Birthing into death: stories of Jewish pregnancy from the Holocaust
Rosenthal, Staci Jill
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This thesis investigates the stories of Jewish women and men living in Europe during the Holocaust who made decisions related to pregnancy, abortion, birth, and ‘parenting’ in ghettos, concentration camps, and in hiding. By reviewing existing, publicly accessible survivor testimonies, and by interviewing still-living survivors, I analyze the various ways Jewish women and men used available but limited forms of reproductive assistance to preserve their own lives and to secure the safety of their unborn or born children. Jewish women and their doctors or other ad-hoc medical providers weighed the risks of possible illness or diseases resulting from clandestine care against the seemingly greater or graver risk of Nazi exposure. By highlighting stories from Holocaust survivors who speak about experiences receiving or providing reproductive “health care” during the Holocaust, this study emphasizes what survivors say about seeking or providing abortions under conditions they might not have otherwise accepted, pursued, or suggested. Women who became pregnant during the Holocaust embody the unspeakable dilemma of “birthing into death,” as reproduction often meant murder for Jewish mothers. Pregnant Jewish women and their partners, the medical providers who attended to them, and their witnesses during the Holocaust all have unique perspectives on their own in-the-moment responses to pregnancy under extreme conditions. Their testimonies speak to how the decisions they made involved Jewish cultural notions of childrearing in Europe during the time of the Holocaust, and to the complex shaping of traumatic memory.