Foto: OEBS/Ričard Hedli (Richard Hadley), 22. jun 2017, Barselona (na fotografiji: Džulija Drost (Julia Drost), Ana Makovka-Kvapisevic (Anna Makowka-Kwapisewicz), Simona Gamonte (Simona Gamonte), Miško Stanišić, Marian Abdulkarim (Maryan Abdulkarim) za vreme panel diskusije)

OEBS/ODIHR seminar o Rodnom i intersektorskom aktivizmu

OEBS-ova Kancelarija za demokratske institucije i ljudska prava ODIHR je organizovala seminar u Barseloni od 21-23. juna, sa fokusom na teme o antisemitizmu, diskriminaciji i netoleranciji kroz podizanje svesti o rodnoj osetljivosti. Učesnici foruma o Rodnom i intersekcuionalnom aktivizmu razmatrali su izazove i mogućnosti uključivanja intersekcionalnog pristupa u jačanju rodne ravnopravnosti. Događaj je realizovan u okviru OEBS/ODIHR projekta „S reči na dela u borbi protiv antisemitizma“ – kao rezultat višegodišnjih aktivnosti sa ciljem jačanja kapaciteta OEBS-ovih država članica i civilnog društva za sprečavanje i suzbijanje antisemitizma.

Miško Stanišić, direktor Teraforminga, bio je pozvan da učestvuje u panel debati kao i da održi kratku prezentaciju na temu novih pristupa za uključivanje rodne perspektive u kontekstu svoje oblasti rada.

Poenta prezentacije je da se istakne potreba za uključivanjem rodne perspektive u obrazovanju o Holokaustu, kao i da se ukaže na nove mogućnosti za dostizanje obrazovnih ciljeva kroz intereskcionalni i multidisciplinarni pristup.

Gender Perspectives in Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust (TLH)


Misko Stanisic, Terraforming

“The men don’t go out… She stands on the long line for bread… When there is need to go to the Gestapo, the daughter or wife goes… The women are everywhere… Women who never thought of working are now performing the most difficult physical work…”
Emmanuel Ringelblum, notes about the Warsaw ghetto [2]

The Holocaust represents the genocide against the Jews, which was systematically planned and carried out by the German Nazis and their collaborators throughout the occupied Europe during the Second World War. It is a complex and multilayered historical event that forever changed the world as we knew it. It shaped the post-war Europe and stipulated the foundation of the shared humanistic values of diversity, tolerance and Human Rights.

The objective of teaching is to engage the intellectual curiosity of students in order to inspire critical thought and personal growth. [3] The study of the Holocaust is a study about the use and abuse of power, discrimination, stereotyping, xenophobia, racism, antisemitism, and human rights violations – in any society. Thus TLH is extremely important but a challenging task, complex and multilayered as the history itself, as it forces us to investigate ourselves, our own choices, roles we take, actions we make, responsibilities and accountabilities – then, now, and tomorrow. Understanding the crime of such scope is impossible without investigating its causes and consequences, the life before the persecution and the catastrophic everlasting impact it left behind. It is also an investigation of human nature and its extreme manifestations: from perpetrators and victims to bystanders and helpers. Understanding these complex issues is impossible without a holistic approach that would take into account all aspects of Human experience: social, cultural, emotional, physical, psychological, spiritual… One of the most obvious, but almost entirely absent in TLH, is a gender perspective.

Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women. [4] Applied as a “magnifying glass” when examining the Holocaust, the gender approach reveals many new layers essentially important for its better understanding. By examining men’s and women’s responses in the time of terror, the gender conscious TLH will enhance our understanding of the experiences not only of the victims – their resourcefulness, courage and suffering, but also the complex setting of roles of others: perpetrators, helpers, and bystanders – their motivations, psychology and mechanisms behind their choices. As this is the cornerstone of the Holocaust studies, and its greatest value for the contemporary societies and future generations, modern TLH must include a gender perspective.

I will briefly mention just some of the points and examples that emerges when using gender perspectives in analyzing the Holocaust and its contemporary accounts:

Gender Roles Before the Second World War

In order to fully understand the victims, perpetrators, bystanders and helpers we have to analyze their traditional gender roles as these shaped the perpetrators’ policies and actions towards men and women, and consequently the victims’ experiences during the Holocaust. Generally, women were primarily in charge of housekeeping and taking care of children, while the men were responsible for the families’ economic support. Thus women and men were equipped with the very different skills, knowledge and life-experiences when they faced the persecution.

Perpetrators’ policies towards women and men

Many aspects of the Nazis’ racist ideology are gender based. The first anti-Jewish laws in Nazi Germany affected most directly the Jewish men dismissing them from their jobs and professions. Consequently, Jewish women had to step in as they “tried to manage their households with less money and no help, shop for food in hostile stores, help their frightened children cope with harassment at school, and provide comfort and solace for their husbands”. [5] Other perpetrators’ policies targeted women directly. Such was the order in the Kovno ghetto: “Pregnancies have to be terminated. Pregnant women will be shot”. [6] The specific strategies concerning women were developed by the NSDAP Office of Racial Policy regarding “sexual conquest” in occupied countries as a part of the “Germanization of the European race”. [7]

Women’s new roles and responsibilities

In many cases the first victims were men, taken away from their families and communities, imprisoned, or already shot dead by killing squads. Women were left with the children and the elderly, taking the role of a decision-making adult and family leader, coping, improvising and creating surviving and resistance strategies.


