Sisterhood Blog

#TBT: Rosa Hilferding's Haunted Gaze

By Chana Pollack

Dr. Rosa Hilferding, June 1941 // Forward Assocation

Peering into Dr. Rosa Hilferding’s eyes as she gazes directly at the camera, posed in front of the Forverts’ photo file cabinets in this riveting seated portrait, one might grasp but a hint of what transpired prior to the photo session in our old East Broadway building one June day in 1941.

A physician herself, Hilferding was born into a Hungarian Jewish family and married to Austrian Jewish Marxist economist Rudolf Hilferding. They eventually expatriated to Berlin, Germany in the early 1900s, where he eventually became Finance Minister and then Reichstag spokesman for the Social Democratic Party in the Weimar Republic.

The Hilferdings fled Germany with Hitler’s rise to power, along with other party members — first to Denmark, then Paris and Zurich. Returning to Paris in 1939, Rudolph Hilferding remained the focal point of the German Socialist Party in exile. When France fell to the Nazis, the Hilferdings successfully escaped to Marseilles. Eventually, Rudolph Hilferding was turned over to the Gestapo by Vichy police.

At that point in February 1941, Rosa Hilferding told the Forverts, having survived a Paris so congested by the occupation that all one saw there were Nazis — the French basically acted as “kidnappers” for the Gestapo, happy to hand over their prey. Since then, there had been no word from her husband. She remained in Arles in Provence, attempting to establish contact with him to send him clothing, food and cigarettes —  to no avail. She left the country.

By the time this photo was taken, she had journeyed to safety from Marseilles first to Martinique where she applied for a US visa only to witness her ship being overtaken by the Dutch who sought out Nazi agents reportedly on board.

Diverted to Trinidad where the captured agents were detained, the ship was forwarded to Winnipeg, Canada and finally — New York City.

By the fall of 1941, it was understood that Rudoph Hilferding had been tortured to death by his Nazi captors. Rosa Hilferding eventually resettled herself in Boston where she was employed in her field.

Read more


Teaching Horror of Shoah Rape With Crochet

By Elissa Strauss

Gil Yefman’s TumTum

For nearly six months last year, Dr. Rochelle Saidel, founder and executive director of Remember the Women Institute, and artist Gil Yefman met weekly to talk about a topic deemed untouchable by many in their respective communities of academia and art: rape during the Holocaust. Saidel, who along with Dr. Sonja Hedgepeth, edited a book on the topic, initially met Yefman at a panel discussion on forced prostitution at Auschwitz. “I wondered why there was a young man in the front row who was crocheting as he sat and listened,” Saidel said.

The weekly meetings eventually fed into the work Yefman created for his new show “TO ME YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL {BAY MIR BISTU SHEYN},” now at Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York City. His first solo exhibition in New York, the show takes a sharp look at gender identity, sexuality and violence through the soft touch of traditionally feminine formats methods like crochet, soap-making and glamour shots. While walking through the exhibit I found myself seduced into believing I was safe amidst these mediums often associated with domestic crafts, and then would soon feel ripped open by the subject matter of rape, trans-identity, and prostitution. To Yefman’s credit, the power of pieces lies in their intimate, rather than political, approach to the subject matter.

The Sisterhood spoke with Yefman about the new exhibit, which is up through June 14.

Read more


Where Do Trigger Warnings Belong?

By Sarah Seltzer

Thinkstock

Trigger warnings in academia, the idea that professors should flag, in advance, potentially traumatizing content for students, are a subject of hot debate this week after a series of articles on the topic showed up big venues. Content that might provoke a trigger warning include rape, violence, and historical atrocities like lynchings, slavery, even the Holocaust. Of course, it would be hard to conduct many history, film, literature and other classes without lingering on such topics now and then.

Trigger warnings originated on the web, where social justice-y folks as well as rape and abuse survivors used them to tip each other off to content that might set each other off.

Read more


The Women Who Warned Their Families

By Sally Wendkos Olds

Getty Images

At one point in the documentary “No Place on Earth,” Saul Stermer, now 93, who, with his family, spent 511 days hiding in two Ukrainian caves and escaped the Holocaust, smiles and says, “What a mother!” No wonder. His mother, Esther Stermer, who was 75 years old in 1942 when the Nazis came to her Ukrainian village, saved her family.

