In May 1941, Gertrude van Tijn arrived in Lisbon on a mission of mercy from German-occupied Amsterdam. She came with Nazi approval to the capital of neutral Portugal to negotiate the departure from Hitler’s Europe of thousands of German and Dutch Jews. Was this middle-aged Jewish woman, burdened with such a terrible responsibility, merely a pawn of the Nazis, or was her journey a genuine opportunity to save large numbers of Jews from the gas chambers? In such impossible circumstances, what is just action, and what is complicity?A moving account of courage and of all-too-human failings in the face of extraordinary moral challenges, The Ambiguity of Virtue tells the story of Van Tijn’s work on behalf of her fellow Jews as the avenues that might save them were closed off. Between 1933 and 1940 Van Tijn helped organize Jewish emigration from Germany. After the Germans occupied Holland, she worked for the Nazi‐appointed Jewish Council in Amsterdam and enabled many Jews to escape. Some later called her a heroine for the choices she made; others denounced her as a collaborator.Bernard Wasserstein’s haunting narrative draws readers into the twilight world of wartime Europe, to expose the wrenching dilemmas that confronted Jews under Nazi occupation. Gertrude van Tijn’s experience raises crucial questions about German policy toward the Jews, about the role of the Jewish Council, and about Dutch, American, and British responses to the persecution and mass murder of Jews on an unimaginable scale.
Studies of Nazi persecution and destruction of Jews have to date largely been based on the accounts of men. And yet gender difference in Western society is so profound that women and men seem to have divergent experiences, speak different languages, and see and hear in dissimilar ways. Denise de Costa's book explores the significance of sex and gender differences in the construction of history and society-specifically, the Nazi genocide of Jews in World War II-by focusing on the writing of two Jewish women, Anne Frank and Etty Hillesum.
De Costa argues that although both of these writers have received much attention, little has been done to understand how the significant difference occasioned by both gender and Jewishness helps to define cultural or personal identity in relation to the Holocaust. De Costa uses a variety of psychoanalytic and feminist theories to approach the writing of Frank and Hillesum. Critiquing as well as employing the concepts of Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Simone de Beauvoir among others, she presents a detailed and rich discussion of each writer.
De Costa approaches Anne Frank largely from a psychoanalytical perspective that emphasizes the function of writing itself in the development of self-identity. For Etty Hillesum, she is more concerned with how writing establishes a philosophy, and a faith, that can entertain and is indeed based in doubleness and paradox. Her assessment of these two writers makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the Holocaust as a cultural and historical phenomenon, of the role of writing in the production and expression of gendered identity, and of the complex relation between women, writing, and culture.
Eyerman utilizes theories of social drama and cultural trauma to evaluate the reactions to and effects of the murder. A social drama is triggered by a public transgression of taken-for-granted norms; one that threatens the collective identity of a society may develop into a cultural trauma. Eyerman contends that the assassination of Theo van Gogh quickly became a cultural trauma because it resonated powerfully with the postwar psyche of the Netherlands. As part of his analysis of the murder and reactions to it, he discusses significant aspects of twentieth-century Dutch history, including the country’s treatment of Jews during the German occupation, the loss of its colonies in the wake of World War II, its recruitment of immigrant workers, and the failure of Dutch troops to protect Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995.
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