Renowned author visits U, lectures on women and the Holocaust

TKristina Fenner

The University of Pennsylvania’s dean of undergraduate studies visited the University on Wednesday to speak on media representations of the Holocaust.

To a handful of people gathered in Nolte Center, Barbie Zelizer shared pictures of women in the media during the Holocaust. Referring to one of her recent books, “Remembering to Forget,” Zelizer described how mass media images of the Holocaust focus on gender in a simplified form.

“Women are depicted in ways that neutralize evidence of their gender,” she said.

U.S. propaganda efforts during World War II included an unprecedented number of photos in newspapers and journals displaying Holocaust atrocities, Zelizer said.

She explained that troops stationed in Europe were ordered to take as many pictures as possible of Jews in concentration camps near the time of the camps’ liberation, and that President Eisenhower urged editors of newspapers and magazines to leave space for the photos.

Pictures of women were common and stressed stereotypes of domesticity, nurturing nature and fragility, Zelizer said.

Images of mothers and their children embracing and groups of women with absent gazes were meant to rally support for the Allied forces, she said.

Allison Page, a history junior, said Zelizer’s lecture raised an interesting point about women in the Holocaust.

“Women have been widely ignored,” she said. “It’s an important issue.”

Added College of Continuing Education student Verity Baker, “I think it’s important to discuss gender in the Holocaust because of the effect on humanity as a whole.”

Zelizer also discussed the difficulty of studying the Holocaust from survivors’ collective memories.

“It’s very difficult to deal with a Holocaust narrative when it’s made of different parcels,” she said.

Zelizer noted how the past is often interpreted in a linear, chronological fashion and how people’s memories change over time. The visual interpretations of one’s past are very different from verbal interpretations, she said.

Zelizer has taken her presentation to colleges and universities across the country. She recently won the International Communication Association’s Best Book Award.

Zelizer will hold a second presentation, “Holocaust Memory in the Camera’s Eye,” today at 3 p.m. in the Weisman Art Museum.

Kristina Fenner is a freelance writer. The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]