The Nazis implemented different policies towards local population in different occupied territories. In East- and South-East Europe the treatment of the local population was incomparably more cruel and severe, with a rapid implementation of anti-Jewish measures and almost immediate start of mass-killings of the Jewish men, and other civilians. This swift deadly development pushed some to join the resistance very early. Such was the case of the Baruch family from Belgrade, a poor working-class Jewish family with 6 children. Three brothers and two sisters Baruch were killed fighting Nazis as Yugoslav partisans, or as members of the underground resistance movement: Josif, Bora, Isidor, Rashela and Berta Baruch. In this case, both women and men, despite the traditional gender roles of the time, equally actively and most directly took part in the armed resistance.


Gender analysis also discloses specificities among women and men as helpers. Another example from Belgrade reveal how a group of women, a mother and two daughters Marija, Natalija and Vera Andeselic, used their particular (traditionally gender-typical) skills, knowledge and experience to save a 2-years old Jewish girl Sonja Demajo when her family was taken and killed in the concentration camp at Sajmiste. Little Sonja was in a very poor condition severely ill with rickets. The mother and two daughters Andeselic “washed Sonja every day in baths of nut leaves and during the summer they took her to the nearby spas to receive sun and seawater baths. They were selling family valuables and trading items for eggs, cream, goat cheese and herbal medication for strengthening Sonja’s bones. Sonja got stronger, stood on her feet, and survived”. [8]

Women as perpetrators

Thousands of women were accomplices and killers during the Holocaust. 584,000 Nazi female leaders participated voluntarily in the political work of the Nazi Party, “rewarded for their efforts with positions of political leadership in their community, with all its privileges and financial advantages”. [9] “To assume that violence is not a feminine characteristic and that women are not capable of mass murder has obvious appeal: it allows for hope that at least half the human race will not devour the other, that it will protect children and so safeguard the future. But minimizing the violent behavior of women creates a false shield. At least half a million women contributed to the operations and terror of Hitler’s genocidal war.” [10] For example, Erna Kürbs Petri, a mother of two and a housewife married to a German officer stationed in Ukraine during the occupation, in cold blood personally executed six Jewish boys age 6-12 in the back of the neck with a pistol when she found them hiding in the woods at her property. Another aspect of the traditional gender perception is that the female perpetrators were seldom investigated for their crimes and rarely prosecuted during the post-war trials.

Depiction of the Holocaust

Traditional gender perceptions in the Holocaust research, commemoration, representations in art and other cultural forms of the Holocaust memory are shaped by the local contemporary political and cultural environments with its gender-perspective awareness, or lack of it. Let us again, now from this perspective, look at the earlier mentioned example of three brothers and two sisters Baruch from Belgrade who were killed fighting the Nazis. There is a street in Belgrade named “The Baruch Brothers Street”. There is also a famous Serbian Jewish singing society “The Baruch Brothers Choir”. It is quite striking and very hard to understand how the two sisters Baruch are somehow “forgotten” to be mentioned and honored. Obviously, there is a need to “reclaim women’s voices and experiences and bring back their missing stories to the dominant accounts of the Holocaust” [11] in order to fully understand it.

Gender and Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust

Some of the most common obstacles and challenges in TLH are: Teachers do not have enough time for these complicated topics [12]; Teachers are not sufficiently trained to teach about the Holocaust; There is a lack of teaching materials about the Holocaust; TLH with gender perspectives involve additional, new challenges. One of them is that such approach includes a portrayal of the traditional gender roles of the past, with a limited time to address it properly. How to avoid reconfirming the conservative gender stereotypes in insubstantial timeframes already reserved for a topic as complex as the Holocaust? A possible answer is in the cross-disciplinary approach to TLH, combining several school subjects such as history, literature, social studies, philosophy, religion, civic education, foreign language studies etc. On the other side, the school topics that deal with gender (in its own cross-disciplinary approach) should take into account the Holocaust and its broad educational value as a case-study for exploring gender perspectives.

This can only be achieved through new coalition building between stakeholders and activists in the fields of Holocaust research, commemoration and education on one side, and gender awareness and studies on the other. A necessary precondition is higher awareness, mutual learning and exchange about respective topics between the two groups. ODIHR could play an important role in facilitating such coalitions.

Future of Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust

Bringing gender perspectives into TLH opens for new exciting opportunities. Focusing on personal stories, such approach contributes to students’ motivation, emotional and intellectual engagement, analytic thinking, and consequently to better understanding of this complex topic. It also brings the “far away and long ago” history closer by revealing yet another important historical lesson of the Holocaust and its direct link to the contemporary challenges.

[1] The expression “Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust” and the abbreviation “TLH” is used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance IHRA.

[2] Emanuel Ringelblum, “Diary and Notes from the War Period: Warsaw Ghetto” (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1992), pp. 51-52.

[3] International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance IHRA, “Why Teach About the Holocaust” accessed 29. April 2017

[4] World Health Organisation, “Gender definition” accessed 29. April 2017

[5] Marion Kaplan, „Keeping Calm and Weathering the Storm: Jewish Women’s Responses to Daily life in Nazi Germany“ (Ofer and Weitzman, Women in the Holocaust, Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 42-43.

[6] US Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto” (Little Brown and Company, 1997), pp. 245.

[7] Ruth Kempner “Women in Nazi Germany – III Social and Psychological Trends” (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Law Library), pp. 53.

[8] Yad Vashem, The Righteous Among The Nations DB – Andeselić Family accessed 1. May 2017

[9] Haley A. Wodenshek, „Ordinary Women: Female Perpetrators of the Nazi Final Solution“ (Senior Theses, Trinity College, Hartford, CT 2015. Trinity College Digital Repository,, pp. 6.

[10] Wendy Lower, “Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)

[11] Sue Andrews, “Remembering the Holocaust – Gender Matters” (Social Alternatives, Vol. 22, No. 2, Autumn 2003), pp. 16.

[12] In the official curriculum of the most of the European countries the Holocaust is just briefly mentioned during the entire primary and secondary school.