, working until the age of eighty-four.
Like every other historical analysis of interwar Polish Jewry, the story of Jewish women is a story interrupted tragically by the destruction of Polish Jewry in the Holocaust. Many of the trends discussed above had just begun to make their mark on the nature of that three million strong community. Nevertheless, they are still deserving of scholarly attention. Unless and until the missing fifty-two percent of Polish Jews are factored into the historical narrative, that story will remain incomplete.
The presence of so many young women in the Jewish Underground leadership and their unique role within this leadership are unusual phenomena, not only against the background of a pre-feminist era, but even in comparison with social and political organizations today.
Anna Polak was an important figure in the Dutch women’s movement in the early twentieth-century, who served as director of the National Bureau of Women’s Labor in The Hague for 28 years. Her controversial views on the importance of involving women in the working world led to her international recognition; she was beloved and admired by many.