During my training to be an oral historian for Steven Spielberg’s survivors of the Shoah visual history project, interviewing Holocaust survivors, I learned that it was often the woman of the family, the mother, the wife, who recognized the Nazi peril before the husband did. Too often the men dismissed signs of impending disaster, shrugged them off with the confidence that they had lived in these homes for years like their parents before them, that they had successful businesses, lovely homes, good neighbors, that this unpleasantness would pass. But somehow the mothers knew. And the families who listened to their women and left Germany or Austria or Czechoslovakia or other countries invaded by the Nazis managed to survive.

Esther was one of these women who knew danger and who dealt with it. She warned the men in her family not to register to work for the Nazis because she realized that those Jewish men who did register were never seen again. She also told her family not to obey orders to move to the ghetto, but to hide instead.

Read more


My Son Already Knew About the Holocaust

By Frimet Goldberger

Thinkstock

One Sunday late last year, while on a biweekly library run with my children, I picked up an illustrated book about Anne Frank from the kids’ section.

“What’s that book, mom?” my son inquired, as he cleared the shelf of Franklin W. Dixon’s “The Hardy Boys.”

I quickly hid it between the stash of books in our library backpack, and pointed out that he missed one book in the “The Hardy Boys” series. I did not know what to tell him. How do you begin a conversation about something so elemental, something so close to home, something that is bound to give a child endless nightmares and shatter his sense of safety in the little bubble we created for him?

Read more


Cecylja Klaften Educated Polish Girls

By Chana Pollack

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

Forward Association

An unsung hero of Jewish girls education in inter-war Poland, Dr. Cecylja Klaften came to New York City in 1938 as part of a fundraising effort held at Mecca Temple on West 55th Street, sponsored by aid organization United Galician Jews of America.

Read more


Sex Therapy and the Holocaust

By Naomi Zeveloff

The fact that Dr. Ruth Westheimer, arguably the most famous sex therapist alive today, is also a Holocaust survivor always struck me as nothing more than a surprising coincidence. Survivors went on to occupy a range of professions — why not sex therapy, too?

But it turns out that enduring trauma — or at least living among the traumatized — can be a source of insight into the role erotic expression plays in rebuilding a healthy life.

Read more


Srebrenica's Ghosts Still Being Unearthed

By Alana Baranov

Alana Baranov
A portrait of a widow from Srebrenica advertises the exhibition ‘You Are My Witness’ in Sarajevo.

A photograph of an old Bosniak woman — a survivor of the genocide which took place in Srebrenica — standing in front of a poster of a young Anne Frank outside the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam is just one of the powerful images which make up photographer Tarik Samarah’s exhibit in Sarajevo entitled “You Are My Witness.” As a citizen of the world, and particularly as a Jewish woman, this image struck a deep chord with me. What of ‘Never Again’ and its hollow promise? How quickly were the painful lessons of the Holocaust, unbridled prejudice and unchecked ultra-nationalism forgotten?

Thanks to my academic studies in transitional justice and my identity as a Jewish South African, I have always been fascinated by the interplay between trauma, memory and narrative. The complex historical legacy that these dual heritages hold has shaped who I am today, and I have always sought to explore the issues of justice and transformation wherever I travel. And so, on a recent trip to Bosnia, I decided to see the exhibition “You Are My Witness” currently showing at the Galerija 11/05/95 in the heart of Sarajevo — which is where I first saw that image of the older woman and the young Frank. Their image embodies my struggle to understand how the world, under the long shadow cast by the war crimes of World War II, did not do more to stop the slaughter which gripped the Balkans from 1993 to 1995. This image, just one of many on display in “You Are My Witness,” creates a profound connection between the genocide in the Balkans and the other great crime against humanity, the Holocaust, which took place on European soil.

As I entered the exhibit, I was greeted by a 16 meter wall covered in names of those massacred in the genocide of Srebrenica. This marked the beginning of a collection of photographs all taken by the talented Semerah, a Bosniak photographer from Sarajevo. Part art and part documentation, his work puts into pictures what cannot be described in words. He spent months accompanying international teams of missing persons units in 2002 as they uncovered the mass graves of Srebrenica and performed the grim task of identifying and burying the dead. Taken nearly 10 years after the genocide, Semerah’s photography not only documents this process but also the lives of the women and children who survived the genocide and now live as refugees.

Read more


Paula Deen and the Oppression Olympics

By Lilit Marcus

getty images
Paula Deen

The website XOJane.com published a post by one of its regular contributors, India-Jewel Jackson, entitled “Let’s Talk Paula Deen and Apology Culture – Should Celebrities Be Forced to Apologize In Spite of Their Beliefs?”

