Doubly Non-absent: The Jewish Male Body during the Holocaust

Friday, January 5, 2018: 1:30 PM
Columbia 1 (Washington Hilton)
Bjorn Krondorfer, Northern Arizona University
In centuries of Christian Europe, Jewish men (and masculinities) were seen as “other,” mostly—though not always—in negative terms. As practices of Jew-hatred shifted from (religious) anti-Judaism to (bio-racial) antisemitism during the period of Jewish assimilation and emancipation, perceptions of Jewish men took on darker tones, portraying them as greedy, power-hungry, degenerate, and polluting, most pronounced in the evolving Nazi propaganda. But modernity also allowed Jewish men to redefine themselves: by assimilating and converting, or by projecting and adopting a strong masculinity, be it through Nordau’s Muskeljudentum or the rise of Zionism as part of the nexus of modern nationalism and masculinity (Mosse). By the time the Nazis implemented their plans of the extermination of Jews, they seemed to put an abrupt and brutal end to any of the multiple visions of being a Jewish man in Europe. During the Holocaust the Jewish male body was mercilessly assaulted, from social exclusion to intimate humiliation, from slave labor to murder. And yet, the Jewish male body and Jewish male agency did not cease to exist. As a Jewish man, one had limited “privileges” and burdens at certain moments (such as joining the Jewish Ghetto police or forced into the Sonderkommando), but the gendered implications of these roles and experiences are mostly overlooked in Holocaust studies, a fact that is part of what I call “non-absence.” At the same time, the Jewish male body was targeted for destruction, literally made to disappear, making the body physically absent, and yet burning its features present into our post-Holocaust memories. This presentation, in other words, aims at delineating some of the conceptual conundrums when thinking about Jewish masculinities during and after the Holocaust.
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