Women's Biographies and Women's Memory of War
A.von Plato, A.Leh, CH. Thonfeld (Hg.), HITLER's SKLAVEN, 2008
16 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2008
Date Written: October 9, 2008
This article is the English-language pre-print version of the chapter published in "Hitlers Sklaven" (in German). The volume "Hitlers Sklaven" (2008) is a result of a massive international oral history project aimed to study forced and slave labour for the Nazi regime during World War II. Within this volume, our article focuses specifically on the experiences of Russian women - former slave labourers. Biographical interviews with these now elderly women were carried out in 2005 in Pskov. The Russian region of Pskov borders on Latvia, Estonia and Byelorussia, and was occupied by the Germans from July, 1941 to July, 1944. This resulted, in particular, in approximately 150,000 people deported from Pskov region only (out of the estimated 3 mln people deported from the USSR as a whole).
The article distinguishes between several categories of interviewees: women - civilians, deported to forced works from occupied territories; women subjected to the draft, who were then taken prisoners and forced to work; and finally, women who worked in occupation. The work could be in industry, construction, or agriculture. Girls often baby-sat for babies and younger children in a camp or at a farm. Themes of pre-war childhood memories, childhood labour, love during the war are also featured in the article.
The article highlights the gender-specific nature of war memories. It is revealed in the way of constructing a biographical story around the souvenirs of feelings, rather than of particular events, and also constructing different gendered identities through such a story.
The article also outlines the strategies of the respondents' adaptation to post-war life in the Soviet Union, where the interviewees were often repressed or stigmatised. Such biographical strategies include normalisation, compensation and hyper-compensation, and anonymisation. Besides, the article tells about narrative strategies of coping with a trauma, such as fragmentation (having gaps in the life story) and emotional detachment. These findings and the oral history material featured in the article are especially important in the context of Russia where public discourse was dominated, until recently, by the silence about people deported to Germany, and this didn't allow them to fully overcome their traumatic experiences.
Keywords: oral history and biography, slave labour, gendered memory, women and war
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