Agency in the Warsaw Ghetto : An Intersectional Analysis of the Daily Life, Survival, and Death of Elderly Jews

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Hugo Valentin-centrum

Abstract: In Holocaust research, the study of elderly Jews in Nazi German ghettos remains a blind spot. This thesis begins to fill the research gap by exploring the everyday life of elderly Jews and their agency under the structural conditions of the Warsaw ghetto. On a broader scale, my key findings contribute to scholarly debates and lay the foundation for further research, on Jewish responses to ghettoization and agency during the Holocaust, including the continuity and disruption of gender roles and social hierarchies in the family and Jewish ghetto community as well as religious practices as a coping strategy for elderly Jews in the ghetto. The theoretical framework augments current gender scholarship and explanations of agency and structure in the ghetto with intersectional theory, including gender, class as intervening variables, which represents a barely used theoretical approach to an under-researched subject. To answer my main research question "How did gender, class, and family as well as the Jewish community and German authorities influence the life of elderly Jews in the ghetto?”, the analysis is conducted in the tradition of the history of the everyday on the micro-level. My empirical analysis examines the living conditions, agency, survival, and vulnerability to violence and death of elderly people in the Warsaw ghetto. The primary sources used in the empirical analysis are a combination of archival documents - including the clandestine Oneg Shabbat ghetto archive -, diaries and memoirs by elderly Jews as well as oral history interviews of their grandchildren. A general scarcity of sources by elderly, especially poor elderly and female elderly Jews in the primary sources available to the author, constitute the limitations of this thesis.

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