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Sister in Sorrow

Life Histories of Female Holocaust Survivors from Hungary

Ilana Rosen

Award Winner

Gender, Holocaust, Jewish Studies, Language and Literature, Psychology, Women's Studies

Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology

Published: March 2008
ISBN: 9780814331293
Pages: 280 Size: 6 x 9
Published: March 2008
ISBN: 9780814338889

Sister in Sorrow is both moving reading from a personal point of view and fascinating as a scholarly work.

— Eli Yassif

Sister in Sorrow offers a glimpse into the world of Hungarian Holocaust survivors through the stories of fifteen survivors, as told by thirteen women and two spouses presently living in Hungary and Israel. Analyzing the accounts as oral narratives, author Ilana Rosen uses contemporary folklore studies methodologies to explore the histories and the consciousness of the narrators as well as the difficulty for present-day audiences to fully grasp them. Rosen’s research demonstrates not only the extreme personal horrors these women experienced but also the ways they cope with their memories.

In four sections, Rosen interprets the life histories according to two major contemporary leading literary approaches: psychoanalysis and phenomenology. This reading encompasses both the life spans of the survivors and specific episodes or personal narratives relating to the women’s identity and history. The psychoanalytic reading examines focal phases in the lives of the women, first in pre-war Europe, then in World War II and the Holocaust, and last as Holocaust survivors living in the shadow of loss and atrocity. The phenomenological examination traces the terms of perception and of the communication between the women and their different present-day non-survivor audiences. An appendix contains the complete life histories of the women, including their unique and affecting remembrances.

Although Holocaust memory and narrative have figured at the center of academic, political, and moral debates in recent years, most works look at such stories from a social science perspective and attempt to extend the meaning of individual tales to larger communities. Although Rosen keeps the image of the general group—be it Jews, female Holocaust survivors, Israelis, or Hungarians—in mind throughout this volume, the focus of Sister in Sorrow is the ways the individual women experienced, told, and processed their harrowing experiences. Students of Holocaust studies and women’s studies will be grateful for the specific and personal approach of Sister in Sorrow.

Ilana Rosen is senior lecturer in the Department of Hebrew Literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, Israel.

Sister in Sorrow is both moving reading from a personal point of view and fascinating as a scholarly work. When it first appeared in public as a dissertation about thirteen years ago, it was considered one of the most innovative and mind-shaking studies on the Holocaust and of Jewish folklore. Rosen's deep understanding and bold usage of the rich theories of oral history, hermeneutics, literary criticism, psychology, and folklore studies by no means overshadows what might be the most important contribution of this book to contemporary Jewish culture: her deep sensibility for these Holocaust women survivors, whose voices are presented faithfully and with deep compassion and understanding."

– Eli Yassif, Zvi and Sara Berger Professor of Jewish Folk Culture at the School of Jewish Studies, Tel-Aviv University

Ilana Rosen's profound and very sensitive book is a mental journey to the lives and worlds of women survivors of a relatively unknown community in the context of the Holocaust. This journey reveals their crisis at having been betrayed by their long loved Hungarian 'motherland,' their personal and family/familial conflicts in the shadow of the Holocaust, their hardships at starting new yet burdened lives in Hungary as in Israel, and their difficulties in explicating their shattered worlds to younger generations.

– Yigal Schwartz, head of Heksherim Institute for Jewish and Israeli literature and culture at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Ilana Rosen has crafted a unique work of superbly researched folkloristic analysis within sophisticated theoretical-structural, psychoanalytical, hermeneutical, and phenomenological-frameworks. Her highly professional academic voice does not overshadow her sensitive and empathetic approach and her outstanding literary sensitivity to the tales told to her by the survivors. Women's experience 'there' becomes a compelling presence through the intense bonding of the scholar and the narrators. The life histories themselves as collected in meticulous ethnographic fieldwork, mediated by Rosen's rich and wise interpretative work ensures the cultural canonization of what should never be forgotten.

– Galit Hasan-Rokem, Max and Margarethe Grunwald Professor of Folklore Hebrew, University of Jerusalem and author of War of Life: Folklore and Midrash in Rabbinic Literature

  • 2009 Elli Kongas-Maranda Prize - Result: Winner
  • 2009 Elli Kongas-Maranda Prize - Result: Winner