However, it wasn’t Jackson’s post on June 24 that caused controversy among the blog’s devoted followers – it was one of her comments. In the comment thread on the piece, Jackson compared slavery to the Holocaust, arguing that black people had suffered more from slavery than Jewish people had from the Shoah.

“BUT, with the slavery vs. holocaust debate, it’s a bit different, as it was ultimately based upon race vs. religion, as in, Blacks were enslaved for hundreds of years, because they were Black. They couldn’t change or alter the appearance so as to escape and fly under the radar. Jews were exteriminated [sic] (@peachgrenade’s words–not mine) for not being blonde + blue and because of their religion–the hair and the religion, they could change,” she wrote in response to another commenter.

The thread then turned into what might be called the Oppression Olympics, with people complaining that certain groups had more right to victimhood than others. Turning systematic oppression into a contest where minority groups vie for the title of “People who had it the worst” serves only to diminish all of our experiences. The post racked up 421 comments, with commenters debating everything from whether Jewishness is a choice to whether Native Americans actually beat both black and Jewish people in the carnival of suffering. The original subject of the post, Paula Deen, was long forgotten.

Read more


Being Jewish in Berlin

By Lilit Marcus

Lilit Marcus
Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

For years, I skirted around Berlin. Trips to Europe took me to Denmark, Holland and France, but never to their neighbor. When a friend finally convinced me to visit this spring, I got one of two responses from all of my Jewish friends: “Oh, I love Berlin! It’s like Brooklyn. I’ve been thinking about moving.” And then there was, “Oh, I could never.”

Until now, I’ve been firmly in category two. It isn’t personal. My family was lucky enough to have already been in the United States when the Shoah happened. My beef’s with the Ukraine, who chased them out (and which I still won’t visit), not with Germany. But the Holocaust is all over every Jewish kid’s curriculum, and it’s full of German people and German words. I keep thinking of scenes from Eytan Fox’s movie “Walk On Water,” which is basically the German/Jewish conflict illustrated on an individual scale. In fact, one of the reasons I’m in Europe right now is to attend an Austrian friend and former roommate’s wedding.

But as the plane circled Tegel airport, I felt a shadow crawl into my stomach. In the Customs line, I watched an elderly German couple and thought Were they there? What did they do? I was convinced that everyone could look at me and tell, like those guys in the New York City subway who always stop and ask if you’re Jewish.

Read more


Even Women of Holocaust Get Blurred

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Wikimedia

The Sisterhood has covered Haredi exclusion of women from the Israeli public sphere for some time now. When it comes to the removal of women’s images from public view, we’ve seen the disappearance of women from advertisements; the photoshopping of female leaders like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton out of news photos; the blurring of women’s and girls’ faces on memorial notices and even the erasing of a pair of women’s shoes from an innocuous photo of a family’s shoe drawer.

But now this practice has reached a high — or, rather low — point with the blurring out of the face of a woman in a Holocaust-era photo. Ynet reported that the Haredi newspaper “Bakehillah” (In the community) censored the face of Matilda Goldfinger, the woman who appears to the left of the little boy wearing a yellow star with his hands raised in the iconic photo documenting the final liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto in May 1943, following the Jewish uprising there that began on the first night of Passover that year. Goldfinger’s daughter Henka (Hannah) was killed moments after the photograph was taken.

Read more


Meteor Town Saved My Grandparents

By Rachel Rosmarin

Rachel Rosmarin
Rachel Rosmarin’s grandparents in Chelyabinsk, 1946

Chelyabinsk. The way my grandparents say the word is nothing like the way the newscasters on CNN pronounced it last week. The L is soft, and the accent is on the A. Chelyabinsk.

The name of this Siberian town deep in the Ural mountains, where meteoric hellfire rained from above and spawned a thousand nightmares, has loomed large in my imagination my whole life. I’ve been grateful for its existence and upset by its inherent strangeness.

I wanted to visit — to mimic the interminable and terrifying train ride there my grandmother and grandfather each took out of the soon-to-be Lodz Ghetto in late 1939 — but when I found out it was considered by many scientists to be the most polluted place on earth in the 1990s due to hushed-up government nuclear waste dumping and three serious nuclear accidents that irradiated everything, I postponed my trip. Indefinitely.

And now? The place that saved my grandparents’ lives, threw them together and, ultimately, allowed me to be born, is getting its 15 minutes.

Read more


O.K. Corral's Jewish Gal

By Erika Dreifus

HarperCollins.com

Every March brings us Women’s History Month. Among this year’s highlights is the publication of a new biography of an American Jewish woman — Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp — by another American Jewish woman, Ann Kirschner.

