Review - Full Text


NWSA Journal
Bloomington: Fall 2005.Vol.17, Iss. 3; pg. 201, 2 pgs.
Lyra Totten-Naylor. Copyright Indiana University Press Fall 2005

Divided Lives: The Untold Stories of Jewish-Christian Women in Nazi Germany by Cynthia Crane. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000, 341 pp., $26.95 hardcover, $17.95 paper.

"Cynthia Crane's exploration of Jewish-Christian women resists simple classification. It is at once a personal memoir of a scholar's intellectual journey, an oral history, and a serious study of German women who had been marginalized both by the Nazis and by previous scholars. She writes of transgressions in the past and in the present as she and the other interview participants grapple with the issues of identity, inclusion, and exclusion.

Although the women interviewed for this project considered themselves to be Christian and German when Hitler came to power, Nazi racial policy categorized them as Mischlinge, an ugly term the Nazis employed to designate the offspring of mixed Christian and Jewish unions. Their ambiguous status as part-Aryan and part-Jewish meant these women were spared the worst atrocities of the Holocaust, but the Nazis also denied them the privileges and legal rights allotted to full-blooded Aryans. All the women Crane interviewed had remembered specific incidents from their childhood and early adulthood in which their status as part-Jew led to their exclusion both during the Nazi era and in the subsequent years. In this regard, Crane argues for a broader interpretation of victims of the Nazi era.

Crane contextualizes her subject in the first two sections of the book. Crane's concise prose conveys the complex rules her participants faced during the Nazi era and the difficulty scholars face to this day in researching women and personal lives. She characterizes archives as sites with "language barriers [and] gender barriers" (13). By intermingling what surprised and frustrated her as she researched this topic, Crane personalizes the research process. Her experiences can be a valuable model for those readers considering writing and researching as a career. The unearthing of documents also becomes a way to explain Nazi legal classifications as they affected her participants, without going into voluminous detail of the structure of the Nazi state. For those readers who wish for a more extensive historical background into the nature of women and outsiders during the Third Reich and the Holocaust, Crane's index of consulted works serves as an excellent reading list of major works in the field. Crane provides enough detail on the Nazi's Byzantine racial classification system that even readers new to this subject will easily understand the unique legal and social circumstances of the women in her study.

The oral histories conducted as part of this project stand as the third and most memorable section of the book. The ten women represented here embody a range of experiences and their words are powerful. Crane introduces the reader to each woman by giving a brief family history as well as a description of the woman's surroundings, mannerisms and how she came into contact with the interview subject. These details provide insight as to how the women have tried to make sense of their place in the world and to reconcile themselves with the past. Crane is also attuned to the psychological state of her participants noting that one, Ruth Yost, had developed a split psyche whereas others channeled their traumatic pasts into anger or activism, thus adding another dimension to her analysis. Following these impressions, Crane essentially steps back from the story, allowing these women, long silenced by archives, scholars, social constraints, and other institutions, to speak.

The open-ended nature of the interviews allows readers to reflect on a variety of issues pertinent to the construction of identity such as self-perception, the manner of storytelling, and the nature of truth. For instance, chapters seven and eight feature the memories of a mother and daughter who were both defined as having mixed marriages during the Third Reich. After reading the transcript of her mother's interview, Sigrid Lorenzen felt obligated to correct the places where her mother Gretel "had spoken incorrectly" but defended the spirit of her story (246). This raises possibilities for analysis of the role of truth, untruths, and memory in shaping identity; however, such assessment is left to the reader.

Divided Lives appeals to a wide range of feminist scholars and has broader implications than those suggested by its subject matter. The Nazi regime suddenly and systemically categorized the populations under its rule by "race" and gender according to hereditary, not according to how people lived. For the Mischlinge, this resulted in an unexpected new identity that was forced upon them by outside forces. These women's divided lives become a way to explore the various components of identity construction including religion, gender, social class, and even physical appearance. Their lifelong struggle to understand who they are and where they fit in this world comes across as a universal issue and not one that should be relegated to history classrooms alone. Crane's straightforward eloquent prose and thought-provoking yet subtle arguments make this book a delight to read."

Lyra Totten-Naylor is a graduate student in the History Department at The Ohio State University. Her research focuses on the construction of national identity among German-speaking artists in the mid-twentieth century.

NWSA Journal
Edited by Brenda Daly, ISSN: 1040-0656, Published three times a year.

NWSA Journal, an official publication of the National Women's Studies Association, publishes the most up-to-date, interdisciplinary, multicultural feminist scholarship linking feminist theory with teaching and activism. In addition to its essays focusing on feminist scholarship and its reviews of books, teaching materials, and films, the journal regularly includes such features as "Dialogues," "Commentaries," "Interviews," and "Reports."

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