Winner of the 1990 Helen Hooven Santmyer Prize in Women’s Studies

Making Stories, Making Selves

Feminist Reflections on the Holocaust

R. Ruth Linden

“Linden had undertaken a courageous task.  In researching the experiences of female Holocaust survivors, interpreting their recollections, and making those memories relevant to her own life, she has challenged us all to re-examine the relationship of intellectual pursuits with personal attitudes and experiences.” —Women Library Workers Journal

“[Ruth Linden] writes movingly about her passage from assimilation to radical activism. She helped create the Holocaust Oral History Project in San Francisco, and this work brought about her engaged self-definition as a Jew.” —The Women’s Review of Books

Ruth Linden’s bold, experimental book explores the interconnected processes of remembering, storytelling, and self-fashioning. Juxtaposing autobiography and ethnography, Linden begins this study by situating herself in the context of her assimilated Jewish family, where the Holocaust was shrouded in silences.

Urged forward by these silences, Linden, a feminist and sociologist, began to interview Jewish Holocaust survivors in 1983. As Linden interprets survivors' accounts of the death camps and the resistance, she reveals complex ways in which selves are constructed through storytelling. The stories that unfold are continuously fashioned and refashioned—never stripped of context or frozen in time. What emerges is an unexpectedly elegant montage in which interviewee, interviewer, and author are intertwined.

Linden’s meetings with survivors and her encounters with their stories transformed her as a feminist, a Jew, and a social scientist. Her analysis reveals the intimate connections between an ethnographer’s lived experience and her interpretations of others’. Linden’s reflections on the process of ethnography belie the rhetoric of positivism in the social sciences. They will inspire other scholars to break free of research and writing practices in their own disciplines that efface the ineluctable bond between knower and known. All readers will be challenged to reexamine the Holocaust in an intensely personal light and to reconsider the meanings of survival in our own time.

Cutting across the boundaries of ethnography and autobiography to create a new kind of text, Making Stories, Making Selves offers a significant contribution to interpretive social science and the literature of the Holocaust. Linden’s original and courageous work is vital reading for Holocaust scholars, students of modern Jewish life, sociologists, feminist theorists, and all readers seeking to understand their own relationship to the Holocaust.

R. Ruth Linden has taught on the faculties of Brandeis and Wesleyan universities. A coeditor of Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis, she is currently conducting research on mammography.

1993   191 pp

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