Post-Holocaust Mothers: A Comparative Study of Soazig Aaron’s Refusal and Cynthia Ozick’s The Shawl

Helena Duffy

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Despite the fact that the Nazis made Jewish mothers their strategic target, motherhood has been relatively rarely dramatized by Holocaust fiction. Likewise, its few theorisations have been a belated response to the advent of women’s studies and feminist theory. Drawing attention to this neglected aspect of the Jewish tragedy, the proposed article offers a comparative study of two works of fiction: Cynthia Ozick’s The Shawl (1980) and Soazig Aaron’s Refusal (2002). Written by women, the two texts focus on the trauma of female survivors, including their troubled relationship with motherhood. The article compares and contrasts the two heroines’ responses to their role as mothers following their experience of l’univers concentrationnaire: whereas Rosa Lublin cannot face up to her daughter’s brutal murder in the camp and imagines Magda to be alive and thriving in America, Klara Adler’s eponymous refusal pertains chiefly to her unwillingness to resume her maternal duties on her return from Auschwitz. The ambition of the proposed article is to frame the two women’s position with the development of the feminist perspective within Holocaust Studies over the last two decades. Indeed, since the emergence of pioneering research into Holocaust motherhood in the late 1980s, the representation of Jewish mothers as either helpless victims or heroic figures ready to die with their children has slowly given way to discussions of women’s refusal to conform with dominant narratives on Jewish motherhood and of instances of agency. It remains to be seen, however, whether Klara’s postwar rejection of her daughter can be construed in positive terms, that is as a revolt against the inherently totalising and oppressive categories of race and gender that were at the core of the Nazi ideology.


ConferenceThe Holocaust and Motherhood
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Holocaust
  • Motherhood

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