If the Earp name sounds familiar, that’s because Josephine’s common-law husband, Wyatt, has occupied the limelight of American Old West mythology. Remember that famous shootout in Tombstone, Ariz., in 1881? The one dramatized in films such as “My Darling Clementine,” “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” “Tombstone,” and “Wyatt Earp”? Turns out that the fight had something to do with a certain Jewish girl. In her new biography, “Lady at the O.K. Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp,” Kirschner restores Josephine to her rightful historical place. (In her previous book, the acclaimed “Sala’s Gift,” Kirschner explored her mother’s Holocaust story.)

Kirschner, whose career began as a lecturer in Victorian literature at Princeton University, currently serves as University Dean of Macaulay Honors College of The City University of New York. In a recent interview with The Sisterhood, Kirschner discussed what’s remarkable about Josephine — and what it was like to research her story.

Read more


Hanukkah Miracles

By Susan Kushner Resnick

Susan Kushner Resnick

I’m not even certain of the year, but it was sometime after the tattoo and before the death march. Aron Lieb was in his early twenties, but he felt elderly. He was working in a coal mine, forced by the Nazis to supply fuel for their war effort. Every night after he emerged from the earth, guards sprayed the black dust off him and his co-workers with powerful hoses. The burst of water was so sharp that he had to hold his head down to keep from being blinded or drowned. One day he realized he couldn’t bring his head back up after the assault. That was the day he decided to die.

His younger brother was at the mine, too. It was close to Birkenau, close enough that they could both see the smoke of burning people in the sky. Lieb wanted to go anyway. He didn’t think he could work another day.

“You’ll die,” his brother said.

“I know,” he replied.

His brother begged. They knew he would be grouped in the next selection with the weak — those chosen to go to the gas chambers. Lieb asked to leave anyway.

Read more


How to Share Our Grandparents' Survivor Stories?

By Rachel Rosmarin

Rachel Rosmarin
The Esther Nisenthal Krinitz art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

As a child, I was made to feel as though I were the beneficiary of an enormous and exclusive trust that would earn interest over the course of my life. My brother and I had been gifted the rich and complex inheritance of our grandparents’ survival, and none of the other kids we knew had received a birthright so special. It paid out in dribs and drabs, mostly on Friday nights after kneidlach and kugel, until we were old enough to swallow their story whole.

After a potato dish was served, my grandmother might deftly segue like this: “You know, during the war, I used to gather moldy potatoes and bits of coal that fell off the back of a train so that your aunt should have what to eat.” An hour-long recitation would commence, we’d absorb it, and fall asleep during the car ride home dreaming of Siberian soldiers and snowfalls.

Sometimes we made requests. “Tell us about how you found Uncle Henry after he was liberated from Auschwitz,” we might ask. “Tell us again about when the Nazi punched Papa in the face.”

I knew, logically, that many other kids had Holocaust survivor grandparents. And maybe if I had grown up in New York instead of Los Angeles, I might even have known some of them. Instead, I got to feel smug. So when, at the age of 30, a guy I was interested in revealed during our earliest Internet correspondence (no, it wasn’t on JDate) that not only were his grandparents survivors, but that he could share their story with me merely by cutting and pasting a link to the foundation that supports his deceased grandmother’s 36 lush and intricate fabric art panels that detail her survival story, I didn’t know how to feel. I envied. I bristled. I think I even swooned.

Read more


Fashion Legend Leah Gottlieb Dies at 94

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Wiki Commons
Gottex Israeli fashion house, Tel Aviv, 1961.

We take lycra and hard-cup bras in bathing suits for granted. But at one time, they actually had to be introduced to beachwear fashion. The person to do so was Gottex founder Leah Gottlieb, who died on November 17 in Tel Aviv at age 94.

Gottlieb, a Holocaust survivor who arrived penniless to Israel in 1949, built a spandex-fueled international empire along with her husband Armin (who died in 1995) and daughters Judith (who died in 2003) and Miriam. Gottlieb, who was born and raised in Hungary, hid with her young daughters from the Nazis while her husband was sent to a forced labor camp. After the war, the couple lived briefly in Czechoslovakia before moving to the new Jewish State.

After realizing that making raincoats (as Armin’s family had done in Hungary) was not a profitable business in sundrenched Israel, the couple soon switched their focus to swimwear. Armin took care of the business side while Gottlieb, known not only for her prodigious talent but also her incredible work ethic, poured her energy into designing the garments.

Read more


Grandma's Gefilte Fish

By Rachel Rosmarin

Rachel Rosmarin
A line of shopping carts before erev Rosh Hashanah at Elat Market in L.A.

