Abstract | Violence And Sexuality As A Theme In Memoirs By Women Survivors
Childbirth And Sadistic Irony | The Role Of Friendship Among Women In The Camps
The Impact Of Hunger On Male And Female Prisoners
The Practical And Political Effects Of Solidarity | Rethinking Traditional Responses

The Impact Of Hunger On Male And Female Prisoners

Starving male and female prisoners dealt with their hunger from different perspectives. Deprived of food, "men….fantasized about splendid meals"… of the past, but women survivors reported that they exchanged recipes and menus and discussed ways they "stretched" food to make ends meet.52 Neither men nor women satisfied their hunger, but the approach that women took was creative, allowing them to use their previous experience and imagination and to prepare for the future. Women survivors confess that : "the main topic of conversation was food, the most beautiful recipes that anybody could think of, and also a hot bath as soon as the war was over." Ironically, another stated, "The funny thing was that many of us were at the age where we had never been to cooking school, but we had the wildest imagination about what we would cook. I don’t think I ever became as good a cook as I was with my mouth."53 One woman survivor vividly recalls her conversations: "We’d rub our stomachs while imaginary feasts rose before us….and we’d laugh at our cleverness….gastronomic masturbation."54 Socialization as cooks or food planners for their families was their vehicle for building community, and building community was an important strategy for coping with their unbearable hunger. In contrast, very few men had enough experience in the kitchen to form a community of men who could transcend their wretched condition by sharing past experiences. Most women also knew enough sewing skills to make pockets if they were given large size clothes, pockets that could hide potato peels or similar garbage.

One prisoner considered herself privileged because, as a clerk in the Auschwitz Administration Office who worked directly under the supervision of SS officers, she bathed regularly, ate more and better food than the regular Jewish prisoners, was housed in a barrack with flush toilets, and wore appropriate prison clothing rather than rags. Nevertheless, to survive, she asserted, one needed friends: "You needed others who helped you with food or clothing or just advice or sympathy to surmount all the hardship you encountered during all those many months and years in incarceration.55 In their memoirs and testimony, many other women assume that they derived their courage and strength from the surrogate families they formed: "Four of us girls befriended each other from the beginning. We tried to stay together because no matter how bad it was, it made the pain more tolerable to suffer with friends. In addition, we were all separated from our families and we all had a need to belong to someone."56 Acknowledging and then satisfying that need provided spiritual sustenance in the absence of material sustenance.


52. Goldenberg, "Testimony, Narrative and Nightmare.

53. Katz and Ringelheim, Women Surviving the Holocaust, p. 153.

54. Gerda Haas, These I Do Remember: Fragments from the Holocaust, (Freeport, ME: Cumberland Press, 1982), pp.43-44.

55. Shelley, Auschwitz, p.36. 56. Ibid., p.76

© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.
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