March 11, 2008


One of the great pleasures of working at the Museum has been getting to know remarkable survivors, who dedicate their lives to Holocaust education. One such person, Fanya Gottesfeld Heller, is an asset to the Museum in so many ways. At the Museum and at schools throughout the country, she speaks passionately about her experiences during the war, providing students with honest and frank first-person testimony. Fanya is also one of the most knowledgeable and best read people I know. As a Trustee, her erudition enables her to offer educated and insightful opinions about what is going on in the world and how we can best serve the public as an educational institution. The Museum is grateful for Fanya’s generous support. This year, March 18, marks the Ninth Annual Fanya Gottesfeld Heller conference for Educators, which will once again be a testament to her dedication to the Museum and to her foresight. As Fanya and I both believe, one of the best ways to teach the public about the Holocaust is to ensure that those who teach have the tools they need.

More than 200 participants are expected to convene for the conference, which this year explores the unique difficulties women faced, and the particular adversities they overcame, during the Holocaust. Narratives of the Holocaust: Women’s Perspectives will take place at the Museum on Tuesday, March 18 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The oral and written histories of women in the Holocaust are an under-explored, but extremely important part of Holocaust and Jewish history. Examining women’s roles and choices, this conference will help teachers guide their students in understanding what women went through in the ghettos, in the concentration camps or in hiding, and after liberation.

Women remained silent for many years after the Holocaust. The conference will begin with a consideration of what happened in the last several decades to help the voices of women gain a more prominent place within Holocaust studies. The conference will continue by focusing on how women’s roles as caregivers, wives, and mothers were significant factors in their responses to the Holocaust. Guest speakers will share inspiring stories of how women supported and sustained their families and others, how they bonded in friendship to cope with loss, how they played key roles in resistance across Europe, and finally, how they struggled to rebuild their lives.

This facet of Holocaust history will be approached with an emphasis on narrative in oral and written testimony, scholarship, and literature. Fanya Gottesfeld Heller will speak of her experiences as a young woman in Ukraine. Joan Ringelheim will discuss the history of the study of women in the Holocaust. Bonnie Gurewitsch will provide case studies of women’s wartime experiences. Sara R. Horowitz will talk about women in relation to Holocaust literature.

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