Every year just before Rosh Hashanah, my mother and I engage in a ritual attempt to approximate my grandmother’s gefilte fish recipe. The recipe itself is an approximation. She cobbled it together from other Holocaust survivors, and perhaps gleaned a few tips from women in a displaced persons’ camp, perhaps remembering bits from what her own mother made do with in her Polish shtetl kitchen. It goes something like this: one-third buffalo carp, one-third pike, one-third whitefish. Naturally, I can’t divulge the whole thing.

When my grandmother retired to Los Angeles from New York in the 1970s, she navigated a whole new Jewish culinary landscape. For her fish, she settled upon Elat Market in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, a store known for its quality, pricing and occasional violence. My mother and I went shopping with her from time to time, and I witnessed a side of my grandmother’s personality I’d never before seen.

We waited in line outside the store for up to half an hour before it opened, sometimes longer if the demand was so strong that the market needed to institute crowd control measures. When we finally made it inside, my grandmother gathered up all 4 feet 10 inches of herself and marched towards the fish counter, deftly and determinedly swerving around the wayward shopping carts for which this market is notorious (seriously — check out the Yelp reviews).

The fish counter swarmed with diminutive elderly women calling out to the Spanish-speaking fishmongers in complete chaos, in a half-dozen languages, each brutally jockeying for attention. “I said no heads,” one might insist in Farsi. “Three pounds, not one third of a pound,” another would complain in Hebrew. Russian wasn’t uncommon. Once, I’m almost certain we heard two women arguing in Ladino. Back in the 1980s, my grandmother wasn’t the only one with a Yiddish accent. She elbowed her way to the front of the mob in a way that I’ve come to believe only a survivor can.

Read more


The Anti-Abortion 'Wailing Wall'

By Sarah Seltzer

Naomi Zeveloff has a story in this week’s Forward about a full-size replica of the Western Wall in the works in Wichita, Kansas targeted towards women who have had abortions.

An anti-abortion group, the Word of Life Church, is proposing to build this multimillion dollar “National Pro-Life Memorial and International Life Center” in the same city where abortion provider Dr. George Tiller lived and was gunned down by an anti-choice terrorist.

Included as a central aspect of the memorial, should it be built, will be a garden of crosses to represent what leaders call the “Holocaust” and “genocide” of the unborn, in addition to the replica of the wall. Pro-choice website RH Reality Check sees the memorial’s plans as part of a dangerous “my pro-life is bigger than your pro-life culture” which fosters extremism.

This plan is problematic, even offensive in so, so, so many ways. First of all, if any memorial gets built in Wichita it should be for Dr. Tiller who was a friend to women and a deeply compassionate provider.

Read more


Prime Ribs: Kat Dennings Is My Homegirl

By Elissa Strauss

getty images
Actress Kat Dennings

Actress and my new favorite Jewess Kat Dennings tweets: “Every time a magazine Photoshops my nose, a Nazi gets its wings.”

Israeli couples are looking to create more egalitarian wedding ceremonies while still staying within the confines of Jewish law, but it isn’t easy, reports JTA. Some rabbis make the women take mandatory “bride classes” in which they “are told that if they don’t observe the laws of family purity and go to the mikvah regularly, they or their children will be plagued by disease.” You would think they would save that one for “new mom” classes. You would also think they would say things that are, ahem, true.

At Huffington Post, via Heeb, Jayson Littman writes about his experience with a Jewish organization that helps men rid themselves of “unwanted same-sex” attraction and how it actually helped him build up the confidence to come out.

Read more


Raising Jewish Daughters in Germany

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Myriam Halberstam had very personal reasons for establishing Ariella Books, the first post-Holocaust Jewish children’s book publishing company in Germany, in the spring of 2010. The German-American documentary filmmaker and children’s book author and editor simply could not find any decent German-language Jewish children’s books for her two young daughters, who are growing up in Berlin.

“A Horse for Hanukkah,” the company’s first title, came out in German and English versions for the German market in time for the winter holiday season last year, and it sold very well.

Written by Halberstam and illustrated by American book artist Nancy Cote, it is a story about a girl who wants a horse for Hanukkah but comes to regret her wish when the Hebrew-speaking horse creates havoc during her family’s holiday celebrations. The book will be available this fall in both Germany and the U.S. A second title, a German translation of Leah Goldberg’s Israeli children’s classic “Dirah L’haskir” (Apartment For Rent) is due out in October in time for the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth.

Read more



Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.